Quarter-Tone Dissertation

“[I am] slow to believe that any good musick can be composed in Quarter Tones, although I hear some talk much of it.”
—Christopher Simpson, Compendium of Practical Musick (1667)

Toward a Quarter-Tone Syntax: Selected Analyses of Works by Blackwood, Hába, Ives, and Wyschnegradsky

UPDATE: It was recently brought to my attention that most of the links to my dissertation pages were not working. I have restored all of the content and most of the playable examples and will continue to patch up the remaining issues as I find them. I am also working to update the images. The 12-year-old image files are starting to look fuzzy, especially on retina monitors.

This is where I am storing copies of my dissertation work. Although it is a web cliché to say that pages are under construction, I think it's fair to say that I still have a lot of work to do to get these pages quite where I want them. I did submit a final draft of my dissertation on Sept. 01, 2006, and defended successfully two weeks later. There were some corrections and improvements to be made, thanks to the probing questions of my committee. The PDFs on this website represent the final version of the dissertation, in the form accepted by the Graduate School at the University at Buffalo.

One of the problems that readers face when confronted with my material is that most will not have any convenient way to play the microtonal examples and so may not get a good sense of how the quarter tones actually sound. My original intent was to render as many of the musical examples (quarter-tone or otherwise) in MIDI format as is practical. At the time, I thought that most browsers would know what to do with .mid files well into the future. However, it turns out that browser MIDI playback did not emerge with any sort of reliable web standard, and so instead I've converted the audio examples into short .mp3 files. The MP3s sound better than MIDIs anyway.

Table of Contents

Preliminary Pages
Acknowledgements, Table of Contents, List of Tables, List of Examples, Abstract, Foreword, and Preface.
Chapter 1: Introduction
The rudiments of music such as pitch, intervals, and scales incorporating quarter tones.
Chapter 2: Blackwood
Analysis of Easley Blackwood's 24 notes extending traditional models of strict counterpoint.
Chapter 3: Hába
Alois Hába's Suite für vier Posaunen, op. 72. Haba's trombone quartet employs consonant triads and numerous allusions to conventional tonal idioms.
Chapter 4: Ives
Charles Ives's Three Quarter-Tone Piano Pieces. I show how Ives leaves his stylistic fingerprints all over these little pieces.
Chapter 5: Wyschnegradsky
Ivan Wyschnegradsky's 24 Preludes. Starts out with some fairly straightforward scale-theory and morphs into a weird prolongational, quasi-Schenkerian kind of chapter. Very postmodern.
Chapter 6: Neo-Riemannian Transformations UNDER REPAIR
I make an analogy between Wyschnegradsky's quarter-tone tetrachord and Richard Cohn's parsimonious trichord, and attempt to find quarter-tone equivalents to the canonic neo-Riemannian transformations P, L, and R, with some interesting results.
Supplementary Materials
Appendices, Bibliography, and some bonus material that didn't make it into the actual dissertation.