The cognitive reality of prolongational structures in tonal music

  • Isabel Martinez

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis investigates the psychological implications of prolongation, a structural phenomenon of tonal music, which is described in the musicological literature as an elaborative process in which some pitch events - such as chords and notes - remain as if they were sounding even though they are not physically present. In spite of its theoretical value as an analytical device, the question of prolongation as experienced still remains. Its cognitive scope was thoroughly explored in two groups of experiments: in part 1 prolongation was hypothesized as a constituent organization, in which the linear continuity of the voice-leading as it unfolds is parsed into syntactical units with beginnings and endings. The listener’s capacity to identify prolongational boundaries was tested under experimental conditions that explored the moment-to-moment sensitivity to prolongation in music-attending tasks. A clear ontology of prolongation as a constituent percept, at foreground reductional levels of the underlying structure, emerged unequivocally from the experimental results. However, this research did not fully explain an imaginative component that, according to Schenkerian theory, is present in the concept of prolongation. Alternative views of human cognition, related to the study of embodied knowledge and metaphorical thinking, were pursued in order to answer this question. In part 2 it was hypothesised that prolongation would be experienced as a structural metaphor. The interrupted structure, an archetypal organization of tonal music, was investigated on the assumption that this underlying configuration, interacting with cognition, primes in music perception the activation of an image-schematic structure - involving force. By means of a cross-domain mapping process, the listener projects that image-schematic structure onto the sonic organization of the piece, understanding the interrupted structure as a sonic unfolding of the force schema. The results confirmed the hypothesis: prolongation has a relevant status as imagined cognition. Structural metaphors operate as idealized models of cognitive processing that listeners activate during their experience of music.
Date of Award2007
Original languageEnglish

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