PhD Dissertation & MA Thesis | dhhow music

PhD Dissertation & MA Thesis


PhD Dissertation

Arnold Schoenberg's Prelude from the Suite for Piano, Op.25:
from Composition with Twelve Tones to the Twelve-Tone Method

(NOTE: 311 pages, 54 MB .pdf file)

2010 Winner of the Mu Phi Epsilon Musicological Research Contest (Category I: PhD Dissertations)
Dissertation Abstract also available at Mu Phi Epsilon Triangle (music journal), Winter 2011 issue, page 7.

PhD Dissertation Abstract

The history of Arnold Schoenberg’s Prelude (1921) from the Suite for Piano, Op. 25 (1921–1923), the composer’s first twelve-tone work, is rife with paradoxes and discrepancies, conflicts and conundrums. The Suite for Piano itself is historically significant not only because it is the first of the composer’s large works to be unified by a single twelve-tone row, but also because its composition sits astride one of the most complex stylistic and technical changes—the passage from freely atonal to twelve-tone serial composition—in all of 20th-century music. These changes, recorded in the Suite for Piano, coincide, ironically, with a widespread rejection of the very aesthetic basis for Schoenberg’s music. Their tangled history, along with their consequent effects on musical historiography, has led to a simplified and substantially incorrect account of how Schoenberg’s conception of twelve-tone music, self-proclaimed as one of music history’s greatest compositional “inventions,” developed. The reality concealed by this account is considerably more complex, confusing as it does major stylistic, technical, and organizational transitions while reflecting the musical spirit of the times. This dissertation will show that Schoenberg’s early serial odyssey cannot be viewed without considering external parameters, including concurrent twelve-tone models and neoclassicism, the social-political and artistic climate of the early 1920s, and Schoenberg’s inherent desire—perhaps extramusically motivated—to be credited as the inventor of the twelve-tone method.

It has long been assumed that while working on the Prelude from the Suite for Piano, Op. 25, in July 1921, Schoenberg discovered the “Method of Composing with Twelve Tones which are Related Only with One Another,” and that this discovery would “assure the supremacy of German music for the next hundred years.” As is often the case, however, the truth is more subtle and far richer. In fact, Schoenberg made several different discoveries that were revealed or announced on at least three different occasions, in 1921, 1922, and 1923—discoveries manifested in the compositional history of the Suite for Piano, which spanned those years. Understanding that Schoenberg’s conception of “composition with twelve tones” was ever-changing in the early 1920s and that his discovery in July 1921 was not twelve-tone composition as we understand it today is crucial in discussing both his music and text manuscripts from that time. Schoenberg appears to have been cognizant of this himself, especially as other composers offered their own efforts in composing with twelve tones, and he took extensive measures, centered on the Suite for Piano, to encourage everyone to see twelve-tone composition as having been conceived first by him, fully formed. These measures were successful for fifty years, practically casting in stone an axiom that has led many scholars to perceive chronological contradictions in the development of the Suite for Piano and of twelve-tone composition.

In reality, Schoenberg twice abandoned his experiments in composition with twelve tones after making public announcements claiming priority to their invention, not composing a single work in this new style from late July 1921 to mid-February 1923, when it was clear that both neoclassicism and twelve-tone composition were firmly ensconced in the musical landscape. Only then did Schoenberg think to merge the two current trends to launch his forays, perhaps a parody of a parody, into what we now appreciate as his mature twelve-tone method, showing his colleagues and critics that it was possible to incorporate an amalgam of ideals and idioms drawn from the various schools of musical thought evident in Europe after World War I. A thorough examination of Schoenberg’s manuscripts, drafts, and sketches—as well as his essays, aphorisms, and letters, along with written materials of his friends, colleagues, and students—will demonstrate that the difficulties and inconsistencies of dating the transition from freely atonal to twelve-tone serial composition are a result not of discrepancies in the primary sources, but rather of shoehorning false assumptions into data that support earlier, flawed deductions. The Suite for Piano, Op. 25, will be revealed as more than Schoenberg’s first twelve-tone composition, as more than a laboratory of early twelve-tone row manipulations, as more than an example of Schoenberg’s “neoclassical” period, but rather as a work totally representative of its time, a composition that looks forward and reflects backward while embracing the present.

UMI Number: 3368701
Copyright © 2009

MA Thesis

Geza Music of Kabuki: Scenic Design through Music

Dr. How's research in the geza music of kabuki began while she was at Swarthmore College under a Friends of Music and Dance Summer Scholarship. She conducted her fieldwork, under the guidance of Dr. James R. Brandon, with the Grand Kabuki of Tokyo in the summer of 1988 while the troupe was briefly in residence at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Her subsequent External Honors Exam in geza music was administered by Dr. Larry Stockton of Lafayette College at the invitation of Swarthmore College. Deborah continued her studies in kabuki at UCLA with Dr. Carol Sorgenfrei and Suenobu Togi, which led to her master's thesis in ethnomusicology.

