Damaged Cargo: On the Unfortunate Voyage of Poetic Meter to the Land of the Modern Music-Theory Textbook
"Music theory textbooks share a consensus definition of meter, which is directly appropriated from the late 18th century. I identify five problems with the definition, from the standpoint of modern metric research. I propose that the problems result from a three-stage process of transmission, whose origin is the ancient Greek theory of poetic verse feet, and whose intermediate stages are 18th-century theory of poetic prosody, and 18th-century theory of (mostly) vocal music. At each stage, the source has considerable cultural prestige within the culture of the target domain. This encourages an uncritical adoption ("shoehorning") of features that fit poorly with the repertories being modelled. I propose a repertory-general definition of musical meter, based on modern research, that avoids all five problems, but requires some minor terminological retooling."
Richard Cohn is the Battell Professor of Music Theory at Yale University. He is the author of Audacious Euphony: Chromaticism and the Triad's Second Nature, and co-editor of David Lewin's Morgengruss: Text, Comment, Commentary. His article on meter is forthcoming in the Oxford Handbook of Concepts in Music Theory. He was founding editor of Oxford University Press's Studies in Music Theory, and has served as executive editor for the Journal of Music Theory.
Limited number of seats available in this Research Seminar, for the public (seats will be automatically reserved for School of Music students who attend research seminars for coursework).