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A Different Ending: A Short Sonata on the Subject of Musical Time


Introduction: Similarity Divides and Differences Join

The beginning of this discussion is on the question of unity and multiplicity: What do these sounds represent to us? Unity or multiplicity?

Example no.1

Some will say it is unity, for, indeed, we are talking about that same, exact note. Most will claim it is multiplicity, for we are surely talking about the same note sounding three times. And now I shall ask: what do the following notes represent…unity or multiplicity?

Example no.2

Also here there will surely be differences of opinion: some will say “multiplicity”, as there is more than one note here and the majority will go for “unity”. This is because they identify the melody as the opening motif of Beethoven’s Symphony no.5 or as the famous melody on the neighbor’s mobile ‘phone.

From these examples, we are convinced that our brain will usually tend to grasp the identity or close resemblance as multiple appearances of the same thing. On the other hand, we tend to connect things that are different, creating with them new associations and new meanings. We can then say that similarity divides and differences unify, or, in other words, that the first example represents multiplicity and that the second represents unity.

Exposition: “Repetition is musical time” (Zuckerkandl)

In his immortal book “Sound and Symbol”, Viktor Zuckerkandl describes repetition as an inseparable part of the existence of musical time: Zuckerkandl begins by comparing musical time to physical time, and, for the sake of our discussion, I will present two central issues from this comparison[1]:

1) Physical time measures events, whereas musical time creates events.

2) Physical time can be divided into equal parts, whereas musical time has no sense of equal division.

“Will physical time still have meaning if we remove the events from it?” Zuckerkandl asks. In his answer to this, he quotes Leibniz’s words – that time is a notion and not reality, for, indeed, snow melts, people grow old and the earth’s surface changes, but that these phenomena do not occur as a result of the change of time but as chemical reactions, temperature differences and vulcan activity. I have asked myself whether, in fact, musical time has meaning when we empty it of events.

As an example, let us take this famous melody from “Judas Maccabaeus” by Händel: