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The Musical Matrix Reloaded

Contemporary Perspectives and Alternative Worlds in the Music of Beethoven and Schubert

Barbara Barry

The Musical Matrix Reloaded proposes a striking new scenario for the music of Beethoven and Schubert in the contemporary world. It draws on the theory of Multiple Worlds in physics, and on sci-fi and movies, as powerful contemporary models of alternative realities to explain radical features of interpolation, dislocation, and ultimately of return.

Confronting familiar assumptions about Beethoven’s and Schubert’s music as long-range consonance, the book proposes instead that musical action is predicated on an underlying disruptive energy, Nietzsche’s Dionysian disruptive background re-interpreted in the contemporary world. When it breaks through the musical surface, it dislocates continuity and re-routes tonal narrative into new, unforeseen directions. These unforeseen paths enable us to glimpse in Beethoven’s and Schubert’s music the beautiful, and often haunting, reality of another world.

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Not so long ago, music theory had acquired new tools and new confidence in handling them in the hierarchical technique of Heinrich Schenker. Developed with reference to the mainly instrumental Austro-German repertory from Bach to Brahms, hierarchical analysis was based on an underlying long-range linear descent supported by a harmonic space-opening, from the initial 1 to a structurally important V which ultimately closed on 1 – a background substructure ‘composed out’ at middle- and foreground levels of the individual piece. Subsequently applied (with varying success) to other kinds of works – pre- and post-tonal – hierarchical technique dealt with problematic issues of structure with a confidence comparable to 19th-century acclamation of science as solving nature’s laws in the universe.

Unfortunately, such confidence in both cases was premature. In science, the universe, on the mega-scale of multiple universes (or meta-universe) and the complex, random substructure at the microlevel, was revealed as a simultaneous multiplicity of extraordinary juxtapositions, unexpected contrasts and modular modes of existence that were far from organic. In music, while some theorists held onto hierarchic technique as prima facie, new “ways of seeing,” in John Berger’s words, developed into a montage of forking paths: postmodernism, post-postmodernism, deconstructionism, and a variety of borrowing (“isms”), including feminist theory and music as social artifact. In the succession of “new musicologies,” by the time you chase the latest “ism,” the train, as Peter Gay ironically notes, has already left the station.

Some musicologists, discomforted by a state of play where there are...

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