You are on page 1of 6

Bulletin of the Transilvania University of Braov

Series VIII: Art Sport Vol. 4 (53) No. 1 2011




Abstract: This subject is fascinating through the interpretive possibilities

that it opens. The accurate understanding and practice of Schenkers theories
leads to a different perception of the music and to a natural way of
performing. Therefore, we consider the schenkerian analysis not only a
theory, but also a comprehensive way of understanding musical works.
Schenkerian analysis provides a comprehensive view of music from the small
to the large representing thus a great asset to hearing understanding and

Key words: musical analysis, Schenker, background, middle ground,

foreground, prolongation, structure

1. Introduction the long-range structure is defined

Background (or fundamental structure,
The schenkerian analyses are a method while the surface aspects of the music are
based on the theories of Heinrich Schenker the Foreground. One can state the idea
whose purpose is to disclose the structure that "the background of a musical
of a tonal piece, through musical notations. composition is arrhythmic" or, "rhythm is
The basic principle in the structure of a a characteristic of the musical foreground.
piece for the Schenkerian analysis is In the most common way, the purpose of
showing hierarchical relationships amongst schenkerian analysis is to omit the
the notes of the passage through making unessential and to emphasize the important
reductions of the music and through a relations.
specialized symbolic musical notation that
Schenker developed to demonstrate 2. Basic concepts
various techniques of prolongation. He
considered that the deep, long-range There are many methods of approaching
structure of a piece of music has no the schenkerian analyses. Schenker,
particular rhythm, so the musical followed by Jonas, began by describing the
reductions of Schenkerian analysis are essential structure of music: the triad and
usually arrhythmic. Schenkerian analysis its linear unfolding through arpeggiation

Department of Music Performance, Transilvania University of Brasov.
48 Bulletin of the Transilvania University of Braov. Series VIII Vol. 4 (53) No. 1 - 2011

and through passing and auxiliary notes, in piece, whole sections may prolong V
its most abstract form. Next, they discuss (Schenker called this a tonicization of the
the forms that these structures could have dominant) and also, there may be other
in any musical context. Schenkers harmonic sections prolonged in between the
approach relies on the fundamental initial I and the V of the final perfect cadence,
principles of the harmony and the bass of the fundamental structure
counterpoint. Allen Forte and Steven E. appearing in many different layers of a piece.
Gilbert, on the other hand, began by The bass line is only a harmonic progression
showing different apparitions of the and Schenker's theory seeks to comprehend
arpeggiation, passing tones, etc. at the music in terms of a two-part contrapuntal
note-to-note level before showing the way structure.
to use these in order to create musical Layer or level (Schicht) represents the
forms of greater proportions. Other music fundamental idea of Schenkerian theory
theorists, for example Felix Salzer and that music consists of a series of layers of
Carl Schachter, added to and spread elaboration. Schenker suggests that simpler
Schenker's ideas. By the 1960s, layers underpin the complex ones in almost
Schenkerian analysis had begun to attract the way in which a variation on a theme
renewed interest, and by the 1980s, it had supports the surface of the music.
become one of the main analytical methods Background (Hintergrund) refers only
used by many music theorists. to the Ursatz form that covers a whole
piece or movement. In some cases, one can
2.1. Structural concepts use it to refer to the Ursatz and its
immediate prolongations (like the initial
Fundamental structure (Ursatz) is the ascent etc.) that are usually part of the first
representative progression of which all tonal level of the middle ground. In theory, one
pieces are hypothetically an elaboration that simple progression that spans the entire
Schenker believed to be (along with a number piece is the foundation on which the
of variants) the most basic expression of tonal composer created the entire piece.
music. It consists of the descending First-level Middle ground refers to the
progression from , or in the upper part immediate prolongations of the Ursatz that
(Urlinie) over a bass progression Schenker restricts to a small number of
(Bassbrechung) that emerges in the strictly defined forms. The background
background as part of the fundamental sometimes refers to this level of the
structure. This progression represents one of structure as elaborations.
the simplest contrapuntal expressions of the I Middle ground (Mittelgrund) is the
VI unit. Schenker described the fundamental surface layer of a piece of music, the
structure as a tension span, as the tension background being the deepest layer, of
introduced by the initial is not resolved until which the whole piece is understood to be
the music reaches the final over the tonic. an elaboration. The middle ground has a
For Schenker, this tension span was what tied variable number of occurring layers that a
complex and various pieces of music into a Schenkerian analysis will identify between
single coherent work of art. the foreground and background.
Schenker considered that any piece of tonal Foreground (Vordergrund) is the
music can be described as an elaboration of surface layer of the music. Schenker
this pattern: tonal pieces generally start with I regards music in terms of layers of
and the V I epitomizes the final perfect elaboration from the profound structure to
cadence of the piece. Nevertheless, in a longer the surface.
A. PREDA-ULITA : Basic concepts and principles in modern musical analysis. 49

