Current Research

Rhetoric, Prolixity, and Agricola: Alexander Agricola's Salve Regina I as a Defense of Polystylism During the Late 15th Century

Arguing for logical form in the music of Alexander Agricola through understanding rhetorical analysis and the classical argument.

Despite the frequently critiqued prolixity in much of his oeuvre, Alexander Agricola (1445/46-1506) crafted music comprehensible enough to elicit great praise from numerous contemporaries. What is then inherently praiseworthy in this abstruse music? In his Salve Regina I, Agricola crafts a musical argument for his garrulity, the thesis of which aims to clarify and justify the virtue of his style. While Agricola employed cantus firmus conventions to provide formal scaffolding, he also imbues discursiveness with comprehensibility through rhetorical techniques, such as inflection of cadence, clearness of imitation, phraseology of text, and varied implementation of cantus firmus. Articulating the micro-structure and of his music, these components are then couched in the discourse of the classical argument: an introduction, confirmation, and refutation of a thesis. In Agricola’s Salve Regina I, motet becomes a medium for the exhibition and logical justification of his musical thesis of abstract polystylism.

Hildegard von Bingen, the Late, Great, One and Only

Making the case against modern Hildegard scholarship, questioning originality in Hildegard von Bingen and her musical output

The prestigious and exceptional characterization of Hildegard von Bingen, promoted for at least the past century, and popularized within the past few decades, has become the standard expectation in most textbooks and curriculums on Medieval Music. Some questions arise against many historians’ claims however. While there might be many surviving chants of Hildegard, possibly numbering more than any other single contemporary individual, this claim seems to propose that there was no other individual writing significant amounts of innovative monophonic liturgical music during this time. However, evidence available to musicologists for the past fifty years would indicate otherwise. Music by such 12th century composers as Hermannus Contractus clearly shows evidence for an extremely prolific and progressive monophonic compositional style at least fifty years before Hildegard von Bingen. This evidence suggests that the musically historical position that historians have given Hildegard von Bingen is perhaps over inflated and ultimately incorrect, neglecting the novel innovations of composers a generation before her time.

Piobaireachd: The Origins of the Traditional Music of the Great Highland Bagpipes of Scotland

Do the Origins of Piobaireachd Relate to Early Harp Music and Liturgical Chant from the British Isles?

Shrouded in myth and mystery, a tradition that has been passed from master to pupil for unknown centuries, piobaireachd, the “classical music” of the Great Highland Bagpipe. It is the oldest bagpipe musical style that comes down to us today and is perhaps the most austere and expressive of all the bagpiping genres, though where this music finds its origin is still somewhat a mystery. Though it is argued that its creator originated in the 16th centuries, there are stories, legends, and tunes that claim origins far older than this. To understand how and when this style possibly developed, it is important to know the place of bagpipes in Scottish society during the late Middle Ages, though much is left uncertain as to this time in the history of Scotland. Few historical records exist from this period due to wars, reformations within the church, and heavy reliance on oral transmission of history and music. Some insight can be gleaned from stories, a few existing records, and educated speculation, though much must be discounted or considered dubious at best. Ultimately, to have any understanding of the origins of piobaireachd and thus the proliferation of the Great Highland Bagpipe and its stature today, one must know how the instrument came to and was used in Scotland and the British Isles during this time; how the music is structured, composed, and transmitted; the history – myth, accepted truth, and possible theories – behind the development of this style; and, most essentially, the instrument and how it works.

