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Music and Rhythm

Fundamentals – History – Analysis

Peter Petersen

This book sets forth the first really novel theory of rhythm since Hugo Riemann: the components theory. Its approach will be of interest to musicologists and music theoreticians alike as well as to music performers, since it will enable them to describe and understand the rhythmic shape of music better and more fully than was previously possible. Instead of conceiving rhythm simply as interplay of short and long, of accents and meters, the present analysis takes its departure from secondary rhythms that are not notated but depend on specific qualities of a given sound or sound formation. Together with the basic rhythms, these components rhythms form a total rhythmic texture, whose temporal and weight structure allows a novel way of perceiving musical meter as not being primarily prescriptive but above all as the product of an overall compositional calculation of component rhythms.

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Part Two: Rhythm in the Music of J. S. Bach

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Introduction 129 Introduction A comprehensive study of the rhythm of Bach’s music is still outstanding. At the same time, probably no one has any doubt that rhythm is an essential aspect of Bach’s personal style. Musicians and music historians have always sensed and praised the rhythmic vitality and complexity of Bach’s compositions. They did so mostly under the im- pression of the polyphonic texture of voices with its perfect balance of horizontal flow and vertical anchorage. The fact that a man like Igor Stravinsky, who has en- larged the rhythmic means of expression like no other com- poser, saw above all a rhythmist in Bach should suffice to prompt a more intensive investigation of this side of Bach’s music. In 1924, Stravinsky went on record saying that »the works of Johann Sebastian Bach, whom I regard as the imperishable ideal of us all, consist entirely of rhythmics and architectonics.« 1 Hans Werner Henze shows himself to be equally fascinated by the rhythmic qualities in Bach’s music. In a lecture on »Johann Sebastian Bach and the Music of our Time,« he said in 1983: Let us imagine a multi-part setting of Bach’s vocal and instru- mental music performed solely with percussion instruments with- out fixed pitches: we would hear only the contrapuntally counter- acting rhythms, no harmony, no melody. But the energies, the elasticity, the pulsating effect, the altogether worked-out and thought-through quality of such a structure is what would appear surprisingly and spectacularly to our ears and eyes in all...

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