Theory and analysis

Theory and analysis. Music theory is concerned principally with the structure of music. Music theorists are engaged in such diverse tasks as the study of analytical and pedagogical technique, 'pure' theory, psychoacoustics, music perception, and the history of theory.

Theory and analysis

Theory and analysis. Music theory is concerned principally with the structure of music. Music theorists are engaged in such diverse tasks as the study of analytical and pedagogical technique, 'pure' theory, psychoacoustics, music perception, and the history of theory. By its very nature, much music theory takes a generalized rather than a nationalist perspective and so music theorists seldom specialize in Canadian music. (Gail Dixon, however, has done analytical studies of the music of John Beckwith, Harry Freedman, Jean Papineau-Couture, and Barbara Pentland, among others.) Topics at theory conferences held in Canada have rarely been specifically Canadian in nature; in fact, they have been distinguishable from those at theory conferences held in other countries only by the relative absence of local content. While this situation is perhaps understandable, given the focus of much of the work in music theory, it is to be hoped that more Canadian theorists will recognize in the music of their country a rich source of virtually untapped material which will reward serious analytic investigation.

Prior to 1980, formal advanced training in the discipline of music theory was largely unavailable in Canada, and most students went to US universities for their degrees. This situation had changed by 1991, when master's degrees in theory were offered at the universities of Alberta, Ottawa, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and Western Ontario, and at McGill U; the last three also offered doctoral programs in the discipline.

The first music theorist in Canada was probably Robert Talbot, whose publications included Cycle de Quintes: Des propriétés de l'intervalle de quinte dans la science, dans l'histoire, dans la pédagogie de la musique (Quebec City 1940). One of few examples of work from the following decades is Graham George's Tonality and Musical Structure(London 1970) which propounds an original theory of the relation of form to key change..Such has been the growth in the field that, in 1990, there were more than two dozen highly respected senior theorists on the faculties of the major Canadian universities, among them such notable figures as Bo Alphonce (McGill University), William Benjamin and Wallace Berry (both at the University of British Columbia), William Caplin (McGill University), Gail Dixon (University of Western Ontario), Anne Hall (Wilfrid Laurier), Edward Laufer (University of Toronto), Christopher Lewis (University of Alberta), Jean-Jacques Nattiez (University of Montreal), and Richard Parks (University of Western Ontario). As theorists expand the boundaries of their discipline, some are exploring subject areas and methodologies that combine elements of theory, musicology, ethnomusicology, and other non-musical disciplines. Among those in Canada working in such areas are Istvan Anhalt, Regula Burckhardt Qureshi and Jay Rahn. Increasing numbers of superbly trained young theorists are finding places in the music schools of the major Canadian universities, thus ensuring continued healthy growth of the discipline. Canadian scholars are engaged in research in almost every aspect of the discipline, and they are widely respected amongst the international community of theorists.

Until 1986 there had never been a conference in Canada devoted specifically to music theory. Certainly theoretical research was presented in more general Canadian conferences, such as those sponsored by the CUMS, but a theorist who wished to present the results of his or her research to colleagues in his discipline was forced to attend a conference outside of the country. To address this problem, the first Canadian theory conference was organized by McGill University in 1986. A second followed in 1988 at the University of Alberta, and a third in 1990 at the University of Western Ontario. Future biennial theory conferences were planned, and there has been discussion about the possibility of establishing a chapter of the US-based Society for Music Theory in Canada, or of setting up a Canadian theory society. Whatever the outcome of these deliberations, it seems clear that music theory is firmly established as a potent aspect of musical scholarship in Canada.

See also Theory textbooks