Multi-temporality: creating a meaningful territory in the rhizome of post-tonal music

The use of the word post-tonal to refer to the repertoire of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries indicates that since the demise of tonality as a universal framework, no unifying compositional language or syntax has emerged from the multitude of compositions that have been written. Various theories of musical form have attempted to get a grip on the diverse network of musical compositions by searching for recurrent features, general properties, and potential laws that can help to understand how musical form functions. Especially in dealing with post-tonal music, such models carry the risk of being too rigid and applicable only to a very limited number of compositions. On the other hand, by trying to avoid this exclusivity, models can also become too open and noncommittal,  so as to no longer provide meaningful correlations between different compositions.

As an alternative, I would like to put forward a general analytical concept that at the same time focuses on one aspect of the music, that is its temporal organisation. In this paper, I will define  the concept of multi-temporality and show how it can be applied to the work of two quite unrelated composers: Elliott Carter (1908-2013) and Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf (1962). Approaching different compositions from the same specific perspective leads to some surprising parallels and insights that can possibly be extrapolated towards other composers. In this way, the open and dynamic concept of multi-temporality allows for a territorialization within the rhizome of the new music repertoire, to use the concepts of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Rooted in contemporary philosophical thought, this approach meets the double requirement of theoretical models of form: it values the specificity of each composition, while at the same time revealing  (unexpected) connections in the repertoire.

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