Thesis Abstract

Geza ongaku (offstage music) serves many functions in the overall dramatic impact of kabuki: music as accompaniment; music as meaningful and image-evoking sound; music as one of the threads that holds kabuki together as 'total theater'; music that bridges one section to the next; music that tells a story on its own—music as aural scenic design.

Geza music strengthens the dramatic fiber of a kabuki production by serving as an aural indicator of place, time, and atmosphere. Each geza melodic and rhythmic pattern is indicative of a specific image. However, because geza patterns are not aural re-iterations of visual or textual occurrences on stage, audience members must have previous knowledge of their meanings to fully appreciate and understand their allusions.

Unfortunately, fewer and fewer people recognize geza melodic and rhythmic patterns. Japan, like many other first world countries, has lost many links to its traditional culture, opting for a more 'Western-European,' globally universal, 'popular' aesthetic.  In addition, geza musicians are becoming more scarce. Very few people want to devote their time and energy to an art form that lacks deserved respect and financial support, and sons of geza musicians are no longer expected to follow in the footsteps of their fathers.

The lack of interest in becoming a geza musician poses many potential problems and raises several class-structure issues. Although it is unlikely that geza music will completely fade out, fewer and fewer musicians will be acquainted with its multi-faceted properties. Already, many younger geza musicians know the patterns only by rote; they are not aware of the symbolic meanings. Hopefully, since Japan has renewed its interest in preserving traditional art forms, geza musicians will finally experience a long-awaited boost in respect and social standing.

Thesis Excerpt

Often referred to as "Total Theater" [1]—following the Asian theater concept of combining music, dance, and drama—kabuki captures its audience aurally, visually, and emotionally. In kabuki theaters, audience members mill around, they eat, they shout in admiration during the performance—similar to the atmosphere of Shakespeare's Elizabethan theater. The audience is fully aware of kabuki's theatricality, and the staging reflects this knowledge. The concept of calling attention to itself as a performance is part of the kabuki aesthetic. Musicians speak, chant, and/or sing narration; actors sometimes address the audience directly; and the scenic design is stylized and representational. Battle scenes are danced, though weapons never really clash, with kokens appearing on stage to assist weapon changes. There are pauses for mies, as characters interrupt the flow of their dialogue to heighten the suspense of their experiences by posing dramatically for their onlookers. Princesses, spending their days indoors, have milk-white faces;samurai, out fighting and patrolling in the sun, have flesh-tone faces; while beggars, living in the streets and gutters, have dirty ruddy faces. Practical hair styles and ornaments are found on farmers, while ornate creations are reserved for nobility. The crests, symbols, and scenes hand-embroidered in a kimono, along with the colors of the threads and fabric, often reveal a character's personality. The staging focuses on the spectacle, as grand and vivid as possible—forgoing the realistic for the stylistic. A kabuki production draws the focus of the audience to the artistic and aesthetic stylization of the presentation—and especially, to its mesmerizing visual beauty.

However, most audience members are at first intrigued by, but then often dismiss, the seemingly random melodies and percussive sounds that come from the offstage music ensemble, the geza. The audience cannot see the musicians of the geza ensemble within the kuromisu (black curtain), and this non-visual factor often surprises a first-time kabuki goer. In fact, most viewers are unaware of the many aspects of geza music: music as accompaniment; music as meaningful and image-evoking sound; music as one of the threads that holds kabuki together as "Total Theater"; music that bridges one section to the next; music as sound effects, weather signals, location settings; music which tells a story on its own—music as aural scenic design. A simple introduction to geza music would enhance the viewer's theatrical experience.

Each geza melodic or rhythmic pattern is indicative of a specific visual image. Geza patterns are often equated to the "leit-motifs" of Wagnerian operas. However, there are two important differences between a geza pattern and a Wagnerian "leit-motif". In Wagnerian operas, the first appearance of a character, action, or image is usually accompanied by its leit-motif. The audience registers the motif clearly and recognizes the motif later. The astute listener who recalls an earlier use of the motif is rewarded with the additional information. Viewers need not know the specific associations of the leit-motifs before going to a production. On the other hand, in kabuki, the geza melodic and rhythmic patterns are often heard without visual support, so viewers must have previous knowledge of the patterns to fully appreciate and understand their allusive meanings. Moreover, geza patterns are not specifically composed for each kabuki. Rather, they are carefully selected from five hundred or so pre-existing patterns to enhance the dramatic element of the play. Thus, the meaning of each geza pattern stays constant throughout the entire kabuki genre, regardless of composer, plot, scenery, or action. In this sense, musicologists would consider geza patterns to be more like an elaborate system of musical conventions.

