Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Today I have been pondering "factual" and "actual," words used by Josef Albers to describe scientifically identifiable colors as opposed to colors as experienced by people. In his great study on color Albers refers repeatedly to the similarity between color perception and tone perception.

I think we have worked ourselves into a tight corner of listening in which the distinction is lost. We mistake what we hear for factual when it is usually actual--i.e., subject to inevitable distortions that we bring to our perception.

An example of this occurred today when a fifteen-year-old, just beginning to learn extended musical forms, identified the return of the second theme of a sonata allegro movement as not sounding right because "it's in the wrong key." Every theoretical description of sonata allegro form describes this recurrence of the theme as in the right key. Yet this young person experienced it clearly as the wrong key.

Most of us learn sonata allegro structure as factual when it is more of the time actual. The relationship of one tonality to another is affected by many things: instrumentation, register, symmetry or asymmetry of the tonalities involved, and so on.

I find the piece considerably altered by entertaining the idea that the dominant key might indeed be the right key. (Mozart Sonata in G Major, K. 283.)