Elena Minetti

Visual and Operative Strategies in Compositional Processes around 1960

Sketch studies, in general, have been mainly undertaken to investigate the compositional process. This paper, however, apart from such teleological reconstructions, aims to analyse, beginning from a detailed consideration of certain compositional stages, how composers have thought of and organised the various elements of their works by means of diagrammatic approaches. It compares three compositions from around 1960: Mobile for Shakespeare by Roman Haubenstock-Ramati, Transición II by Mauricio Kagel, and Atmosphères by György Ligeti (of which all materials are conserved at the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel).

These composers took part in the debate about new forms of musical notation at the 19th Summer Courses in Darmstadt in 1964. Their thoughts are enlightening to investigate notational choices and graphic features of their sketches, drafts, and scores. Such visual strategies, which have deeply influenced writing operations, can be specified, for example, in the use of charts to determine twelve-tone series, as Kagel did in Transición II; or in the notation for electronics that Ligeti adopted in Atmosphères for the diagrammatic representation of the range of pitches and durations, exemplified as continuous lines.

Whereas Ligeti uses particular visual strategies during the compositional process, while the finished scores is notated rather traditionally, Haubenstock-Ramati sketches musical fragments in conventional notation, but then structures them in a graphically ‘mobile’ notation for the score to be published. Another direction is instead chosen by Kagel for the final score of Transición II: he combines traditional notation, rotatable discs and moveable slides and graphic indications for the dialogue between live performers and magnetic tape.

I will analyse those characteristics of the composers’ notational means by using the methodology of sketch studies (Sallis, 2015) in light of genetic criticism (Kinderman, 2009), but also taking into consideration new interdisciplinary concepts of a non-speech-oriented writing such as “notational iconicity” (Schriftbildlichkeit) and “operational iconicity” (Operative Bildlichkeit; Krämer, 2009), to diagrammatical perspective (Stjernfelt, 2007). Moreover, further perspective will be opened by semiotic studies about music notation (Valle, 2018) and cognitive aspects on the act of writing (Raible, 1999).

Based on this methodological and theoretical background, this paper investigates different cases of notational iconicity – understood as operative devices, which establish a ‘visual logic’ on a two-dimensional surface and allow the composers to explore and develop a composition. Examining their functions and their different degrees of operativity in each phase of the creative process of the three chosen works, it turns out that diagrams, charts, schemata, tables, and graphics are key tools, which allow the composer to choose, structure, manipulate, or supervise musical elements and their configurations.



University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, Austria

Is currently a PhD student at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, within the framework of the DACH research project Writing Music – Iconic, performative, operative, and material aspects in music notation(s), with a focus on visual and operative strategies in compositional processes of works of the 20th century. She graduated in Piano Performance at the Conservatory in Siena (2014) and in Musicology at the University of Bologna, concentrating on Music Education (Bachelor 2014) and on Musical Philology, with a period of research at the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel, to analyse the opera The Bassarids by Hans Werner Henze (Master 2017). She worked as piano teacher and collaborated with festivals and theatres, writing program notes, giving lecture recitals and opera presentations. In 2016 she co-edited the Italian edition of Henze’s autobiography Canti di Viaggio. Una Vita.