Norton Lectures

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This letter was written from Devon, England following the broadcast of the second of the Norton Lectures in January, 1976. At the top of the page, Bernstein wrote: "Great letter. More power to him."

Dear Mr. Bernstein,

I saw the BBC showing of you second Harvard lecture, on syntax, and immediately regretted having missed the first one. You made some points of particular interest to me, since I'm currently at Exeter University, researching towards a Ph.D. in photographic communication, and very involved with linguistics.

Your insight that poetry is the result of transformations of prose surface structure has (but only with hindsight!) the self-evident, breathtaking clarity which leaves everyone wondering why the problem looked so difficult. And refers me back to Freud's dream-work.

My own view of Chomsky has been that while his underlying concepts, particularly his philosophy of mind, are relevant to my own work, the nature of still photography appears to preclude the application to it of his theories of transformational grammar. You see, while in music, literature, and even to a large extent in film, information is presented sequentially, and thus syntax is fully determined by the originator; the viewer of the still photograph asserts his own scanning order, and so syntax is only fully determinate in relation to him. The most which the originator may achieve, and I believe this to be one of the marks of the truly great photographer, is a high probability that a perceiver will scan in accordance with the originator's own concept. But there is something in what you said, a still small voice which I can't yet articulate, sending me back to the drawing board to see if even in these circumstances I can apply Chomskyan linguistics more fully than I've yet been able to.

A further point of interest to me is your view, if I've got it right, that counterpoint is only fully realised in music. Now I'm very much a musical layman, but my understanding of the term led me to suppose that it might be seen as having a visual analogy, and I have argued that this is well demonstrated in certain photographs of Alfred Stieglitz.

They are his sky images, made generally in the early 20's, and called variously "Music," "Songs of the Sky" and "Equivalents." Characteristically, they include cloud formations, and the disc of the sun. I see two sets of visual rhythms arising in them -- the first due to the dynamic of the sun's relation with the picture rectangle, and the second due to the dynamics of the cloud forms within the rectangle -- and I had thought that the resultant of their interaction might properly be described as a visual counterpoint. Or should I have called it something different?

A final bonus from your lecture is that I can now flourish your name as an unbeatable example of a distinguished practitioner equally at home with theory, as a counterbalance to the heavily anti-intellectual attitudes which are prevalent, especially in photography. Thanks!

This letter to Leonard Bernstein was written in October, 1973 by a Harvard University sophomore in response to the second of the Norton Lectures.

Mr. Bernstein,

The second Norton Lecture left me uneasy about a few of your linguistical/musical analogues. Some clarification, I think, is necessary.

First, you seem to have a strange notion of linguistic embedding. ...The structure which you demonstrated in the Mozart Symphony [no. 40] really has no parallel in human speech since, unfortunately, we can handle only one voice at a time. For those bars to have truly been embedding, the strings would have stopped to let the woodwinds have their say, and then would have completed their material. It is a small point, I know, but I think you probably could find real embedding if you looked for it; and you could then have described the Mozart as a distinctly musical extension of human embedding.

And you also used the word "creativity" without making clear the distinction between linguistic creativity and artistic creativity. This was probably not intentional, but you should be more careful when making these analogies. If I were to recast the "Eroica" [Beethoven's Third Symphony in E-flat Major] in, say, D Major, I would certainly not have been creative in an artistic sense, although I would have been creative "linguistically." I have never heard a D Major "Eroica" before, but I could fabricate one with my own competence and with the score in front of me. To slip this by to an unsuspecting audience is not even quasi-scientific; it could be construed as downright tricky. Keep on your toes, Leonard. That Harvard community with which you dare to go one step further is also keenly aware of the shortcomings of your arguments.

Just one more thing. Your fugue on the Hanon exercises was fun, but as I was sitting there I asked myself why you didn't mention the point in the 3rd movement of Shostakovich's Second Piano Concerto where the pianist actually does play the exercises for several bars. You must know about it; you play the concerto excellently. Even if it was intended as a joke between Dmitri [Shostakovich] and Maksim [Shostakovich's son and for whom the Concerto was written], the important thing to remember is that the aesthetic quality of the music is not lost for a second.

Enough of my ravings. Until Tuesday night.

This note was written to Leonard Bernstein from a friend on October 11, 1973, following the second of the Norton Lectures at Harvard University.

Dear Lenny,

Tuesday night I overheard a girl in the bathroom of the Harvard Square Theater saying to a friend, "I sat in Music I for a whole semester and I didn't understand a ****ing thing until tonight." That's what makes it all worthwhile.

This letter was written to Bernstein by a precocious fifteen year-old piano student in New York City regarding the fourth of the Norton Lectures ("The Delights and Dangers of Ambiguity") which was broadcast on television in February, 1976.

Dear Mr. Bernstein,

I have enjoyed your Harvard lectures immensely so far. Aside from their being well-presented and logical, you have forced me, and hopefully others as well, to think and discover on their own. You have uncovered many new dimensions in music. I am fifteen years old, and a piano student of Zenon Fishbein at the Manhattan School of Music, and I have made an absolutely earth-shaking discovery about the Debussy [Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun] you analyzed on your fourth lecture, "The Delights and Dangers of Ambiguity."

As you mentioned, the entire composition is based on two tritones — G - C#, and Bb - E. Did you realize, however, that the combination of these prevailing tones creates a diminished-seventh chord, the most ambiguous of all chords? This is the same chord with which the Romantics created their ambiguity; the same chord implied throughout the Prelude of [Wagner's] "Tristan [und Isolde]"! Thus, Debussy incorporates another "tonal fence" into this work, this chord that was a key to ambiguity two decades earlier.

You probably think that my "earth-shaking discovery" is extremely trivial, but you must understand that when I figured it out I could not contain my excitement. I had to tell someone, so thank you for taking the time to read my letter. I also hope you will continue to give lectures of this sort in the future.

This letter was sent to Leonard Bernstein in January, 1976 following a television broadcast of the second of the Norton Lectures from a student at the University of Edinburgh. Although Bernstein had delivered the lectures in the fall of 1973, they were not broadcast until almost three years later.

Dear Mr. Bernstein,

...As a research student in transformational generative grammar and also a qualified musician, I have been very intrigued by your idea of applying techniques used by transformational grammarians in the description of language to the analysis of music. I should be most interested to know if you have developed further the notion of "musical syntax."

In your second lecture, you claimed that bars 115-116 in the first movement of Mozart's 40th Symphony contained an example of musical pronominalization. You invited listeners to consult the score to discover what you meant by this term. In language, pronominalization involves, in simple terms, substituting one of a closed set of forms ("pronouns") for the second occurrence of a noun phrase in deep structure. The pronoun is, typically, simpler in form than the noun phrase which it replaces. Applying these observations to the bars in question, I must conclude that the instance of pronominalization to which you referred lies in the horn part, which repeats the "noun phrase" opening subject in simplified form: [see image above for musical example].

I should be pleased to know whether this is in fact what you meant.

Bernstein wrote "Right: but only one of several ex[ample]s" in the margin next to the musical quotation.

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