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Recent Research

Reverse Engineering Tonal Structure in Neo-Classical Stravinsky

Poly-Contrapuntalism and Macro-Tonal Process in Stravinsky‟s Grand Chorale

Analytical material concerning the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) is simultaneously rife and sparse. Compared to his towering contemporaries writing modern music in the West such as Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, Alban Berg, and Paul Hindemith, Stravinsky‟s music is, at times, much more difficult to fit into neat and tidy analytical boxes. His music spans so many genres and influences, often mixing and juxtaposing them, that it becomes challenging to understand his music though only one or even two analytical methods. At times, his music defies meaningful quantitative analysis at all. The brief study here only hopes to add one tool to the multifaceted tool box available to analyze Stravinsky‟s music, offering a new perspective through which to view his more Neo-Classical works. This process stems from the earlier music which Stravinsky is referencing in Neo-Classicism, and hopes to offer reasonable justification to recognize tonal structures in the background of tonally ambiguous music in Stravinsky‟s repertoire. I give this analytical and compositional process the name “Poly-Contrapuntalism” and use it to explain four-part voice leading in Stravinsky‟s “Grand Chorale” from The Soldier’s Tale and use it to reverse engineer easily recognizable tonal structures in this piece to better understand the macro-tonal process that is happening throughout the work.

William Bolcom's "The Garden of Eden: The Serpents Kiss” Formal Analysis

Art in Rag, Design in Fantasy

William Bolcom’s The Garden of Eden is a set of four piano rags, completed by Bolcom in 1969. Illustrating an abstract narrative from the Abrahamic Genesis-creation, the four rags encapsulate Bolcom’s third-stream Americana style, incorporating into a virtuosic piano piece intense melodic, harmonic, and formal composition with traditional rag rhythms, chromaticism, and expressive nuances.  While the four rags of The Garden of Eden present a diversity of musical styles, it is in The Serpent’s Kiss that Bolcom makes the most interesting use of form in the “rag fantasy,” which involves many contemporary compositional idioms over a traditional rag template.

George Rochberg's "Octet": Address to the Fugal Interlude

Following his famous change of compositional style from atonal serialism to atonally informed Neo-Romanticism, George Rochberg believed that “all human gestures are available to all human beings at any time.” This change led Rochberg’s style to challenge the commonly held notion among the compositionally elite that style must innovate, never stagnate or especially regress. Rochberg’s Octet is an example of this “regressive” stylistic shift, a shift that was perhaps so regressive that it was in fact progressive, combining a highly informed knowledge of atonal writing from his earlier career with a renewed perspective on older forms. Set at the heart of this work, amongst a collage of highly diverse musical forms and textures, including soloistic rhapsodies, bicinia, dances, and cacophonies, is a complex fugue. It is interesting to wonder at how out-of-place this section might seem in the overall development of this piece. This section, however, is more befitting than it would appear. Rochberg gives this fugue its strategic placement, approximately at the temporal Golden Mean – a common marker for musical climax – to make a clear artistic statement about his new philosophy on musical purpose and form. The fugue, being the pride of compositional form for centuries before, during, and after its culmination in the works of Johann Sebastian Bach, a clearly seminal figure among the historic masters of composition, is a highly appropriate manner in which to express a mingling of past and present within a form that is both masterful and classical. Rochberg uses this fugue and its strategic placement to highlight the most radical example of all human gestures being available to all people at any time, even within a piece of music. Here, we seek to make clear the formal cohesiveness of this drastically conservative and austere “climax,” showing its structural and artistic merit.

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Past Presentations

 "The Origins of the Traditional Music of the Great Highland Bagpipes of Scotland

as it Relates to Early Harp Music and Liturgical Chant from the British Isles"

The University of Arizona Fred Fox School of Music

Ninth Critical Studies Colloquium in Musicology

Friday, October 31, 2014 in Crowder Hall 3:00-4:00 p.m.

"Music and Spirituality, the Practice of Presence - A Case Study in Gregorian Chant and Human Manifestations of  Spirituality through Music"

Thesis submitted for the requirements of Independent Study in the Department of Religious Studies at The College of Wooster


Presented at the College of Wooster School of Music

Friday, April 19 2013 from 3:00-4:00 p.m


Presented at the Trinity United Church of Christ Wooster, Ohio on Sunday, April 21 2013 at 4:00 p.m

Copyright © 2020 by Jordan Alexander Key