Monday, September 01, 2014

Marshall Fine's Musical Assumptions

As I learned music, I gradually observed that my experiments with alternate key levels and hierarchies, as basis for my own handling of tonalities and even tone-rows, lent themselves better to triple periods than double. It appears that I may have discovered a basic new truth, which all these examples demonstrate: that just as double periodicity was necessary to accommodate music based on an ascendant tonic and dominant (or dominant-substitute), triple or greater periodicity is the new wineskin for the fresh wine, music of expanded tonality and rhythmic scope. The chances are excellent that a phrase of modern music, that on the surface appears to lead nowhere due to a "free-flowing" character, or otherwise lies uncertainly or ambiguously, will come clean when considered a multiple period.

-- from Marshall Fine's Phrasing Handbook
I am very impressed with my brother's Phrasing Handbook because of the concise way he contextualizes music from the Middle Ages through the 21st century. It is 77 pages long, carefully written, and makes a great deal of sense.

My brother did have the sharpest ears I ever encountered, even in a family full of people with absolute pitch (our mother, our maternal grandmother, our paternal grandfather, and three brothers), and near absolute pitch (our father). I did not inherit absolute pitch (and boy did I try to develop it). I really felt somewhat handicapped as a child because of my lack of absolute pitch. The very young Marshall, when asked, could play anything he happened to have heard on the piano: even something as complicated as the opening of Tristan. It was truly astounding.

It is really rare to read a contemporary "take" on music history from the standpoint of someone who hears at such a high level. Too much scholarly writing approaches music history from the intellectual side rather than from the practical side.

I think that this handbook might really be helpful to people who want to understand something about the "why" of phrasing.

1 comment:


This is fascinating and I look forward to reading more of this enticing book.

I'm currently (slowly) reading Charles Rosen's "The Romantic Generation," which is just a joy to read as well, in part because he writes from such an intimate performer's perspective. His ideas about Chopin's (partly Bach-inspired) use of texture and color are revelatory to these ears/hands...