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The Power of the Moment

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Essays on the Western Musical Canon

By Martin Boykan

Originally published by Pendragon Press, 2011

The Power of the Moment is a collection of critical essays on some of the most familiar works from the musical canon. Not unlike literary essays by poets or novelists, it pointedly avoids abstract constructs in order to elucidate what it is that we actually experience in the course of a performance. On several occasions alternate versions of a passage are compared to the original to provide a graphic illustration of the composer’s intentions. Two chapters are devoted to Beethoven. The first movement of the Hammerklavier Sonata is compared with the Archduke Trio to explore how markedly similar harmonic plans may provide a basis for two very different kinds of music. A chapter on the scherzo of the Fifth Symphony points to the oddity of an added measure in the recapitulation that may seem too obscure to attract attention, but actually functions as an essential cog in the network of relationships that defines the movement. Seven songs of Schubert’s Winterreise are studied with particular emphasis on the piano introduction and the critical effect of various kinds of dialogue between piano and voice. A chapter on Verdi’s Otello examines the immediate musical context of the couple’s kiss, which provides a profound insight into the underlying dramatic intention of the opera.. And finally, a measure-by-measure analysis of a short piece of Bach illustrates how the complex associations aroused by every phrase can awaken the feeling that everything that happens is important, that every moment is lived to the fullest.

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Studies in Musical Narrative

By Martin Boykan

The Scarecrow Press, Inc. (A member of the Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Co., Lanham, Maryland and Oxford, UK)  2004

“And so I come back to the essential fact that we listen to music sequentially— one thing at a time — and to follow a narrative requires that we be deeply attentive, remaining always in suspense as the story unfolds. And since time passes slowly in music, we are immersed in a world that is richer and more eventful than ordinary life. Every musician knows how much is packed into a single minute; only if we are focused on the issues of the moment (as they are colored by past experience) can we absorb such an abundance. Other art-forms also have a temporal aspect — even painting, in its limited way. But I hope the analyses I have offered show how music is different, how in some sense it is a way of consecrating time itself.” (Chapter 4, Page 98.)

Quote from review of the book:

“Boykan’s detailed analysis are clear and insightful, and reveal a great musical mind that has spent much time thinking about these pieces and the many subtleties they contain.”
— John Brackett, University of Utah,  Notes  61.4 (2005) 994-997 Music Library
Association, Inc.