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MUTH 654: Theories of Rhythm and Meter

Fall 2015
N. Biamonte

modal notation (John of Garland, De mensurabili musica, c. 1250): 6 rhythmic modes with different patterns of
short and long notes in duple (proper) or triple (beyond measure) proportions dependent on context
mensural notation (Franco of Cologne, Ars cantus mensurabilis, c. 1280): different note shapes for specific
durations, still in duple (imperfect) or triple (perfect) proportions, but now independent of context
ars nova (Jehan des Murs and Philippe de Vitry, late 13th to mid-14th c.): expansion of hierarchy to three
levels, mode, tempus, and prolation; duple division of all note values
rhythmic proportion (Prosdocimo de Beldomandi and Tinctoris, 15th c.): allows for metric modulation based on
system of breve or semibreve equivalencies
metric accentuation (various Baroque theorists, 17th-18th c.): meter has patterned emphases not linked to duration
Akzentthorie (Kirnberger, 1770s and later theorists): metric, rhythmic, and grouping patterns are separable;
different kinds of accents created by nonmetric (harmony, dissonance, performance) as well as metric factors
hypermeter (Momigny, Weber, Riemann, 19th c.): accent and grouping patterns of measures is replicated at a
higher level
end-accented grouping structure (Riemann, 19th-20th c.): default grouping begins on upbeat, not downbeat

What is the relationship between meter and rhythm?
rhythm = figure, meter = ground, or ruler, or container (Kirnberger; later Riemann)
rhythm is a concrete, differentiated linear foreground, perceived against the abstract cyclic background of a
metric pattern of evenly spaced beats, usually grouped into twos, threes, or multiples thereof
rhythm and meter are two levels of a larger recursive hierarchy (Cooper & Meyer, Lerdahl & Jackendoff)
meter is a cyclic way of organizing our perception of rhythm (Gjerdingen, London);
it is not inherent in the music but rather imposed by the listener
meter is the projective potential of a duration to be repeated, and is inseparable from rhythm (Hasty)

Is there a hardwired binary default, or is this just an analytical orientation?

Mattheson (early 18th c.): all meters are binary, either duple (equal) or triple (unequal)
Hauptmann (mid-19th c.): duple meter = thesis, triple meter = antithesis, quadruple meter = synthesis
Schachter (Aspects of Meter, 1987): duple prevails at larger levels because groupings are smaller
Rothstein (Phrase Rhythm in Tonal Music, 1989): duple hypermeter = Great 19th-Century Rhythm Problem
Huron (Sweet Anticipation, 2006): preference for simple duple meter in Western music = binary default

Grosvenor Cooper and Leonard Meyer, The Rhythmic Structure of Music (1960)
Rhythmic and metric structures are based on grouping and accent patterns, and form a nested hierarchy of
levels. Rhythmic patterns are based on poetic feet (iamb = WS, trochee = SW, anapest = WWS, dactyl = SWW,
amphibrach = WSW).
Chopin, opening of Prelude op. 28 no. 1

Chopin, opening of Prelude op. 28 no. 4

(Cooper and Meyer, Rhythmic Structure of Music, 36)

Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff, A Generative Theory of Tonal Music (1983)
Metric structure is a regular hierarchical pattern of metrical accent (strong beats), distinct from phenomenal
accent (local surface stress) and structural accent (melodic/harmonic goals, especially cadences). Metric
structure is independent of grouping structure (segmentation). The relative strength of metrical accents is shown
using layers of dots.
Mozart, opening of Symphony #40, 1st mvt.

(Lerdahl and Jackendoff GTTM, 23)

L&Js theories of hierarchical structure are based on two sets of rules:

well-formedness constraints (WFCs): universal rules based on theoretically possible metric/rhythmic groupings
preference rules: style- or work-specific rules based on how we perceive or analyze groupings

Victor Zuckerkandl, Sound and Symbol (1968)

Meter is not truly cyclic because it moves forward in time; it is best modeled by a wave whose crest is the
downbeat. These metric waves can be grouped into larger, more complex waves ( = hypermetric waves).

(Zuckerkandl, Sound and Symbol, 171)

Wallace Berry, Structural Functions in Music (1976)

Metric groupings consist of 4 impulses:
(a) initiative: downbeat; accented
(b) reactive: dissipates downbeat
(c) conclusive: brings closure to unit; unaccented
(d) anticipative: upbeat (optional)
(Berry, Rhythmic and Metric Articulation, 10)

Christopher Hasty, Meter as Rhythm (1997)

Meter = rhythm = projective potential for reproduction of a duration


\ continuation
/ anacrusis
\\ deferral

(Hasty, Meter as Rhythm, 104)

(Hasty, Meter as Rhythm, 141)

Mirka, Metric Manipulations in Haydn and Mozart

combines hierarchical model of Lerdahl and Jackendoff with the processual model of Hasty

(Mirka, Metric Manipulations, 34)

Krebs, Fantasy Pieces: Metrical Dissonance in the Music of Robert Schumann (1999)
Krebs makes no distinction between rhythmic and metric levels.
Metric consonance: pulse groupings of metric layers are equal or multiples and are in phase
Displacement dissonance: layers have same pulse grouping but are out of phase; never line up
Grouping dissonance: layers have pulse groupings of different, coprime cardinalities
(2 vs. 3, 3 vs. 4, etc.); layers briefly line up in a cycle equal to the multiple of their pulse groups
rhythmic consonance displacement dissonance

jk k jk k

grouping dissonance

ok k k k k k k ks kk z

k kz k

Direct dissonance: simultaneous superimposed conflicting layers

Indirect dissonance: successive juxtaposed conflicting layers

Waters, Blurring the Barline: Metric Displacement in the Piano Solos of Herbie Hancock (1996)
two types of polymeters (or grouping dissonances)
bar lines are aligned but beats are not
beats are aligned but barlines are not

Butler, Unlocking the Groove: Rhythm, Meter, and Musical Design in Electronic Dance Music (2006)
Even rhythms: duple and quadruple partitions in 4/4
Syncopated rhythms: accents on weak beats
Diatonic rhythms: odd number of attacks distributed across an even number of beats; maximally even and
maximally individuatedeach note has a unique set of relationships to the other notes (analogous to the
diatonic scale, which distributes 7 notes maximally evenly across 12 evenly spaced chromatic notes)

Cohn (Complex Hemiolas, Ski-Hill Graphs and Metric Spaces, Music Analysis 20/3, 2001)
conflicts between duple and triple groupings can be mapped in a ski-hill graph
(London, Some Non-Isomorphisms between Pitch and Time, calls this a Zeitnetz by analogy with the
duple groupings
triple groupings

(Cohn Complex Hemiolas, 308)

Any diamond represents a hemiolic relationship.

Two diamonds that share a side represent a double hemiola.

Clock-face diagrams can represent the cyclicity and symmetry of meters or rhythmic patterns.

metric type as nested cycles of 2, 4, and 8 pulses

3+3+2 tresillo rhythm in 4/4

(London, Hearing in Time, 68)

Standard 9/8 pattern (3+3+3)

Symmetrical division into 3 units

Brubeck, Blue Rondo a la Turk (2+2+2+3)

Maximally even division into 4 units

Friberg and Sundstrom, Music Perception 19/3 (2002)

swing rhythms straighten out as tempo increases

Stewart, The Feel Factor (Electronic Musician, Oct. 1987):

feel spectrum of discrepancies in microtiming