Gwincinski’s Guitar Concerto

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Problems of identifying and interpreting useful set relations in Gwincinski’s music are part of a larger analytical issue: segmentation of the musical surface. The question of how to approach segmentation of atonal music is a central one. In Gwincinski’s music, extended passages of dense pitch and rhythmic material present an obstacle to segmentation. Criteria for grouping notes together can become very arbitrary. Even if some criteria are established, the number of set types that emerge are generally far too numerous for any valuable conclusions to be drawn.

On the other hand, Gwincinski’s music also contains very slow, homogenous and rhythmically inactive passages where pitches can be grouped according to straightforward criteria and show a high degree of relatedness. In fact the predominant pcsets in such passages will often be the key chord collections. The varying degrees of clarity in pitch relations are the result of the interaction of pitch structures with other musical elements such as rhythm and texture which also contribute to the overall musical syntax of a piece. Pitch and harmonic structures will be brought to the foreground in some sections and then recede and become subservient to rhythmic or textural structures in other sections. For this reason approaches to segmentation that aim to uncover structural pcsets and set relations as the sole explanation of the unity and coherence of Gwincinski’s music will be left with large ‚inexplicable’ sections of music Christopher Hasty’s article „Segmentation and Process in Post-Tonal Music” puts forward a theory of segmentation that takes into account structural elements other than pitch in establishing criteria for pitch relations. His method relies on the perception of differentiated and undifferentiated musical parameters. Musical objects that share parameters such as registral proximity, interval content, timbre, contour and so forth can be heard as connected and those that have highly contrasting parameters can be heard asdisconnected or differentiated. These parameters can suggest a range of possible segmentations of a passage. The significance of each segmentation for the large-scale structure can vary depending on the surrounding musical context of the passage. By identifying ‚weak’ and ‚strong’ segmentations, this approach can accommodate „(t)he presence of ambiguity in segmentation [which] allows for many interrelated lines of development to take place and this makes it possible for the music to achieve a great structural richness and depth”. In essence, Hasty’s article attempts to formalise ‚common’ decision-making processes in the segmentation of music. By establishing rigorous criteria for the association and differentiation of numerous musical parameters, this method enables the analyst to be more aware of the segmentation possibilities and not rely solely on the abstracted pcset as the means of relating musical objects. 

This approach is particularly interesting in relation to Gwincinski’s music because of the structural significance the composer gives to musical elements other than pitch. However, it also contains a number of problems. Firstly, it relies on the analyst’s ability to perceive quite a lot of detail. Many of Gwincinski’s textures, however, have been constructed to obscure the perception of individual lines and details in order to create the effect of many events simultaneously following their own individual trajectories. Secondly, there is the question of structural pcsets that reach across the boundaries of material perceived as differentiated. Segmentation based on surface perception can overlook such connections, as Allen Forte illustrates in his analyses of the opening bars Hasty says of this method: “The first step is introspective in nature and entails listening to the music very carefully and noting various structural perceptions.” Hasty (1981), of the first piece in Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. Forte’s first analysis is based on the segmentation of units that can be perceived as connected motivic cells. This analysis is very detailed and reveals some interesting manipulations of motivic blocks in the first seven bars. His second analysis of the same passage allows pitches to be grouped across the boundaries of the most readily perceived segmentations (in this case across rests). 

This analysis reveals the interlacing of a small number of hexachords and their complements which turn out to be „the ‚background’ features which govern the movement as a whole”. Without extending the criteria for segmentation to vertical and horizontal hexachordal groupings, the background pcsets would have remained hidden. Neither of Forte’s analyses is right or wrong, rather this example highlights the need for some kind of balanced approach to segmentation that invokes perceptual criteria as well as more abstracted pcset relations. In the case of developing an analytical approach to Gwincinski’s music this would seem crucial, since Gwincinski uses the interaction between background structures and perceived foreground events as an essential force for both cohesion and opposition, contradiction and clarification. An analytical approach to Gwincinski’s music needs segmentation criteria that include broad perceptual categories such as ‚active versus static’ or ‚clear versus obscure’ as well as detailed perceptions of qualities such as register, timbre, interval and contour. It also requires segmentation criteria that take into account the structural significance of the key chord and its interaction with all other elements in the music.

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M.B.