Temporal structure in music and architecture: a comparative analysis

Daniel MOREIRA*1


*1 King's College, University of London

*2 Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture, ETH Zurich


Music unfolds in time. Time unfolds in music”. (Kramer, 1988, p. 1)

Thus starts Jonathan Kramer his groundbreaking book "The Time of Music: New Meanings, New Temporalities, New Listening Strategies". Unlike other works on musical time, which deal only with the (more easily quantifiable) issues of rhythm and metre, this book also discusses the (less tractable) issues of motion, continuity, progression, pacing, and proportion in music. Drawing from a basic distinction between linearity and non-linearity, Kramer presents a typology of five musical temporalities — directed linear time, non-directed linear time, multiply-directed time, moment time, and vertical time — claiming some of them to be typical of particular musical cultures or historical periods (tonal music, for instance, is the quintessence of directed linear time). This typology formalizes one of the most fundamental aspects of music (if not the most fundamental).

This paper — coauthored by a composer and an architect — shows that Kramer’s typology can be applied not only to musical but also to architectural works. This is done by means of a (brief) comparative analysis of examples of directed, non-directed and moment time in each of the two arts (by Bach, Webern, and Messiaen, in music; and Le Corbusier and James Stirling, in architecture). Interesting (and perhaps non-obvious) parallels between music and architecture are thus revealed.

Daniel Moreira holds a B.A. in Economics (Faculty of Economics, University of Porto; 2006) and a M.A. in Music Theory and Composition (Higher School of Music, Arts and Performance, Polytechnic Institute of Porto – ESMAE/IPP; 2010). At present, he is a PhD candidate in Music Composition (King's College, University of London; 2012—), working under the supervision of George Benjamin and Silvina Milstein. As a composer, his music has been commissioned, among others, by Casa da Música, Festival Musica Strasbourg, European Concert Hall Organisation and Chester&Novello, and is performed in Portugal and abroad (Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik, 2009; Festival Musica Strasbourg, 2010 and 2012; Cycle Guerre et Paix, Cité de la Musique/Paris, 2014; etc.). As a theorist, he is interested in post-tonal harmonic motion, issues of temporality in atonal music, and film music. His theoretical work has been presented in EuroMAC (Leuven, Belgium, 2014) and KeeleMAC (Keele, UK, 2015). He has been teaching composition and analysis at ESMAE/IPP since 2009. He is also, since 2014, a researcher at CITAR/Catholic University of Portugal.

Luís Ribeiro da Silva is an architect and a PhD candidate at The Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture (gta), ETH Zurich, working under the supervision of Philip Ursprung and Yehuda Safran. His research focus on the analysis of the narrative structure and temporality in James Stirling's architecture between 1959 and 1979.

Luís Ribeiro da Silva holds a Licentiate in Architecture (Faculty of Architecture, University of Porto; 2007), and a Master of Science in Advanced Architectural Design (Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia University New York; 2010).

In 2011, he co-founded Ursa together with Alexandre Delmar, an art, architecture, and research studio based in Porto.