Channan Willner



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I was born in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1951, and I spent my early childhood there. It may have been the rigors of growing up in Europe's most orderly city that predisposed my musical curiosity to flow in the direction of music theory and the layered structures of Schenkerian analysis. When my family returned to its home in Haifa, Israel in 1957, I was exposed to a more ad-hoc lifestyle: The more improvisatory ways of the young state allowed for greater flexibility in various matters, and that came in handy when, years later, I began applying Schenkerian theory to the study of Baroque music.

Upon moving to the United States in 1965 I encountered yet another lifestyle–the not-so-splendid isolation and reserve of suburban Baltimore, replete with larger-than-life expressways and shopping malls. It was in the vicinity of these extravagant, abstract creations that I tried to learn English, and it was not easy going. The built-in potential for mixing idioms, selecting incorrect prepositions, and losing one's way among the innumerable exceptions was enormous–greater even than the comparable pitfalls of Hebrew. Only with a concerted effort spanning several years did I become comfortable speaking and writing the language.

I was a latecomer to the study of music and music theory, which I took up in earnest while living in Florence, Italy, during the late 1960s and early '70s. I studied privately with a splendid American teacher, the composer Irvin ("Buzz") Brusletten, who was on the faculty of the Villa Schifanoia Graduate School of the Arts. It was Buzz who introduced me to the wonders of Schenkerian analysis, through Allan Forte's Tonal Harmony in Concept and Practice and through Felix Salzer and Carl Schachter's Counterpoint in Composition, which had just come out (1969). Before long, I was hooked. Wanting to study Schenker at the college and conservatory level, I returned to the United States in 1972 to pursue a B.S. in theory at the Mannes College of Music in New York.

Those were heady days at Mannes. At one point, students could take or audit analysis classes with Edward Laufer, Ernst Oster, Felix Salzer, and Carl Schachter. I focused on Oster's and Schachter's classes, and (as I explain at the beginning of my dissertation) their influence on my later work has been profound.

Queens College was the logical choice for a masters program (1977-1980). The Schenkerian tradition flourished there in much the same way as it did at Mannes, and one could without difficulty assemble a varied course of analytical study, ranging from medieval structures to nineteenth-century chromaticism and beyond, by enrolling in seminars taught by Charles Burkhart, Roger Kamien, Saul Novack, and Carl Schachter, among others. The Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY) was a similarly logical choice for pursuing a doctorate since, as part of the same system as Queens, it offered instruction by the same distinguished cast of theorists, only at a more demanding level.

In 1982, before embarking on my exams and my dissertation, I enrolled at Columbia University's School Library Service, with a view towards obtaining a second masters degree and finding a job that centered on books and periodicals. Reading or even just scanning the literature on music (history as much as theory) has held ever growing fascination for me, and assembling bibliographies quickly became more than an avocation. The opportunity to engage in these activities on a daily basis, and at a professional level, was irresistible.

While still a student at Columbia, I joined the staff of the circulating music library at the New York Public Library for the Performing Art, which is part of NYPL and a constituent of Lincoln Center. After two years each as a trainee and as a librarian at the collection, I was appointed Acquisitions Librarian at the Music Division of NYPL's Research Libraries (1987), located in the same building. Having been entrusted with maintaining and expanding the collection, I set out to examine its depth in various areas and identify those that required expansion. One was the literature on popular music, which was coming into its own at about that time; another was interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary studies, in particular those that were evidently helping many theorists and musicologists fashion new ways of approaching old problems–namely literary criticism, semiotics, linguistics, and art criticism. Pop and rock were old loves, easy to reignite; narrativity, emplotment, and markedness theory were novel crushes that soon matured into long-lasting relationships. As these began to invigorate our catalogue and populate our stacks, they were also reshaping my scholarly work, and my dissertation.

Having completed several tentative drafts during the late 1980s and early '90s, I changed the focus of my dissertation from a tonal account of form to a narrative account of meter, pace, and phrase rhythm in Handel's instrumental works. The change was necessary because form, which in the Baroque instrumental repertoire hinges on Wilhelm Fischer's three-part ritornello model (Vordersatz, Fortspinnung, and Epilog) at various levels, could not be tackled without an account of phrase rhythm, yet there was no durational theory or method that explained Baroque temporality very well. I had to construct one from the ground up, and in a very ad hoc kind of way, by analyzing dozens of pieces and formulating the way their meters, paces, and displacements related to counterpoint and to form.

As it stands, my account of Baroque and Handelian temporality depends as much on the study of Handel's sources–in this instance, the keyboard works of Domenico Scarlatti and François Couperin–as it does on William Rothstein's reductive realignment of tonal and rhythmic levels (normalization) and on newly acquired interdisciplinary tools. Completed in 2004, the dissertation introduces a methodological and bibliographic melting pot, one that emphasizes the collaborative union of diverse analytical notions–Schenker's layers, Fischer's ritornellos, Schoenberg's sentences, Dreyfus's inventions, Caplin's sentential forms, Hatten's markedness, Newcomb's narrativity, and many others–instead of stressing the divisions between them. I hope that I have succeeded in conveying the flexibility and the holistic, even ecumenical essence of the analytical experience, and that my work will be of use to those who wish to forge ahead and unravel the many remaining mysteries of the Baroque.

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