American Musicological Society/Society for Music Theory Conference Dry Runs

Wednesday, October 17


Rosenwald 432*

 *Note time and room change

Presenters:  Julianne Grasso, followed by a panel of Patrick Fitzgibbon, Siavash Sabetrohani, and Joshua Klopfenstein

Please join us to listen to UChicago Music PhD students present their papers for the upcoming AMS and SMT conferences. Workshop attendees will have a chance to provide both oral and written feedback for each presenter. Refreshments will be served! Please do not hesitate to contact either Amy ( or Ailsa ( with any questions or concerns. Persons who need assistance should notify the coordinators in advance.

Julianne Grasso, “Action and Affect in the Boundaries of Music: A Case from Super Mario World

Abstract: Analysis of video game music is often premised on indeterminacy—this is music that is beholden to its interactive medium. Analysts have thus typically focused on how that interactivity might manifest musically. This paper offers another angle to indeterminacy, one that focuses on the player as agent of action and meaning-making within musically defined virtual environments. What is it like to experience these musical worlds, to play with or against them? Exploring this question, I outline what I call “affective zones,” or spaces in games defined by boundaries created by musical sounds rather than walls, levels, or screens. As spaces of musically mediated potential, affective zones can enhance or attenuate interactive affordances in game environments. I use affect as a lens of analysis to account for the indeterminate nature of video games in which a player’s actions, thoughts, and feelings are not simply determined by musical function, but rather form a locus of subjective encounter with musical materials. This paper demonstrates affective zones in an analysis of music from Super Mario World (Nintendo, 1990). Tempo changes in the “Overworld” music separate multiple affective zones within the same play environment, affording different meanings in these musically defined “spaces.” This change effectively alters the rules for play, creating affective potential in adhering to or breaking the rules. By conceptualizing music as a space of potential, I argue that musical meaning in video games is not latent in its own indeterminacy, but rather in the indeterminacy of the encounter between player and game.

Patrick Fitzgibbon, “Precept and Protest: A Brief History of Brevity in Music Theory of the German Reformation”

Abstract: Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it is also the lifeblood of music theory, a body of literature coursing with paraphrases, primers, rules, and rubrics. Yet this constant flow of music-theoretic breviloquence often evades historiographical attention; instead, the congealed learning of lengthy tomes tends to command scholarly examination. My talk therefore proposes an example both little and little known but at one time extraordinarily ordinary, namely Heinrich Faber’s 1548 Compendiolum musicae pro incipientibus (“Little Compendium of Music for Beginners”), probably the most widely used Lateinschule music text. To account for its remarkable circulation, I tug on a red thread binding music pedagogy of the German Reformation from Fulda to Faber: recurring emphasis on the ancient oratorical desideratum of brevitas. By systematically shrinking the work of his predecessors, Faber thus beat them at their own language game, the name of the game being “brevity.” Yet the Compendiolum is little not only literally but literarily; its subject matter is basic and its prose style simple, catechizing precepts of music literacy in a singsong question-and-answer game for little children. To illustrate, my talk premieres the first complete English translation of the Compendiolum, supplemented by a live teaching demo showing how schoolmasters thereby indoctrinated their young pupils. Closing with a theopolitical turn, I follow Cristle Collins Judd in citing music-theoretic abbreviation as a soft weapon of sectarian conflict, inviting reflection on how subtle instruments of protest not only defined the confessional age but shaped—and sized—our own.

Siavash Sabetrohani, “Georg Philipp Telemann as Music Theorist”

Abstract: Besides being a prolific composer, Georg Philipp Telemann wrote a surprisingly large amount of prose on questions of music theory. But very little of this material has been seriously studied by scholars, as it is widely scattered in differing publications, eclectic in content, often more suggestive than systematic, and largely overwhelmed by his prolific compositional output. Yet I will argue that when his theoretical writings are brought together for careful evaluation, Telemann emerges as an important—and certainly one of the most neglected—musical thinkers of the Eighteenth Century.