Geza music is not an aural re-iteration of visual or textual occurrences on stage, but rather an integral component to setting and scenery. For example, the odaiko might play a very, very soft snow pattern for 5-10 minutes during an interior scene, setting up a change in weather so that it appears natural when the main character puts on snow clothing and picks up an umbrella before exiting his house. In fact, when the scenery changes to reveal the exterior scene, it may not even be physically snowing on stage. The geza pattern alone functions as the falling snow.

Geza melodic patterns do not have many phrases and are all closed musical thoughts (meaning they have a distinct beginning and end), since many are derived from folk songs. Rhythmic patterns are also very short, and they repeat over and over again. It is also common to hear a melodic pattern simultaneously with an unrelated rhythmic pattern —note that this is different from a melodic pattern that has its own fixed rhythmic accompaniment. For example, one might hear the melodic pattern denoting blooming flowers while the rhythmic pattern of running water is playing. This combination works together and tells us that the snow and ice have melted in a nearby river and that it is springtime. However, audiences almost never hear two melodic patterns occurring at the same time nor two rhythmic patterns layered over one another.

Geza music, along with being programmatic, has many more simultaneous functions. Geza melodic patterns, normally played by the shamisen(s), sometimes assist in the transitions between dialogue segments by acting as linking passages, usually after long monologues or emotionally gripping passages. The shamisen enters a few seconds before an actor completes his lines and plays until the next actor is comfortably settled in his lines; the shamisen tapering in and out of the scene quietly and gently. The melodies that the shamisen play are carefully chosen to reflect and enhance the action on stage. For example, if a royal personage is on stage delivering a speech, a kangen melody derived from gagaku would be used; if a geisha is on stage applying her make-up, a brothel melody would be heard. The geza musicians, or at least the head shamisen player, must know the text and action of the entire play in order to time the entrances and exits of the ensemble so as to bridge one actor's lines to another, but without interfering with the dialogue. Amazingly, only some kabuki texts include specific indications of the geza patterns to be played. Otherwise, the leading actor of the troupe, also usually the director of the kabuki, must decide not only which patterns to use, but when they should be played.

The geza also accompanies the physical entrances and exits of the actors by supplying additional characteristic information and tempo indications. If a character comes on stage after an evening of drinking, the geza pattern played would probably be a drinking song, and the ensemble might perform it in such a way as to reflect the staggering and unsteady gait of the actor. If an actor is running away, the ensemble might continue the character's representative music but speed up the melody as the actor dashes offstage.

The geza ensemble is also in charge of supplying the prelude, interludes, and postlude of a production. When the kabuki house first opens, the odaiko, taiko, and nokan, (collectively, a sanbyoshi—meaning three instruments), of the geza ensemble play a traditional sequence calling attention to the theater's open doors (chakuto), this was the music we heard at the beginning of the talk. In kabuki's early years, this pattern was played outdoors from a tower above the theater, to lure citizens into the kabuki house. While the audience is settling before the curtain opens, the geza plays background music, characteristic of the play to be performed. During the interludes, the geza might play music heard in the scene(s) or act(s) before to remind the audience of previous events, or the ensemble might play music that foreshadows upcoming events. The postlude te de ike, played by the odaiko hit with a long, thin stick, is played at the end of every kabuki production, signalling to the audience that the evening's performances are over and that it is time to go home. We will hear this music at the end of the talk.

Identifying the original names of geza patterns is virtually impossible, due to the lack of material documentation. Different schools of performance give the same pattern different names, and melodies borrowed from folk songs are often given various titles from phrases within the vocal line. Having learned them from their respective masters, the actors and/or the geza musicians might know which pattern should be played for a particular scene, but they might not know its name. Many times the head musician or actor will hum the tune, or sing Japanese solfeggio syllables, and the rest of the ensemble will nod in recognition. Although some kabuki plays have incorporated the same geza patterns for three hundred and fifty years, each head actor has the power to change them if he feels it would better the production, or to substitute obscure patterns with better known ones. These changes have slightly altered the evolutionary path of many geza patterns, and in all likelihood, very few patterns are played exactly the way they were in the 1600's. In addition, the concept of "sameness" in geza performance is different from the one that most classical Western-European musicians are familiar with. For example, geza musicians claim that for one given production run of a kabuki, they play the music exactly the same from one performance to the next. However, what they mean by "exactly the same" includes improvisatory leeway with respect to melodic embellishments and rhythmic fluctuations, while starting pitches of melodic patterns may change from night to night. Furthermore, geza musicians do not read from a written score, and patterns are learned by oral tradition, from master to apprentice. Although some geza ensembles use cue sheets, the prompters only list the names of the patterns and do not include musical notation.

