Fulvio Delli Pizzi

Musical Rhetoric is not a Will-o'-the-Wisp

All sorts of analytical work tend to show similarities and correlations among the previously isolated constituent elements and sections of a musical piece; it is correct to interpret this procedure as an attempt to reduce the swerves employed by a composer, and refer them to a common matrix. If we can generally believe that the core of artistic communication lies in swerves, it is just as indispensable to become aware of them; musical rhetoric is placed within the coordinates "production of swerves -- recognition of swerves". Therefore we clearly state that our interest is not turned to searching and enumerating preformed "figures of speech" spread out by composers all over their scores; in the economy of music, we consider those figures much more as iconic isomorphisms than as operations bearing directly upon musical communication. Thus a possible musical rhetoric runs the risk of becoming a will-o'-the-wisp.
In order to approach the problem of defining the concept of swerve with reference to any possible "writing degree zero", we must not confuse between alterations of grammatical and syntactic behaviors which pertain to the musical system circumscribing the particular piece under examination, and alterations of the complex of strategies operating inside the piece. Now, as regards the generic functions of swerves, we know that they always decrease message predictability, create expectation of further information, and have a high rate of potentiality in producing meaning; nevertheless we are compelled to take account of a burning question: "From what -- in music -- do swerves intentionally deviate?" As a matter of fact, we have to answer this question in two different ways.
In case we consider swerves concerning a musical system, our answer should consist in showing deviations from the ordinary grammatical structures or syntactical relations; it is quite obvious that to do so one should have a strong theory at disposal, capable of throwing light on the foundational rules and standard behaviors of that musical system. For instance, and very briefly, let us examine the tonal system. It is subjected, from my point of view, to the same general leading tendency characterizing the Western conception (and maybe not that only) of most music: the tendency toward homeostasis. On homeostasis rest three basic axioms beginning from which it is possible to describe the system exhaustively:
a) tonality is genetically consonant and founded on superposing thirds;
b) it is governed by centripetal force;
c) it is hierarchically organized both from interchordal and intrachordal viewpoint.
Evidently, the tonal system enumerates and recognizes various behaviors turning aside its normal course and identifiable as swerves: dissonances, deceptive cadences, modulating processes, and so on. They are already part of a conventional and systematic musical rhetoric, and we are often aware of their standardization; in this case, the search for "swerves of swerves" arouses great interest, particularly since such a search could open up some newer fields in relation to "poietics".
In case we propose to consider swerves concerning the complex of strategies operating inside a specific musical composition, the possibility of recognition should be founded in our capacity to estimate the reiterative musical behaviors which are even not actually present in the piece, although they set up a meaningless potential straight course. A pregnant example of that is supplied by the first movement of Beethoven's Sonata Op. 53. At the beginning, some tonal relations seem broken; the link between the triads G-B-D and B flat-D-F (mm. 4-5), and that between G-B-D and D-F-A (mm. 17-18) are both highly doubtful from a syntactic viewpoint. Our faculty of prediction dissolves, and swerves are distinctly perceptible. At any rate, it is possible to wonder whether an underground straight path exists. If we read the B of the chord G-B-D at mm. 3-4 and 16-17 both times as a Picardy third and consider the key of G minor as removed from the tonal plan, we would find out a real "degree zero" consisting in a very trite succession of keys (from m. 8 to 30: F-C-G-D-A-E). But it is astounding to observe that all these keys are minor, whereas the reference key is C major! I think that musical rhetoric will be able to make sense and avoid being a will-o'-the-wisp simply if it searches for all atypisms that may produce or increase meaning.

Homeostasis as Negative--->