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date: 19 May 2019

(p. 417) Temporal Space


Besides a sizeable body of literature on harmony, Riemann also left behind a complete theory of meter. Like his forebear Moritz Hauptmann, Riemann insisted that theories of harmony and meter are inextricably related, but in practice Riemann put his two theories together only in relatively rare cases. Riemann's ambitious Systematische Modulationslehre (1887) went further than most other works, but the synthesis he aimed for in this book was not maintained to the same extent in subsequent publications. It is likely that the development of the theory of harmonic function in the years following Systematische Modulationslehre diverted Riemann's attention from this project. It was only after establishing his theory of harmonic functions that he returned to his interest in meter. The most extensive treatment of metric concerns in conjunction with harmonic analysis is found right at the end of Riemann's life, in his comprehensive analyses of Beethoven's piano sonatas (1919), where both theories are applied—and, at the same time, have their limits tested vis-à-vis this important musical repertoire.

In its American reception especially, Riemann's theory of meter has suffered comparative neglect. It seems that Riemann's doctrine of Auftaktigkeit—the obligatory (and often imaginary) upbeat—has proved a major stumbling block for a deeper engagement with his metrical ideas. The contributions in this section foreground the temporal aspects—both metric and rhythmic—of Riemann's thinking, linking them with his ideas about harmony and form, with the view to opening up avenues that may inspire further analytical developments.

(p. 418) Riemann's own writings are often predicated on the assumption that his model of cadential succession is unthinkable without considering the metrical placement of each function. Much to the frustration of his critics, however, Riemann was never very clear about how exactly his theories of harmony and meter were supposed to interact, and he often left it for his readers to fill in the gaps. With admirable clarity William Caplin parses the obfuscations of Riemann's own writings in order to identify and isolate a number of general principles according to which the two theories interact. In many ways, Caplin's rigorous exegesis provides exactly the synthesis that Riemann never quite accomplished in his own writings.

Perhaps the most sustained treatment of harmony and meter together is found in his analyses of the Beethoven piano sonatas—Riemann's late magnum opus that summarizes and applies much of his thinking. Scott Burnham uses the analyses as a springboard, not only to explain how Riemann's theories work but also to show how they can illuminate Beethoven's music. Focusing on the three sonatas of op. 31, Burnham reveals to us a circumstance in which Riemann does not have the luxury or freedom to make abstract or systematic pronouncements, but is instead confronted with the concrete situation of having to make sense of a musical composition. In many cases, the analytical reality turns out to present a messier—but also a much richer—picture than the carefully controlled situations that his textbooks depict.

A key text in understanding Riemann's thoughts on the temporal features of music can be found in the little-known but fascinating article “Metric Freedoms in Brahms's Songs,” translated by Paul Berry. Riemann's essay is notable on at least three counts. First, it presents a near-contemporary account of Brahms's music—late Brahms at that. Even Schenker, who championed Brahms's compositions, spills little ink over the analysis of Brahms's often challenging music. Second, the essay presents what is for Riemann a rare analytical account involving vocal music—a repertoire Riemann generally dismissed as inferior to absolute (that is, instrumental) music. And third, the essay is inherently interesting for its dissimilarity to Riemann's more systematic theories of rhythm and meter (or, more properly, its dissimilarity to the caricatures of those theories by Riemann's critics). Berry's introduction adds further dimension to the essay, placing it in the broader context of Riemann's larger regulative historical project and more immediately (as is often the case with Riemann) situates the essay within a polemic with the musicologist Hermann Kretzschmar. The essay reveals Riemann as a sensitive analyst, responding to issues of declamation, harmony, and notated meter, and offers insights not simply into the music but into Riemann's theoretical and analytical methodologies as well.