Geza music—with all its functions, helps keep a kabuki coherent. As background music, it adds atmosphere; as segue music it adds continuity; as symbolic sound, it adds sub-textual meaning; all in all, enhancing the production. Geza music is important because it stimulates the audience's imagination by introducing scenic information on a non-visual level. A viewer's scenery can thus be augmented by sound, giving kabuki four-dimensional scenic design. However, if an audience member is not familiar with the symbolic properties of geza melodic and rhythmic patterns, he or she would never experience this meta aspect of kabuki theater. This is not to suggest that persons unacquainted with geza music cannot appreciate nor understand the intent of the play. Rather, it should be looked at from another perspective, that persons in tune with geza music's deeper meaning enjoy an enhanced, more complete, version of the play. If a person does not know that he or she is missing something, then he or she will not miss it.

Unfortunately, fewer and fewer people recognize geza melodic and rhythmic patterns. Before Japan's technological and industrial revolution, more of the general public knew its country's folk tunes. Japan, like many other first world countries, lost many links to its traditional culture, opting for a more "Western-European", globally universal, "popular" aesthetic. This is why elderly Japanese more easily identify and understand the significance of geza patterns. Technological and industrial development has also made some geza patterns more inaccessible. For example, the geza rhythmic pattern of wind mimics the sound that wind makes as it brushes over rice-paper sliding doors, rattling and whistling as it passes; very few modern Japanese houses have rice-paper screens, and very few young Japanese have heard this sound.

Geza musicians are also becoming scarce. Very few Japanese men want to devote their time and energy to an art form that lacks respect and financial stability, and sons are no longer expected to follow in the footsteps of their musician fathers. The few geza music apprentices playing today are sincere and truly admire their art form, although many of them only know the geza patterns by rote. Although it is unlikely that geza music will completely fade out, fewer and fewer musicians will be acquainted with its multi-faceted properties. In other words, traditional geza patterns will probably always be played in a given kabuki, but the musicians themselves might not know their meanings. The lack of interest in becoming a geza musician poses many potential problems and raises several class-structure issues. Fortunately, in the past decade, Japan has shown a strong resurgence in preserving its traditional arts and cultural heritage, and the mass public has begun to admire those who choose to follow art rather than socio-economic standing. Geza musicians might finally experience a long awaited boost in respect and social status.

Case Study
Koi Bikyaku Yamato Orai

To illustrate the various properties of geza melodic and rhythmic patterns, we will do a short case study of the kabuki, Koi Bikyaku Yamato Orai, an adaptation of Chikamatsu Monazaemon's joruri/bunraku puppet play Meido no Hiyaku (Courier to Hell), written around 1711. The examples you will hear are from the 1988 Grand Kabuki of Tokyo production.

Our first geza example, Osaka sawagi, is a melodic pattern heard before Act I proper begins.

* [play Osaka sawagi]

The purpose of this melodic pattern is to signal that the action of the play will take place in the Kamigata region. From this information, a veteran audience is able to deduce that the play is a domestic play, as plays written and set in the Osaka-Kyoto area tend to focus on common day-to-day life, as opposed to plays written and set in the Toyko-Edo region, which tend to focus on Japanese military and history.  Knowing that the play is from the domestic repertoire, the audience will expect a kabuki in the soft (sewamono) style, as opposed to the warrior (aragoto) style. Although these parameters are not relayed through the text nor the setting, audience members who recognize the melody have an added piece of dramatic information, they know the "where" of the play. Knowing the setting can reveal significant subtle details, especially cultural insights.

Our second geza melodic pattern, odori ji, is used to reinforce the presence of a brothel.

* [play odori ji]

Its instrumentation alludes to the sensual dance pieces of dance-emphasized kabuki plays. Its walking tempo allows a listener to concentrate on the stylized foot steps that the courtesans take on stage, a reference to the walk of a traditional Japanese woman. In addition, the odori ji melody serves as atmospheric music of the brothel itself. It is like a play within a play: background music functioning as background music. The music reminds the audience that it is a respectable brothel, and the musical ambience supports the grace and finesse of the courtesans' posture and clothing. The geza melody thus gives the courtesans on stage more depth.

