Historicist vs. Presentist Approaches to Music Comparison Essay by LisaLove

A look at the historic versus presentist approach to music analysis.
# 151727 | 841 words | 2 sources | MLA | 2009 | US

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This paper compares and contrasts two differing approaches to the analysis of classical music, presentist and historicist. First, the paper defines these terms and notes how these perspectives can be applied to the study of almost any historical field. As examples, the writings of Ian Bent and Thomas Christensen are compared and contrasted, and then the paper applies both their approaches to the assessment of the correct tempo marking of J. S. Bach's "Rondeau" from the Partita #2 in C minor. Next, the paper shows how presentism and historicism bring their own biases, advantages and disadvantages to the analysis of music. Then, the paper explores the advantages and disadvantages of both historicist and presentist biases in the analysis of pre-Romantic music. The paper concludes by stating that the best approach allows historicist and presentist views to inform and reinforce one another, contributing to an overall greater understanding of the field.

From the Paper:

"One example of the manner in which presentist vs. historicist approaches can inform a piece differently is the interpretation of the Rondeau from Johann Sebastian Bach's Partita in C minor.The movement, the sixth and penultimate of the partita, is cast in 3/8 time. Many present-day theorists and performers--indeed, the majority of those who have recorded the piece--have interpreted the 3/8 time signature and light, bouncy texture of the writing as an indication that the piece should be played at near-breakneck speed. Though many pieces in this time signature are played at a quick tempo, someone with a knowledge of the history of the French rondeau would ascertain that this performance tempo is most likely incorrect. The French rondeau that Bach knew, in contrast, was traditionally performed at a much more moderate pace. The historicist would go on to say that Bach used his awareness of the difference between the French style "rondeau" and the more common Italian designation of "rondo" (both of which employ a principal theme returning in a "round," with contrasting sections between them, as this piece does) to inform his compositional and labeling decisions; therefore, performers should also distinguish between the two and interpret the piece accordingly."

Sample of Sources Used:

  • Bent, Ian. "History of Music Theory: Margin or Center?" Theoria 6 (1992): 1-22.
  • Christensen, Thomas. "Music Theory and Its Histories." In Music Theory and the Exploration of the Past, ed. Christopher Hatch and David W. Bernstein, 9-40.

Cite this Comparison Essay:

APA Format

Historicist vs. Presentist Approaches to Music (2012, September 06) Retrieved April 02, 2023, from https://www.academon.com/comparison-essay/historicist-vs-presentist-approaches-to-music-151727/

MLA Format

"Historicist vs. Presentist Approaches to Music" 06 September 2012. Web. 02 April. 2023. <https://www.academon.com/comparison-essay/historicist-vs-presentist-approaches-to-music-151727/>