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ROCHBERG THE PROGRESSIVE, REVISITED: AN ANALYSIS OF THE THIRD STRING QUARTET ROBERT GROSS It would be presumptuous to attempt, or claim to attempt, a depth analysis of the abberations [sic] of the contemporary mind —but it seems to me there is a kind of rational madness let loose in the world which delights in manipulation for its own sake, usually, if not always, buttressed by self-justifying, objective principles, a kind of rational madness which understands no theoretical limits to its pursuit of these goals and which, worst of all, recognizes none of, or is blind to all of the possible consequences of its procedure when acted out in real life and among real people. The energy which feeds and drives the engines Rochberg the Progressive, Revisited 193 of this variety of consciousness is certainly not itself rational, but the faith—couched in rational, ideological terms to which it attaches itself—becomes the sole justification for its exercise. In turn, this rational, ideological faith gives rise to its own specially devised morality and assumes, therefore, the condition of a quasireligious status among its followers and practitioners.1 Because [present-day composers] are fascinated by mathematics, logic, and science and have taken on the rational madness of their scientific confreres, we read much these days about information theory and its relation to the psychology and composition of music; about statistical probabilities, stochastics, and the Markoff Chain and their compositional possibilities; about group and set theory as applied to serial music; about aleatoricism and indeterminacy and entropy. Every possible scientific metaphor and analogy is invoked. Every possible scientific discipline is ransacked. . . .2 UCH QUOTATIONS BY THE LATE COMPOSER George Rochberg make it easy for us to caricature him as a resolute anti-modernist crank. Certainly bearing this out, more to the point, is what the composer actually composed in spite of his sometimes biting anti-modernist rhetoric. Jay Reise argues in the 1980–81 article “Rochberg the Progressive” that the characterization of George Rochberg as one who had renounced serialism and “returned” to tonality is one that is “too simplistic.”3 At that writing, only eight years had passed since the premiere of Rochberg’s Third String Quartet, which Reise describes as having “caused a great stir in the music world.”4 Even then, the “repudiation of serialism” explanation of the piece had so concretized in public perception that Reise apparently felt the need to set the record straight and bring attention to the piece’s more progressive technical tendencies. Perhaps a revisiting of the progressive techniques found in the piece is in order today, since the now-late composer has become nearly synonymous with pastiche and neo-Romanticism.5 However, neither term seems adequate to the task of describing the manner in which Rochberg achieves the integration of harmonic and motivic ideas at foreground, middleground and background levels, and also across the aesthetic divides of the piece. It is important, then, to consider Rochberg’s music from a number of different technical perspectives. Rochberg’s Third Quartet is an idiosyncratic amalgam of compositional techniques both tonal and S 194 Perspectives of New Music post-tonal, and the analytical perspectives brought to bear in consideration of the work must take this into account. This paper looks at the piece from two particular perspectives: projection-constructive analysis, which is my own invention, and modular-transformational analysis, which is the invention of Matthew Santa.6 Projection-constructive analysis seeks a form of quasiprolongational long-term associations in which vertical pitch-fields of salient sets are projected across the background of a work, accumulating one element at a time in order to construct a culminating vertical pitch field. In such a construct, clear noteheads indicate members of the background , analogous to a Schenker graph. The filled-in noteheads are important structural notes (members of the deepest middleground), but are not members of the background. Important to this concept is that each background element is reiterated in fixed register, as fixation of register of repeated pitches compels them toward a greater likelihood of auditory association. There is some precedent for background analyses of pieces thought to be exemplars of postmodernism, and presumed to be resistant to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2325-7180
Print ISSN
0031-6016
Pages
pp. 192-241
Launched on MUSE
2021-01-01
Open Access
No
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