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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000388.txt from 1996/04

From: Steve Fowler <sfowler@-----.COM>
Subj: Re: Forwarded mail....
Date: Sun, 14 Apr 1996 13:49:00 -0400

> Members of the Clarinet listserv,
> Not a member of your group, not even a musician, I'm just an
> amature with a weird theory to try out on your more schooled minds. It's a
> long and gory tale involving baseball, barstools and many other unlikely
> things starting with the letter B, but I'll spare you the details. It
> basically begins with my thinking about the internal clock of musical
> works in purely quantitative terms, leaving out therefore a priori all
> qualitative notations such as allegro, adagio etc. The three empirical,
> quantitative facts of musical notation are the number of beats per
> measure, the value of the beat (the two elements of the time signature)
> and the number of measures. What I have done is to count these three units
> in two pieces for purposes of comparison, the first and third of
> Stravinsky's Three Pieces for Clarinet Solo. First I have counted the
> number of measures for each time signature, as follows:
> 2/4 9 2/4 17
> 5/8 12 5/16 11
> 7/8 2 3/16 8
> 3/8 2 3/8 14
> 3/4 4 2/8 3
> 2/8 1 3/4 4
> 5/8 2
> 4/16 1
> Simple arithmatic leads me to the following statement concerning the total
> number of beats in each piece expressed in whole notes. The first piece
> contains 17 6/8 whole note beats and the third contains 23 13/16 whole
> note beats. This suggests to me that the latter is "longer" by 6 3/16
> whole note beats. Dividing the totals for each piece by the number of
> measures (17 6/8 / 30 and 23 13/16 / 60) gives me the average time
> signature or "speed" of each piece, respectively 71/120 beats per measure
> or approximately 5/8 time and 383/960 beats per measure or approximately
> 3/8 time. The former piece is thus "faster" by 37/192 beats per measure or
> approximately 2/8 time. There may be careless errors in these
> calculations, for I am neither a musician nor a mathematician, but a
> linguist. Indeed I can barely read music. What I'd like is some feedback
> on whether any or this is new or surprizing or meaningful. I know it's
> right, as far as it goes, but I don't know if it tells us anything useful
> about the two pieces of music and about music's internal clock as a whole.
> Please let me know what you think. Thank you.
> Scott Alexander Gabriel Reiss


My first reaction is that your message must have been held up
somewhere in hyperspace for about two weeks. That would have been
April 1st.... :-) However....

The time signature has absolutely nothing to do with "speed" of a
piece. This is something that you try to discount in the beginning by
saying that allegro, adagio, etc. are "qualitative" when in fact they
are both "qualitative" and "quantitative". The thing you must
remember is that there is another element; ie the number of beats per
minute, or the metronome marking. This determines the "speed" of the
time. So, unless I'm missing something, what are you trying to say?


Steve Fowler (

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