Back to index
Fink, Robert Wallace

Arrows of Desire: Long-Range Linear Structure and the Transformation of Musical Energy

Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley, 1994
(esm1@uhura.rochester.edu)

The author seeks to create a new analytical methodology that links the long-range linear thinking characteristic of sophisticated tonal analysis with the insights of recent critical and feminist perspectives on music. Leaving behind the ideological insistence on music's organic unity and physical transcendence that is inherent in traditional linear theories, this methodology attempts to define musical energy in terms that are overtly mechanical and physical.

Musical energy is linked to our direct physical response to music. Potential energy in music can be defined as desire for physical response to music. The theoretical crux of this study is an attempt to define one type of linear mechanism that many composers have used to channel the potential energy of our musical desires.

The Rossini crescendo presents a simple linear energy mechanism. The crescendo creates a pitch plateau by simple repetition, storing energy which is released by an immediate linear ascent. Analysis of several crescendos shows that in their original context within the operas they almost always function within a clear-cut plateau-ascent mechanism which gives the Rossinian stretta finale its characteristic power and élan.

The plateau-ascent model provides the basis for more extended linear structures in the contemporaneous late choral works of Beethoven. After an introductory discussion of long-range linear drama in the Credo of the Missa Solemnis, Beethoven's use of long-range plateaus and ascents to create and frustrate desire in the Ninth Symphony is linked to recent disputes over the symphony's sexual political content--disputes contextualized by a brief reception history of the first movement recapitulation.

Mechanical repetition and pitch stasis are taken to extremes in the music of the American minimal school. An extended critical introduction considers the place of minimalism between modern and postmodern aesthetics, and the applicability of linearity and musical desire in these supposedly non-teleological works. Extended analyses of Philip Glass's Akhnaten; Steve Reich's Piano Phase and Desert Music; and John Adams's Shaker Loops and Harmonielehre show that linearity and desire--albeit a different, postmodern desire--can still be used to describe the minimal musical experience.