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Musicology Colloquium: Richard Cohn "Damaged Cargo: Concerning the Unfortunate Voyage of Poetic Meter to the Land of the Modern Music-Theory Textbook"

Thursday, September 20, 2018 at 4:30pm

Lincoln Hall, 124
Dept of Music, 101 Lincoln Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853-4101, USA

Richard Cohn is the Battell Professor of Music Theory at Yale University. He is the author of "Audacious Euphony: Chromaticism and the Triad's Second Nature," and co-editor of "David Lewin's Morgengruss: Text, Comment, Commentary." His article on Meter is forthcoming in the Oxford Handbook of Concepts in Music Theory. He was founding editor of Oxford University Press's Studies in Music Theory, and has served as executive editor for the Journal of Music Theory. 

Music theory textbooks share a consensus definition of meter, which is directly appropriated from the late 18th century. In his talk, Cohn identifies five problems with the definition, from the standpoint of modern metric research. He proposes that the problems result from a three-stage process of transmission, whose origin is the ancient Greek theory of poetic verse feet, and whose intermediate stages are 18th-century theory of poetic prosody, and 18th-century theory of (mostly) vocal music. At each stage, the source has considerable prestige within the culture of the target domain. This encourages an uncritical adoption ("shoehorning") of features that fit poorly with the repertories being modelled. He proposes a repertory-general definition of musical meter, based on modern research, that avoids all five problems, but requires some minor terminological retooling. 


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Lecture, Music


Department of Music

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