Michael SPITZER: "Meditations on Meyer's Hobby Horses:
Levels of Motivation in Musical Signs" (5/7)


A favourite trope of the Romantic composer is the "journey into Nature". Wagner's Siegfried affords perhaps the prototypical example. Act I is dominated by schematic song-forms. These will be broken and melted down, like the very fragments of the hero's sword, in the opera's famous Forest Murmurs. Dahlhaus terms such statistical sound-effects "Klangflache", "outwardly static, but inwardly in constant motion" (1989: 307). The Klangflache "conveys a landscape because it is exempted from the principles ofteleological progression'; i.e., it provides release from the syntactic "scripts" of rule-governed composition. The listener's fancy roams free, subject only to the default principles of Gestalt patterns. Over the course of the first two acts, the musical materials have drifted from the schematic end of the spectrum to the natural. Crucially, Wagner has "thematised" this drift in the very fabric of his drama. Not wishing to claim priority for either side of Wagner's music/drama dialectic, it is perhaps best to point simply to the perfect "fit" between the Idee and the material. Of course, the intermingling of "learned" and "natural" principles is infinitely rich and multi-levelled in Wagner's score. Meyer's tools, however, have the potential for tracking the landscape painting with a new type of musical iconography.
In conclusion, it is worth pointing out that Meyer's schema/Gestalt dichotomy follows in the wake of many other oppositions in cognitive science and semiotics. Meyer has himself compared it (after Gjerdingen) to Schank and Abelson's distinction between "scripts" and "plans" (1989: 245). Syntactic relationships and the schemata associated with them are scriptlike ("A script is a structure... made up of slots and requirements about what can fill those slots"). Plans are repositories "for general information that will connect events that cannot be connected by use of an available script or by a standard causal chain expansion" (245); gap-fill and axial melodies are plan-like patterns "that provide for general kinds of relationships, such as 'move around (above and below) some central tone, and then return to it'". Meyer might also have referred to Nelson Goodman's (1976) nominalist classification of sign-types. For Goodman, generic differences between signs pertain not to levels of resemblance but rather to their internal structure. Schemata would correspond to Goodman's digital signs, being differentiated and articulated. Gap-fills accord with analogue signs, which are non-articulated and dense.

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AS/SA Nº4, Article 3 : Page 5 / 7

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