Topic Theory
A very brief introduction to topic theory
  • Ratner (1980), in his Classic Music: Expression, Form, and Style, was the one who first coined the term "topic"
    • Among other things, this book list a number of topics (including many dance forms, Sturm und Drang, galant, empfindsam, French overture, Turkish march, etc.
    • Topics are particularly common in the Baroque and Classical eras
  • Hatten (1994), in his Beethoven: Markedness, Correlation, and Interpretation further refined the issue, with an eye towards Beethoven's music
    • According to the author, topics are "richly coded style types which carry certain features linked to affect, class, and social occasion such as church styles, learned styles, and dance styles. In complex forms these topics mingle, providing a basis for musical allusion" (Hatten 1994: x)
    • Hatten also introduced the idea of "expressive genres," which are more general, archetypal, and looser organized than topics
    • Hatten noted it's very hard to classify topics within a larger scheme: classification systens tend to get messy, and there's quite a bit of overlap among topics (see p.75)
  • For a review of topic theory today, see Nicholas McKay's On Topics Today

The Pastoral topic:
- about NATURE, about longing or loss of a Golden Age, about Love, about a fantasy world, about Orphic Mysteries (in the Renaissance), and had some religious connotations too (see Monelle)
- peaceful, simple, happy, picturesque, unsullied (Hatten 82)

Schumann and Late Eighteenth-Century Narrative Strategies

  • Asks the question of how musical meaning can be conceived, assessed, and described.
    • Narratology is strongly linked to the idea of topic theory.
  • Decides to examine the deductive system of narratology (which is a mix of literary criticism, philosophy of history, and hermeneutics).
  • Narratology is concerned both with stylistic conventions, and also how these conventions were understood in their own era.
  • Study includes considering how a limited pool of potential events (perhaps topoi) are arranged into one of a number of standard successions in order to ultimately tell a story.
  • In addition to broader narratives, 19th Century composers also focused on the theme, and the development thereof.
  • 2 general questions must be asked: “first, what are the codes, or conventions, by which we isolate musical events as discrete identities; and, second, what are the codes or conventions by which we locate them in a paradigmatic series of events, pre-existent in our minds and drawn from past experience?” (167).
  • Also must ask: how does a composer handles the narrative; that is, what is the relationship between the general paradigm (a story of unrequited love moving towards fulfillment) and the composer’s specific take?
  • A reminder: not all music (not even all Romantic music) is teleological.
  • Schumann, who was highly influenced by early Romantic authors, was himself influential in the shift in narratological view from the 18th to the 19th century.
    • Incidentally, Schumann saw music and poetry in a rather similar light.
  • Schumann for instance likes the “questioning” or “defamiliarizing” type of plots that upend the standard paradigms.
    • See the Stq. in A, op. 41/3 (1842), which begins like a rondo but becomes increasingly difficult to recognize as such (moving into a quasi-Trio section) with fragmentation and morphing of the theme
    • This forces the listener to question procedures involved in narrative structure and to put more effort into “following the story”
    • Could this type of narratological analysis be compared to Liszt’s method of telling a story?

Once More Between Absolute and Program Music

  • Newcomb suggests that current difficulty understanding this historically well-received work might be a result of different ways of hearing music today.
  • Music for Schumann was an “expressive enterprise;” it embodies the emotions attendant on experienced objects or events.
    • Build the music out of small (motiv-esque) character pieces/archetypes arranged in one big form.
    • Idea of music as a composed novel.
  • Period listeners easily understood the archetypes of psychological development in Schumann’s Symphony 2, and related the music very favourably to Beethoven 5 (or 9).
  • “And we do well to think of the thematic units partly as characters in a narrative, transformed by the requirements of various different contexts, while remaining recognizably related to their previous selves. They interact with each other, with the plot archetypes, with their own past guises, and with conventions of musical grammar and formal schemes analogously to the way the characters in a novel interact with each other and with the moral and legal conventions that shape the situations.” (237).
  • Especially in the early 1900s theorists (e.g. W.H. Hadow) began complaining of a lack (or incoherence) of form, especially in the final movement
    • This reliance on formalist principles links in to Maus’s article about masculine vs. feminine ways of considering music.
    • The Finale is not formless; rather it uses multiple forms at once (240).
  • Newcomb goes on to further explore the psychological and character implications of the Second Symphony.
  • There is a need to appreciate the way literary or art criticism can illuminate a piece of music.