His published writings on music theory range from the most practical matters of music pedagogy, such as thoroughbass rules (Singe‐, Spiel‐ und Generalbass‐Übungen), to more speculative matters such as a description of a newly devised “ocular organ” (Bescheibung einer Augenorgel), or a new temperament system (Neues musikalisches System). Besides these complete works, Telemann also seemed to have planned or promised other music‐theoretical projects that never came to fruition. These range from a planned translation of Fux’s Gradus ad Parnassum (eventually carried out by Mizler), to a full‐fledged theory treatise to be called Musicalischer Practicus in which he would discuss various aspects of compositional practice.

We might glean what his more ambitious theoretical work would look like by studying his interesting thoughts on music theory that are embedded in his numerous prefaces to compositions by himself or others. (Telemann, as we know, was active as a publisher and editor.) Other theoretical insights might be hidden enigmatically in his musical works, waiting to be deciphered. Finally, Telemann’s lively correspondence with many fellow musicians (Graun, Mattheson, Handel, C. P. E. Bach, Quantz, and others) frequently touches on questions of music theory and analysis.

In my paper, I will try to draw together these little‐known writings, commentary, and correspondence to paint a more coherent picture of Telemann’s thoughts related to music theory, revealing their implications for his own works as well as other composers of his generation. I will reconstruct a hypothetical outline for Telemann’s promised theoretical treatise which never got published. I will also put his writings in dialogue with those of Telemann’s contemporaries such as Mattheson, Heinichen, Niedt, and Marpurg, with a particular focus on their differing theories of Generalbass. In many ways, his eclectic writings on music theory reflect the same eclectic and multi‐stylistic qualities we can observe over his vast compositional works. At the same time, his desultory activities as a music theorist suggest that music theory was not viewed as a distinct professional scholarly discipline in Telemann’s day, but a subject to which any experienced and curious musician was invited to engage.

Joshua Klopfenstein, “Toward a Broader Theory of Music: Charles Butler’s The Principles of Musik and Seventeenth-Century England”

Abstract: English music theory around the turn of the seventeenth century is often noted for its practical and intellectually insular nature (Herissone 2000, Christensen 2004). While these features are certainly a distinguishing aspect of many treatises, acceptance of this view threatens to flatten the intellectual world of seventeenth century English music theory. In contrast to this insularity, Charles Butler’s The Principles of Musik (1636) shows a writer deeply engaged with Continental music theory, theology, and contemporary politics. A country vicar probably best known for his work on beekeeping The Feminine Monarchie (1609, 1623, 1634), his Principles of Musik is anything but practical and intellectually insular. In his brief music treatise, Butler presents the fundamentals of music while simultaneously writing a history of music theory from Boethius through the sixteenth century, a discussion which is then followed by a careful argument for the propriety of the use of instruments and voices in church music, relying heavily on the Bible for its authority while frequently drawing upon church fathers and later theologians. The treatise concludes with a substantial defense of music in public.

Butler’s practical explanation of the elements of music has received some attention (Bailey 1998, Owens 1998). But in Butler the practical musician exists alongside deeply speculative and theoretical discussions of the art, usually relegated to Butler’s lengthy and careful notes which at times greatly exceed the body of the chapter. The theoretical portions of Butler’s work have received substantially less scholarly study. My paper works to reposition Butler’s treatise as a work of great erudition (both in music and theology) and a work of clear practical value. Indeed, the author sees his treatise as necessary preparatory reading before studying Morley’s celebrated A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke (1597). Charles Butler’s Principles of Musik shows a socially engaged music theory that treats music writ large as its object, not simply the fundamentals of the art.

Butler explicitly addresses the larger social concerns of musicians and audiences in his treatise, a topic only latent in the writings of many of his contemporaries. We thus find a treatise that is as deeply concerned with the rise of Puritanism and its views on music as it is a treatise on practical musicianship. This broader reading of Butler sheds light on a particularly musical response to the wider religious and political debates that occurred in the years leading up to the English Civil War. What emerges in my study is not simply an eccentric country parson who wrote a madrigal imitating bees or an obsessive crusader who proposed a curious reform of English orthography (as in The English Grammar, 1633) but a thoughtful musician and careful expositor of texts both ancient and modern, a writer concerned not simply with promoting accurate singing but also with providing compelling arguments for the necessity and moral uprightness of public music at a time when music’s value was being openly challenged.

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