- Studies in Music with Text
David Lewin (1933–2003) was doubtless the most significant music theorist of the last half century. Oxford brilliantly inaugurates its new series, Studies in Music Theory, with a collection of essays that gives a more complete sense of Lewin's achievement than if we had been left with only the two extraordinary but highly technical volumes published during his lifetime, Generalized Musical Intervals and Transformations (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987) and Musical Form and Transformation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993).
The essays comprise nineteen chapters, distributed over seven parts, each associated with a composer—six canonical German composers, organized chronologically from Mozart to Schoenberg, and Milton Babbitt (whom Lewin places as following in the German tradition). Seven of the chapters appear here for the first time. Among the twelve that have previously appeared are a number that may reasonably be considered to have achieved the status of classics of music theory and analysis: "Music Theory, Phenomenology, and Modes of Perception," "Auf dem Flusse: Image and Background in a Schubert Song," "Amfortas's Prayer to Titurel and the Role of D in Parsifal," and most of the Schoenberg articles chosen by Lewin to represent his long engagement with this composer.
In addition to—and more important than—the cultural boundaries within which the contents of the book are brought together, there are attitudes to music analysis generally and to the analysis of music with text specifically that are characteristically Lewinian and that recur throughout. In his introduction, Lewin notes his tendency to seek "ways in which music and text ... enact each other." Thus, in his Tristan study, appearing here for the first time, Lewin asserts a dialectic tension between "the well-made play" and "the drama-of-passion," a tension that "enacts and is enacted by" a tonal/atonal musical dialectic. There are three new essays on Robert and Clara Schumann, following an essay (also previously unpublished) on Schubert's Ihr Bild. Weaving biography and cultural history together with the sort of metric-harmonic reductions he used for the first time in the Auf dem Flusse essay, Lewin demonstrates an "enactment per musica" in Clara Schumann's setting of "Ich stand in dunkeln Träumen" that is far removed from Schubert's in Ihr Bild, but equally valid compositionally and poetically. In two related essays on modal-tonal ambiguity in Robert Schumann's Anfang wollt' ich fast verzagen and Auf einer Burg, Lewin leads us to hearings in which an ambivalence between ancient Phrygian and modern minor enacts temporal disjunctions for the respective personae of the songs. A postscript for the opening Mozart essays discusses how "tonics" and "dominants" might be said to "enact drama," and "be enacted by drama." In the final chapter, "Some Problems and Resources of Music Theory," Lewin suggests that Babbitt's serial technique enacts the central weaving imagery in Philomel (a suggestion, as we learn in an appendix added here, that was corroborated by the composer).
Lewin's preference for the locution "enact" is related to the methodological stance he promulgated in many of his writings, in which he interpreted his favored "transformational [End Page 340] attitude" as that of one who is "inside the music, as idealized dancer/singer" (Generalized Musical Intervals and Transformations, p. 159). He wished to emphasize the gestural, embodied activity of the musician, the "singer, player, or composer, thinking: 'I am at s; what characteristic transformation do I perform in order to arrive at t?'" (Generalized Musical Intervals and Transformations, p. xiii). This stance is given its fullest expression (not only in the Studies in Music and Text volume, but in Lewin's entire oeuvre) in the article, first published in 1986, "Music Theory, Phenomenology, and Modes of Perception."
The heart of this essay (by far the longest in the book) is an examination of a passage from Schubert's Morgengruß, including some trenchant remarks on text-music relations, but the context is a meditation on the aims, methods...