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Hypermeter and Phrase Structure in Selected Works by Stravinsky, Crumb, and Adams


This dissertation studies the occurrence of hypermeter—the extension of metric organization beyond the measure level—in twentieth-century music. Meter is the hierarchical framework against which the listener relates melodic complexes on the musical surface, and this metric foundation is key to the listener’s understanding of the musical fabric as a whole. While many theorists have discussed the relationship between musical surface and metric structure in Classical- and Romantic-era music, the rhythmic and structural underpinning of twentieth-century repertoires has received far less attention.

In the tonal music of the Common Practice period, meter was relatively stable, but metric structure became increasingly complex in the twentieth century, with repertoires that avoid regularity across musical parameters. The aim of this monograph is to explore how the listener can intuit an underlying metric structure and track its relationship with the musical surface in music that lacks metric regularity. To this end, I consider the hypermeter in three twentieth-century case studies—Stravinsky’s Symphony in C, John Adams’s Road Movies, and George Crumb’s Vox Balaenae—that retain some amount of metric or periodic regularity, while breaking away from the restrictive metric boundaries of the Common Practice era.

While in Common Practice-era music, regularly recurring, equally spaced beats were a precondition for meter, I argue that a regularly recurring pattern of unequally spaced beats can also project meter, and that the listener can identify a metric framework based on those repeating elements alone. Elements such as gesture, timbre, and the initiation points of phrases also support the perception of meter. By broadening the range of factors that we consider to create meter, and thus expanding the definition of meter itself, I argue that underlying metric structures do exist in music that is metrically irregular. In these metrically disorienting works, hypermeter is projected by phrase structure and goal points of phrases, in addition to periodicity and the alignment of multiple metric layers. In broadening the perception of meter to encompass these elements, this monograph hopes to considerably extend the range of repertoire for which large-scale metric analysis is applicable.

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