Music Theory Professor Jonathan Dunsby's open lecture in Sibelius Academy

Wednesday, October 11, 2017 - 11:00 to 13:00
Wegelius-Sali, Sibelius-Akatemia
Open lecture
Free entry
An open lecture about the Interpretation of Western Art Music.

Professor Jonathan Dunsby (Eastman School of Music, USA) is visiting SibA on the week of 9th October 2017. He is a pianist and music theorist, best known for his pioneering work on musical analysis and performance. His publication has been numerous and influential. He is giving three public lectures during the visit, under the overall title of ‘Explorations in the Interpretation of Western Art Music’. You may come to just one lecture, or two, or all of them.

The dates/venues are:

Tuesday 10th October, 9:30-10:45. Leonora Hall, Kallio-Kuninkala, Sibelius Academy Music Centre. Ristinummentie 6, Järvenpää

Wednesday 11th October, 11:00-13:00. Wegelius Hall, Sibelius Academy, Töölönkatu 28, Helsinki

Friday 13th October, 14:00-16:00. University of Helsinki, Topelia, room C120, Unioninkatu 38 CII, Helsinki

Below, please find his abstracts for the lectures.


Tuesday 10th October, 9:30-10:45
Kallio-Kuninkala (as a part of MuToVe, The Finnish Doctoral Network for Music Research)

What Can and Should We Perceive?

It has long since ceased to be disputed that heart and brain are integral to excellence in musical interpretation. What the New Grove Dictionary calls the ‘informed intensity’ of excellent performance implies both knowledge and feeling. Even the most intuitive performer will admit that any decision or intention, however apparently spontaneous, is nevertheless the product of years of experience and cultural encounter. However, the interface between what might be called fact and act, in the phenomenon of musical interpretation, is anything but simple, often presenting us with profound challenges if we attempt to explore the nature of musical understanding, as manifest in the craft of real-time music-making.

This presentation focuses on two case studies where that interface is instructive and inspiring, but perhaps also ultimately perplexing. One is the interpretation of Chopin’s third Prelude, from an opus that has been a revered testbed of theoretical thinking: in Op. 28, No. 3 the nuance of rhythmic structure offers a labyrinth of musical inflection, whether we are listening to Pollini or Trifonov. The second case is a performance of Webern’s Piano Variations, Op. 27, first movement, by Glenn Gould, in 1957—the famous ‘Moscow recital’—where his creativity exceeded anything Webern had actually written, though one can argue that Webern would have been happy to see his music realized in such an unusual way.

Although these examples come from the heartland of Western art music and music theory, and in that most orthodox of media, notated music for solo, acoustic piano, nevertheless the conceptual and practical challenges discussed here are emblematic of the world of classical music performance. Is it useful to ask whether we hear the structure in the sound or the sound in the structure; or does that very conundrum posit an artificial distinction?

Wednesday 11th October, 11:00-13:00
Wegelius Hall, Sibelius Academy

Scarlatti Aporia: K. 89. Reconsidered

The extent of musicological mythology and elaboration surrounding Domenico Scarlatti and his music is an understandable response to historical and to some extent aesthetic vacuums. We do not even know, as the Scarlatti authority Dean Sutcliffe has observed, whether this maestro truly became the ‘fatty Scarlatti’ of legend. Specifically, there is no evidence as to whether the B minor Sonata, K. 89.— one of Horowitz’s and thus the 20th-century musical public’s favorite short compositions from the distant past—may have been a piano piece, or was intended to be fast or slow, or indeed whether Scarlatti ever performed it, and for that matter why it was composed. We can gain considerable insight by inference and good comparison, as well as—I shall suggest here—music­‑analytical interpretation, which reveals a structure as intriguingly complex as it is expressively lucid.

Friday 13th October, 14:00-16:00
Helsinki University, Topelia

What We Can Hear, and Why

Modern technology has enabled the demonstration and quantification of a phenomenon of which Western art musicians have long been aware, that the effect of so-called musically ‘perfect’ ensemble is not necessarily produced by actual simultaneity. We know from acoustic measurement that it is in fact asynchrony, perhaps intermittent, but nonetheless unmistakable, which is performers’ typical, and probably mostly deliberate choice in bringing notated simultaneity to life sonically. A recent study sets the threshold for measuring asynchrony at 100ms, that is, a tenth of a second, but I will argue that this is an easily and perhaps overly perceptible degree of temporal dislocation.

Some psychologists believe they have demonstrated that asynchronies of as short as about 4ms are probably effective, even deliberate, and consciously perceptible to skilled listeners; such asynchronies are likely to be effective especially when used consistently, rather than appearing to be arbitrary—consistently meaning both continuously as well as typically with a textural favoring of the upper line. Musicians are evidently balancing the sound, but in principle, this means making a ‘structural’ decision about what to foreground. Sometimes that may be an obvious decision, for example to ‘bring out’ a melody, but often, as we shall see and hopefully hear in a number of musical extracts, it means creating what can be called a surplus of interpretation, beyond anything the composer has notated.

Such aspects of sound creation in Western art music have been rationalized here and there, for example to some extent in Schoenberg’s ’Haupt/Nebenstimme’ notation; but this is undoubtedly an undertheorized field, in which there is much to be discovered about the craft of sonic beauty and musical articulacy.

Further information:
Mieko Kanno, 050 307 9992, mieko.kanno(at)