Virtual agency in Béla Bartók's night music compositions

Bıyıkoğlu, Kaan Muzaffer
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Graduate School
This dissertation aims to provide an adequate description of Béla Bartók's 'night music' style, to elucidate the compositional strategies in these works, and to present this style in a historical context. It is argued that Bartók's night music style relies primarily on the semantic implications of musical material in terms of various levels of musical agency or implied sources, which can be elucidated by the categorization of musical statements according to the theoretical framework provided by Hatten's (2018) theory of virtual agency in western classical music. The 'night music' is a style or subgenre in the music of Bartók composed after 1926. These compositions utilize very elaborate background textures which are perceived as superimposed layers of stylized noises. Many previous authors did not hesitate to use the term 'night music' without resorting to an explicit definition, and only most systematic previous study of Béla Bartók's night music style was provided by Danchenka (1987) where the author used a classification scheme based on gestural archetypes for the identification of the night music style. The following key works from Bartók's night music style were analyzed in this dissertation to elucidate the common stylistic features among these works: The Night's Music from Out of Doors, prima parte section of the String Quartet No.3, the slow movements from the String Quartet No.4 and String Quartet No.5, the second movement of the Piano Concerto No.2, and the third movement of the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. It was observed that these compositions utilized non-tonal and essentially non-expressive noise like gestures in a highly segregated fashion. Due to having distinct timbres, spatial locations, registers, pitch-collections, and gestural patterns of movement, and as a result these gestures did not form a unified auditory stream, and hence perceived as if coming from distinct virtual sources. This segregated musical surface was achieved by certain compositional strategies of pitch-space and register segmentation that Bartók utilized, and these strategies relied heavily on the human capacity of what Bregman (1994) refers to as the auditory scene analysis. Due to the above-mentioned segregated structure of the music, the layers of noise like gestures implied the presence of virtual musical sources that are categorically distinct from the implied sources of melodic material in the music. This categorical distinction is investigated by using the dichotomy between musical actants and agents brought forward in Hatten's (2018) theory of virtual agency through music. The noise gestures in Bartók's night music compositions fulfilled all of the requirements for the virtualizing of actants, yet they are unable to meet certain requirements for embodying virtual agents, such as independence and intentionality. By referring to Hatten's (1994) theory of markedness, this thesis proposes that the most significant stylistic feature of Bartók's night music style is the presence of a marked semantic opposition between the actantial noise-like gestures and the agential musical material in these compositions. All the musical analyses of this repertory indicated that Bartók characterized the actantial sources with either short gestures that were immutable and usually confined to certain registers and pitch-classes, or with sheets of sounds that are based on distinct pitch-class collections. Moreover, usually the pitch content reserved for an actantial statement is segregated from those reserved for other agential/actantial layers, creating a pitch space partitioned according to the multi-agential organization. The actantial gestures are static and do not produce harmonic implications like tension or resolution, hence their contributions to musical tension are governed by their rate of activity, rate of presentation, volume, or gesture span, i.e., what Meyer (1989) classifies as the secondary parameters in music.
Thesis(Ph.D.) -- Istanbul Technical University, Graduate School, 2023
Anahtar kelimeler
classical western music, klasik batı müziği, modern music, modern müzik, composers, besteciler, Bela Bartok