Emil Awad: Cognitive and Behaviorist in Music

Emil Awad: Cognitive and Behaviorist in Music

11 February 2024 / William Anderson / On the Beat, Compositions, composers, How to Talk about Music

The brilliant and enterprising composer Emil Awad is the founder and director of the Festival Camarata 21 at the Universidad Veracruzana in Xalapa, Vera Cruz, Mexico. Many of us have participated – Mario Davidovsky, Robert Pollock, Suzanne Farrin, Jason Eckhardt, David Schober, Jeff Nichols, Jonathan Dawe, Frank Brickle.

Among countless memorable discussions there was Emil’s examination of cognitive vs. behaviorist music theory. It took me a while to feel my way to these terms. I guess I’m mostly a feeler – behaviorist? I will use the terms my way and know them that way, and eventually see how my useage accords with Mr. Awad’s?

I felt these modes (where would Schiller place them?) might be approachable from Bach’s BWV 996 and Haydn Sonata X in Ab –

Thinking about this sonata for no less than 30 years I came to a theory of Haydn’s mind. It would not have been such a compelling theory to me if not for Bach’s concurrence in such as BWV 996 –

In both cases landing on 5 and V is what the wild birds do, behaviorist? Haydn’s growing attention to 6 and vi is something elective that he wishes to nail down. He wants it to feel as natural as what the birds do (as natural as the modulation to V). How does every descision shore up the elctive 3rd key? That is cognitive. That is contextual. That is what Ben Boretz calls “imagining in a context”, but the goal is to imbricate the elective/individual choice into the collective/public behavior.

!!Calling anything *natural* can lead to totalitarianism and tyrrany. Who decides what’s natural?!!

Nevertheless, I feel suggestions about what was natural to Bach & Haydn in these examples.

BWV 996 is Baroque in all its twisted brilliance. The 3 16ths (///) are a pickup to a weak beat; those pickups force a backward accentuation of the 2 motivic cells, call them A and B; A is strong and B is weak (in Baroque practice, perhaps *in nature*). The syncopation persists until A bounces off of a wall and is followed by A’. –

/// A B A B A A’ B A B A B *G* /// A B *B* *E*

*G* *B* *E* – pitches

As the suite proceeds, the customary close of the A section on V is always preceded by a modulation to G. The exception is the Bouree, whose A section ends on III on a cadence in G and the path there is through what looks like an imperfect palindrome, but is actually a perfect inversion in measure 6 – the rising 2 2 1/ falling 2 2 1.

This always struck me as comment on the fashionable new convention of ending minor key A sections on III.

Bach is saying, I can go with that, but let’s think about it. Or, more pointedly, “lets be uptown about it.” He does this in BWV 998 with attention to Alberti Bass and more generally about the trend toward a degree of homophony that was making him feel old. He makes it into a cosmic Lutheran/Jacob Boehmian meidation of flesh and spirit.

Babbitt’s discussion of Schoenberg 4th String Quartet shows Schoenberg behaving like a classical composer with harmonic materials that were at first hard to manage with the intention of doing all the usual behaviors with them. He modulates his hexachord up a 5th. I think it all works very well because it got into my bones and I like music doing all it can do, even with new materials, including all the old things it can do.

If I understand correctly, and if I remember that quartet, Schoenberg does a bit of celebrating, which also involves a bit of hammering-down of the arrival. Haydn and those of his day did the same, but by now the materials are not new to us. At the time, there was a desire to put a big rectangular base below the structural pillar and other such butressing. Schoneberg was bustressing and that bothered Boulez, who wanted to burn bridges even more than Schoenberg did.

After I know a work, I take it like one of Pablov’s dogs. I am a behaviorist, but if I blink, I hope the composer has something for me to show that the composer thought about the materials. I am in that moment a cognitive music experiencer.

Hearing subsets of a bigger collections: In Babbitt’s essay (back to Schoenberg Qtet 4), he talks of the viola part laying down the target hexachord. We are asked to extract that from the other lines and take it as a hint as to how the music will unfold. I learn to hear that.

Manuel Ponce and the French stick with known entities. The dominant 9 chord is so rich in subsets. It can tip in the direction of the diminished 7 (it is 3/5 dim7); it can tip toward whole tone (it is 3/5 whole tone); it is 4/5ths thanatos and 4/5ths eros (a chimera of dominant 7 and half dim. 7).

The Mystic chord adds one more note to this to create a lovely situation – 5/6ths octotonic; 5/6s diatonic; 5/6ths whole tone. Or something like that. I must look at it again.

These relationships are thourghly behaviorist because they are in our blood. If we know Wagner and L’apres midi and Pavan for a Dead Princess and Ponce’s Sonata for Guitar and Harpsichord, we feel the sets and the subsets.

Here in Ponce’s sonata we feel the 057 on beat 4 of measure 4, embedded in a dominant 9 chord after first being embedded in the open strings of the guitar (the 5 cycle).

In my mind, what I was taught in undergrad theory about *chord quality* is behviorist. Learning subests that are harder to feel is cognitive.

Imagining in other contexts, or extending familiar contexts to unfamilear collections and their less familiar subsets could be and often are offensive to those who are taken out of their element.

We all get death threats like Piazzola.

I look forward to Mr. Awad’s responses and elaborations.