The relaxed mood of this play is broken when the main male character, Chubei, a messenger, accidentally breaks the official seal on the coins that he is supposed to deliver to a samurai client, while making a stop at the brothel. Having already committed a horrendous crime, Chubei decides to use the coins to purchase his courtesan lover, Umegawa, from the brothel madam, Oen. At this moment, the odori ji pattern stops and is replaced with our third example, a song called omae-no sode, meaning sleeve opening, which reinforces the action of exposure and the opening of the sealed coins.

* [play omae-no sode]

This song is slow and somber, with a singer accompanied by two shamisen and a flute. The use of songs in the geza often explores the inner emotions of a character, as spoken narrative is not as dramatic or poignant. The desperation in the song omae-no sodeechoes Chubei's predicament on stage. Chubei kneels and sheds tears during the song. The music is melancholic and free in meter as well as measure; the action on stage is extremely personal and emotional.

When Oen reappears into the dramatic action, odori ji is heard again, calling attention to the presence of the other courtesans. While the action is focused on Chubei, the music is focused on Chubei; but when the the action moves back to the entire stage, and Chubei interacts with the other characters on stage, the more general atmosphere-encompassing odori ji is played. In addition, when Oen and her courtesans exit, the dynamic level of the odori ji pattern rises then stops once the women are out of the visual range of the audience; the tempo also follows the speed of the courtesans' footsteps as they exit the stage.

When Chubei and Umegawa decide to flee town and depart on a journey to escape the punishment of breaking the official seal—in this case, death—the song omae-no sode resurfaces with the text, "low clogs of a journey along the narrow road."[2] The song foreshadows the difficult path to freedom as well as setting a tearful exit. A small hand gong is added to the song to punctuate time passing.

* [play omae-no sode with small gong punctuations]

Soon after, the omae-no sode song is heard again as Chubei exits via the hanamichi to end Act I. This time a large gong is added to the ensemble, clearly marking time as it tolls until the curtain is pulled. The gong simply implies that Chubei does not have much time left, and that doom is imminent.

* [play omae-no sode with large gong punctuations]

Thus, we have had three separate occurrences of the same basic song, intensified each time with the addition of a time-signifying gong complementing the intensity of Chubei's predicament. As Chubei's situation degenerates, the songs grow more intense in emotion, yet not in volume. The implementation of the same melody three times reminds the audience of the original action that causes Chubei's demise, the breaking of the official seal.

The second act of this kabuki refers to the play's bunraku roots, as a chobo appears stage-left, and all but the odaiko of the geza are excused. In this act, the odaiko plays various snow (yuki) patterns throughout, during interior and exterior scenes; and as the storm gets worse, the patterns get louder, as well as more intense when the characters are outdoors. This is the yuki oroshi, or snowstorm, pattern.

* [play yuki oroshi]

The regular yuki snow pattern is a very soft one, and although one does not usually associate snow with large drums, the padded sticks beating a low but resonant sound produces a very effective mood. The constant soft beating is supposed to evoke the feeling that one experiences while it snows, the insistent flakes that fall continuously.

Towards the end of the kabuki, as Chubei and Umegawa's pursuers draw closer to them, the odaiko signals impending doom by playing the mitsu daiko pattern of three loud and short pulses, repeated over and over again. The rhythmic pattern intensifies and quickens as the law enforcement agents catch up with Chubei and Umegawa.

* [play mitsu daiko]

Although the concept of denotational music is not unique to kabuki geza music, very few music, dance, or theater genres have as comprehensive and elaborate a system of evoking visual images. Geza music enhances the overall visual spectacle by adding metaphorical information to the scenic design elements on stage. Geza patterns aid the psychological progression of a drama by intensifying the emotional level of the characters as well as keeping the time frame in proper perspective. Geza patterns hold a kabuki together, as some plays leap from scene to scene, set to set, without the necessary textual elaboration. Geza music is an integral support system for the action on stage, and with it, actors can concentrate on the emotions and drama without worrying about some of the details. Geza patterns free the actors and narrators from supplying all the setting information. Thus kabuki becomes more able to succeed in exploring personal subjects, deeper character relationships, and plot developments.

And, to end this paper, we will hear the postlude of every kabuki, te de ike.

* [play te de ike]

[1] Leonard C. Pronko, Theater East & West: Perspectives Toward a Total Theater (Berkeley, Los Angeles, & London: University of California Press, 1967).
 [2] Geza melodic patterns generally are named after the shamisen pattern and not the words in the text. Thus, two songs with different texts could both be called by the same name as long as the shamisen parts are similar. In this play, the three versions ofomae-no sode have slightly different texts and non-pitched percussion accompaniment.

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