Nonlinear Changes in the Rhythm of European Art Music: Quantitative Support for Historical Musicology

Niels Christian Hansen, Makiko Sadakata, Marcus Pearce

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Research has used the normalized pairwise variability index (nPVI) to examine relationships between musical rhythm and durational contrast in composers’ native languages. Applying this methodology, linearly increasing nPVI in Austro-German, but not Italian music has recently been ascribed to waning Italian and increasing German influence on Austro-German music after the Baroque Era. The inapplicability of controlled experimental methods to historical data necessitates further replication with more sensitive methods and new repertoire. Using novel polynomial modelling procedures, we demonstrate an initial increase and a subsequent decrease in nPVI in music by 34 French composers. Moreover, previous findings for 21 Austro-German (linear increase) and 15 Italian composers (no change) are replicated. Our results provide promissory quantitative support for accounts from historical musicology of an Italian-dominated Baroque (1600-1750), a Classical Era (1750-1820) with Austro-German centres of gravity (e.g., Mannheim, Vienna), and a Romantic Era (1820-1900) with greater national independence. Future studies should aim to replicate these findings with larger corpora with greater historical representability.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2
JournalMusic Perception
Pages (from-to)414
Number of pages431
Publication statusPublished - 12 Apr 2016


  • French composers
  • Historical musicology
  • Language
  • Rhythm
  • nPVI


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