restricted access The Concepts of Musical Time and Space (1963)
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The Concepts of Musical Time and Space 1. The Time-Space Conjunction Musical composition involves complex, simultaneous operations which I shall call, in the broadest sense, articulations of the conjunction of musical time and musical space. These articulations are infinitely variable, determining both external and internal structure and therefore the potentially expressive qualities of music. They are not only the means by which the aural image is shaped but also the means by which musical gesture is made manifest. While all music, regardless of its ethnic source, issues from this conjunction of musical time and space and is sustained by it, Western music in particular has raised this conjunction to ever increasing degrees of intensity of integration. The evolution of art music in the West has produced an unending series of different musics, each characterized by its own unique techniques or modes of articulating the conjunction of musical time and musical space. The techniques of articulating the time-space conjunction form the compositional practice generally common in any given period. Practice itself reflects the underlying, prevalent concepts of time and space and their simultaneous articulation. Shifts in concept, however great or small, automatically produce changes in practice, determining the direction music will take. Nor need such shifts be the result of "taking thought," i.e., conscious decisions. They may come about as extensions of or reactions to previous practice-entirely irrational and intuitive in nature. The process of change may be sudden and abrupt or it may be gradual. This will depend to a large extent on the depth of the shift in concept. The more conscious the shift, the sharper the break with the past will be. This has already happened twice in the twentieth century, first with the emergence of the twelve-tone method, and second with the radical development of total serialism. When the shift is intuitive, the change is more likely to be gradual. (Consider, for example, the development of instrumental music during the Baroque era.) Thus, stylistic transformations register these sudden or gradual changes in practice in relation to the intensity of shifts of concept. Any change, however minor, in articulating either the temporal or spatial aspect of music ultimately affects the other. A discussion of these tendencies will occupy our attention later. Needless to say, the concepts of musical time and space are hardly obvious ones. As they form the twin pillars which support this study, it is essential to clarify what I mean by them. Instead of taking the direct explicative 68 THE CONCEPTS OF MUSICAL TIME AND SPACE 69 approach, I prefer to examine first existing statements which deal with the same concepts; and, by weighing and comparing their similarities and differences , I hope to prepare the way for a presentation of my own views. There are two statements dealing with the problems of musical time and musical space, one by Susanne K. Langer and another by Arnold Schoenberg, which provide the kind of starting point we need. In her book Feeling and Form (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1953), Langer discusses at length the relation of time (or duration) to music. As she says, "Music makes time audible, and its form and continuity sensible" (p. 110). Drawing the necessary distinction between clock time and duration, she points out that duration is something radically different from the time in which our public and practical life proceeds. It is completely incommensurable with the progress of common affairs. Musical duration is an image of what might be termed "lived" or "experienced" time-the passage of life that we feel as expectations become "now," and "now" turns into unalterable fact. Such passage is measurable only in terms of sensibilities, tensions, and emotions; and it has not merely a different measure, but an altogether different structure from practical or scientific time.... Vital, experiential time is the primary illusion of music. (P. 109) By separating experiential time from scientifically measured clock time, we are able to make the subtle distinction between time as pure sequence which is the main attribute of clock time, a "one-dimensional continuum" (p. 111) and that "image of time measured by the motion of forms that seem to give it substance, yet a substance that consists entirely of sound, so it is transitoriness itself" (p. 110). Thus, "music spreads out time for our direct and complete apprehension, by letting our hearing monopolize it-organize, fill and shape it, all alone" (p. 110). In this way, Langer establishes musical time as dynamic...