Berg’s response to swing in jazz: the composer’s use of rhythm, texture and timbre in this context

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© 2007 Ian Bamford-Milroy. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Berg’s response to swing in jazz: the composer’s use of rhythm, texture and timbre in this context

This thesis strongly queries the idea of classical music and jazz as most associable through the idea of ‘syncopation’. Certainly, along with elements of instrumental timbre, that aspect has established a relationship, but only superficially. In the 1920s, the crucial dependence of jazz on a lilting manner of enunciation remained obscured by a high average tempo. With the lowering of tempo in the 1930s, however, the 2:1 lilting of ‘swing’ came to the fore, and, in providing a basis for the strongest international showing by jazz musicians, showed that a view of jazz based on syncopation had lost any deeper form of relevance. This development also exposed the extent to which classical music had marginalized that manner of enunciation since the eighteenth century, and to which jazz had attracted racist views by cultivating a rhythmic type viewed as morally base.This affective vacuum drew in the composer Alban Berg, as whether deliberately or not a mediator for cultural sensitivities. In particular, Berg’s return to legato forms of polyrhythm in the 1930s came about charged with meaning, not least for a composer in the German tradition. Since classical composers could no longer use swing-like effects overtly for serious purposes, The unfashionable, indeed the transformed return by this composer to legato polyrhythm while introducing the saxophone to works as an obbligato, stands increasingly open to consideration as a form of response by him to 2:1 scansion in jazz, by creating a ‘hobbled swing’ kind of effect. The use of polyrhythmic textures and of crotchet-quaver patterns under a triplet bracket, especially in Berg’s second opera, Lulu and in his Violin Concerto, reveals an extremely unusual approach that heightens the idea of a response to swing in jazz and even points to awareness on the composer’s part.

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Maintainer Department of Music, The University of Hull
Last Updated 12 June 2017, 16:28 (UTC)
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Berg’s response to swing in jazz: the composer’s use of rhythm, texture and timbre in this context. oai-hull-ac-uk-hull-1353