Ownership, In Music and Music Theory

Patrick McCreless
2011 Music Theory Online  
I was honored by the Society for Music Theory last year by being asked to give the keynote talk at our November meeting in Indianapolis. In general, I have left it in its form as an oral presentation for a particular time and place, rather than converting it into an essay or scholarly paper. I have added bibliography and footnotes, and have made slight alterations necessitated by the new format. My thanks to Stephen Gosden, a doctoral student in music theory at Yale, for preparing the musical
more » ... aring the musical examples, and to recording engineer Mateusz Zechowski for recording the sound files. * * * [0.1] "The Scarlatti, Schumann and Debussy in the first half were lovely, but wow-she really owned the Liszt Sonata in the second half!" "Try as they might, the Dodgers were helpless today; Don Larsen owned them from the first pitch to the last." The first of these two statements I heard after the piano recital of a former student in New York this past April. The second I made up myself, as something that well could have been said by a sportscaster reviewing the World Series game between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers on October 8, 1956-the game in which Yankees pitcher Don Larsen pitched the only perfect game in World Series history. As you surely realize, the verb own in the two sentences is not to be taken literally. Informally, we'd say this usage is slang; more formally, we'd say it's a metaphor. The speaker in the first statement didn't mean that the pianist owned the Liszt B-minor Sonata as a piece of property, nor did the speaker of the second mean that Don Larsen owned the Dodgers as a franchise on a random October day in 1956. I'd wager that all of you knew exactly what was meant in the two sentences as soon as you heard them. That's the good thing about slang: it works. It delivers meaning quickly and clearly, and with a punch. It's the punch, in fact, that differentiates our slang and metaphorical meaning of the verb own from the more common, conventional one. [0.2] My contention today is that the idea of ownership-both in its traditional and metaphorical meanings-is a handy springboard for considering some important issues in music and in music theory. I offer it as a useful locus around which I can gather some seemingly disparate, though I hope not actually disparate, thoughts. We'll discover, I think, that in the realms
doi:10.30535/mto.17.1.5 fatcat:6zcojxl5wfdafnogpo5d7a3ap4