via Jennifer Oates
NABMSA is pleased to announce that the winner of the biennial Temperley prize for the outstanding student paper at the Sixth Biennial Conference in Las Vegas is Stuart Paul Duncan. Duncan, a doctoral student in music theory at Yale University, presented a paper entitled “Benjamin Britten’s Metric and Hypermetric Experiments in the 1930s and 1940s.” The abstract is below. The selection committee was pleased to select Duncan’s innovative work from a particularly fine slate of student papers at this year’s conference. Congratulations to Mr. Duncan and all of the excellent student papers!
2013, the centennial year of Benjamin Britten’s birth, was a good year in the conference and concert halls for the composer’s music. Historical and biographical views on Britten’s life and music have seen renewed focus. The series of articles in Rethinking Britten (2013), edited by Philip Rupprecht, has rekindled analytical exploration of Britten’s extensive oeuvre. One analytical area that has been overlooked, yet plays a vital role in Britten’s early music, is his approach to meter and hypermeter as a means to communicating conflict and ambiguity.
Through a variety of short analyses, this paper will explore Britten’s metric experiments during the 1940s. Methodologically, this research draws upon recent work in the developing field of metric theory. This burgeoning field, based on the work of Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff in A Generative Theory of Tonal Music, has seen sustained analytical payoff in the works of Haydn and Mozart by Danuta Mirka, the piano music of Schumann by Harald Krebs, the German Lieder of Schubert by Yonatin Malin, and the symphonic music of 19th-century composers by Richard Cohn.
The goal of this paper is to lay the foundation for an examination of Peter Grimes, where Britten’s metric experiments will be hermenuically reinterpreted as compositional tools for generating social alienation. Britten strongly reinforces hypermetrically-aligned phrases at pivotal moments the opera, including the chorus “Old joe has gone fishin'” and the final manhunt. These moments of strong metric stability, representing the “metric unison” of the members of the borough, are undermined by Gimes’s sudden vocal entries. These cries break the regular hypermeter phrases, signifying Grimes’s “othered” status and alienation from the borough. Although commentators have examined Britten’s othered characters in his operas from melodic and harmonic standpoints, meter has yet to be shown as an important part of Britten’s compositional approach. This paper lays the foundation for further scholarship on Britten and meter and demonstrates how his metric experiments via metric and hypermetric conflict and ambiguity play a central role in Peter Grimes.