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Weak rhetorical reinforcement

When the winner is declared in a typical Presidential election, streamers and balloons fall down from the ceiling, supporters cheer, cameras flash—all reinforcing the decisive outcome.

In classical music, united emphasis or“rhetorical reinforcement”is a primary means of creating structural clarity. In Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, the third movement continues into the fourth without a break. The boundary between the movements is marked by strong rhetorical reinforcement: The dynamics, texture, meter and speed all change at once to herald the opening of the fourth movement.

The Election Night 2000 offered a different picture: No balloons fell, people milled about in a state of confusion, television announcers nervously shuffled their papers. Indeed, the country managed to peacefully sustain the uncertain outcome for the seven weeks that followed.

In progressive 20th century music, rhetorical reinforcement is often weak or absent. This makes the structural arrival points much more difficult to perceive. In Henri Dutilleux’s Ainsi la nuit…, the individual movements are played without pause. However, the boundaries between movements are difficult to discern because there are conflicting cues.

Perhaps you recognized that the second movement begins with the loud gesture played a little over a minute into the excerpt. However, this gesture does not have a greater perceptual priority than other potential markers, such as the long silences. As a result, you are likely to be far less certain about the formal boundary.

In traditional ballet, music and movement typically reinforce each other: For instance, the music will reflect the change from a solo to an ensemble number. However, when composer John Cage and choreographer Merce Cunningham collaborated, they did not coordinate their work. Music and dance were combined for the first time at the premiere. This made rhetorical reinforcement highly unlikely; if it did occur, it could only be the result of chance. Thus, the method of collaboration guaranteed greater ambiguity.

Silence

In his book“Signifying Nothing,”the mathematician Brian Rotman presents an analysis of William Shakespeare’s King Lear. Dividing up his kingdom before his death, Lear asks each of his three daughters to pledge their love for him. His youngest daughter Cordelia’s turn comes:

Lear:...what can you say to draw a third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.

Cordelia: Nothing my lord.

Lear: Nothing?

Cordelia: Nothing.

Lear: Nothing will come out of nothing: speak again.

In Rotman’s interpretation, Lear understands Cordelia’s“nothing”in the medieval sense, as a“void,”“death,”the total absence of life and feeling. But Cordelia intends her“nothing”in a more modern sense: She refuses to treat her love as a commodity, to be traded for land. Her“nothing”does not mean that she has no love ; only that she will not offer it in exchange for her inheritance. From that misunderstanding, the tragedy of Lear unfolds.

In the same way that medieval thinkers regarded“nothing”as the“absence of creation,”many musical traditions treat silence as the“absence of music.”Silence is almost totally absent from pop music. In classical music, it is used sparingly: It may occur as a“breath”to short phrases or as a formal articulant to large sections. The opening of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in g-minor consists of continuous sound until the arrival of the contrasting section, which is marked by silence:

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Source:  OpenStax, Sound reasoning. OpenStax CNX. May 31, 2011 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10214/1.21
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