AMSGNY Meetings

Abstracts for Winter Meeting

Ryan Taussig: Of Soldiers and Second Prologues: Early Comic Relief as Interpretive Frame in Claudio Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea

Opera in seventeenth-century Venice existed in a symbiotic relationship with the political atmosphere of its time. Most prominently, opera frequently served to bolster the Myth of Venice, a legendary origin story that links Venice to the ancient Roman Republic, and viewpoints proffered by the Accademia degli Incogniti, an influential intellectual institution. Following the examples of Ellen Rosand and Wendy Heller, I position L'incoronazione di Poppea as Incogniti propaganda. However, rather than offering a hermeneutic analysis of major dramatic characters, this paper focuses on the role of two minor comic characters, the soldiers from scene 1.2. Through a close reading that incorporates textual and musical analysis, I demonstrate that the soldiers, despite their minor role, convey an important ideological message to the audience that frames the entire opera.

Joseph Salem: Why isn’t anyone laughing? Humor in Pierre Boulez’s Penser la musique aujourd’hui

Why isn’t anyone laughing? Humor in Pierre Boulez’s Penser la musique aujourd’hui While few would deny Pierre Boulez has a healthy sense of humor, most would not associate the composer’s writings or works with this disposition. In my paper, I discuss how humor plays an important role in Boulez’s critique of contemporary practices in his monograph Penser la musique aujourd’hui, as well as how his sardonic critiques may reveal some deeper aesthetic struggles faced by the composer during the late 1950s.

Sharon Mirchandani: Humor through Biphasic Sequence in Prokofiev’s “Ridicolosamente”

What does the old W.C Fields’ joke about clubs for young people tell us about humor in musical structure? This paper analyzes Prokofiev’s “Ridicolosamente” using psychologist Thomas R. Schultz’s “biphasic sequence” to find out!


Mimi Lekic: Winking it – Humor in Claude Debussy’s La Boîte à joujoux

In his final and most unusual ballet La Boîte à joujoux (1913), Debussy delights in surprising, imitating, quoting, exaggerating and parodying, combining pure musical humor with references to the classical canon, as well as to children’s, folk and popular tunes little known to today’s audiences, especially outside France.

David Hurwitz: Héraclius Djabadary—a “Perfect Storm” of Awfulness

Bad music, bad performance, bad packaging and presentation--a "perfect storm" of awfulness. In this discussion, Goerogian composer Héraclius Djabadary's abysmal Piano Concerto in A asks the musical question: How do we decide what terrible music really is, and why do we so often find bad music funny?

Joe Drew: From Caged Birds to Camel Dung: A survey of humor in Karlheinz Stockhausen’s music

Most audiences and analysts do not associate Stockhausen with laughter, but he was an incorrigible cutup. Traces of the composer’s impishness can be found in even his earliest works. Humor is such an important leavening force in Stockhausen’s music that he sometimes treats it as a parameter subject to serial control.


Jordan Stokes: Garbo Laughs! Garbo... Emotes! Music, Humor, and the Golden-Age Comedy Soundtrack

Humor is an experiential phenomenon, comedy is a genre. Prior research has demonstrated that film music can be funny, but as of yet there is no adequate theorization of music's role in film comedies. Careful attention to the scores reveals that, in fact, funny music appears only rarely in the Hollywood comedy. But if the music in comedies isn't funny, what purpose does it serve? To ask the same question in a different way: do comedies have a purpose other than simply making us laugh? These questions will be addressed through a reading of Ernst Lubitsch's Ninotchka.

Reba Wissner: Hearing That Old Black Magic: Humor and Fred Steiner’s Score for The Twilight Zone’s “The Bard” (1963)

Of the seven original scores Fred Steiner composed for The Twilight Zone, only one, an hour-long episode called “The Bard,” was a comedy. The episode concerns a failed screenwriter who, through black magic, accidentally conjures up William Shakespeare to be his ghostwriter. “The Bard” contains both music that is meant to be funny—Steiner’s original cues—and those that are not intended as funny but are, when paired with the episode’s context and camerawork. The purpose of this paper will examine the way that Steiner’s music developed from his early television underscores for comedies and how they function here, and how music that is unintentionally funny, when placed in the right places, can successfully function as comic underscore. I will show that when used together, the music carries a television comedy that otherwise falls flat.

S. Alexander Reed: They Might Be Giants’ Flood and Post-Coolness

They Might Be Giants has been categorized in rock media variously as “geek rock” or as a novelty act, but the fervency and seriousness of fan discourse over their music belies these categorizations. In theorizing the band's curious endurance and navigation of the tragicomic, this paper looks at how their iconic 1990 LP Flood offered its young audiences a way to understand themselves wholly outside pop's traditional equations of authenticity, sexuality, and coolness. Released at a cultural turning point in geek identity, Flood might be most productively be considered "post-cool."

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