Prolongation refers to the elaboration of Ursatz, including all the elaborations of

contrapuntal structures. Schenker this pattern. The basic harmonic
considered that all tonal pieces are progression appears as contrapuntally
therefore, a prolongation of the Ursatz. elaborated, normally creating harmonic
The concept of prolongation lies at the patterns such as I-III-V-I or I-II-V-I.
foundation of Schenkers theory and is the Diminution refers to the embellishment
most influential element of it. Using the of simpler musical structures beneath the
basic principles of consonance and surface of the music and describes the
dissonance from species counterpoint, process of linear units prolonging
Schenker identifies a number of common harmonic ones. The process of analysis is
linear units that he calls diminutions. partly one of looking behind the surface
Because diminutions must prolong a diminutions, but Schenker was more
harmonic unit in Schenker's theory, only a interested in a process of generation from
note that is consonant with the prevailing background to foreground (composing-
harmony can generate a diminution. out). Schenker used the basic principles of
Prolongation is an extension through consonance and dissonance from species
time (by an arpeggio, for example) in a counterpoint in order to identify a number
piece of music of a harmonic unit (a chord of common linear units that he calls
or a note from that chord). Schenkers diminutions. His analyses, at their most
analyses, at their simplest level, show how simple level, show how these linear units
linear units prolong harmonic units. prolong harmonic units. A theme and
Tonicization is the Schenkerian term for variations is a very good example of
modulation. The use of this term highlights diminution, because in this genre, the
the fact that a tonal piece corresponds to a theme supports increasingly complex
contrapuntal realization of the tonic. figurations. Each variation is different but
the presence of the theme beneath the
2.2. Melodic concepts surface of the music unifies the whole
Fundamental descent (Urlinie) is the Arpeggiation (Brechung) is a simple
top line of the two-part Ursatz, comprising elaboration that consists of notes
a note by note descent from , or to . consonant with the prolonged harmony. It
The term reflects Schenker's belief that this is a single movement through notes from a
archetypal descending motion underlines harmony, in the same direction, prolonging
all tonal pieces. a harmonic unit by arpeggiating the notes
Primary tone (Kopfton) is the first note of the triad. An arpeggiation can only
of the Urlinie (meaning the , or ). prolong a triad with the exception of the
Finding the correct primary tone is an dominant seventh chord. This chord is
important aspect as it can make a universal in tonal music that in many
considerable difference to the rest of an situations it makes sense to treat it as a
analysis. If the Urlinie appears is elaborated consonant sonority like the triad. In
of an initial ascent, the Kopfton will not be Schenkerian analysis, diminutions usually
found right at the beginning of the piece. prolong a harmonic unit and a particular
Bass Arpeggiation (Bassbrechung) note from that unit. In the arpeggiation
literally translates as breaking of the (where all the notes belong to the triad),
bass, but is more often referred to as the just context could enlighten the main note
bass arpeggiation. The Bassbrechung is the that is being prolonged, although
I-V-I that support the Urlinie as part of the diminutions are always a prolongation of
50 Bulletin of the Transilvania University of Braov. Series VIII Vol. 4 (53) No. 1 - 2011

either their first or last note. The Mixture (Mischung) is the flattening or
Schenkerian model is a dynamic one - the sharpening of scale degrees, the most
diminution is not static but moves either to common of which being to , which in
or from a principal note. the first level middle ground can change
Consonant Skip is a term used by Allen the mode of the piece from major to minor.
Forte and by some Schenkerian analysts to It is ornamentation rather than a
refer to simple two-note (or incomplete) diminution because it does not derive from
arpeggiations, which usually constitute the rules of strict counterpoint. It describes
some sort of unfolding. The term refers to the flattening or sharpening of scale
a particular diminution in which the voice degrees and it usually appears in the first
leaps from one note of the harmonic unit to level middle ground in connection with
another note of the same harmonic unit. A as shown below. It has the effect of
consonant skip contains only notes from changing the mode from major to minor
the harmonic unit that it is prolonging. In a and back again. Schenker most often uses
Schenkerian analysis, diminutions the term mixture to refer to alternation
generally prolong either a harmonic unit or between the major and minor third in a
a particular note from it. As in an tonic triad.
arpeggiation, both notes from the Linear progression (Zug) is the
consonant skip are belong to the triad of Schenkerian term for a passing note
the harmonic unit, thus the prolonged note intensification that elaborates a specific
depends on the context. harmony in the middle ground or
Neighbour Note (Nebennote) is a foreground. Its first and last notes must be
diminution in which a note is ornamented a part of the harmony at the end of the
by a figure that moves stepwise to a note progression. A linear progression can be
above or below the original note before either ascending or descending, therefore it
returning to it. In other words, it elaborates moves only in one direction. Schenker
a note of a chord through stepwise motion appreciates that the linear progression is
to and/or from a dissonance. Neighbour the unfolding of a two-note interval made
notes may also be incomplete (move to a up of its initial and final note. In other
note a step away and not return to the words, the interval between these notes
original note). A complete neighbour note (first and last) gives a linear progression its
moves stepwise a dissonance and back name. The simplest linear progression is
again. An incomplete neighbour note can the passing note, which is dissonant as it
move from the dissonance to the passes from one consonant note to another.
consonance or the reverse.
Passing note (Durchgang) Some 3. Basic principles
Schenkerian analysts recognize most
passing note progressions as Linear Heinrich Schenkers analytical approach
Progressions (see separate entry). In order of music engages looking beneath the
to be a true linear progression, however, surface of music in order to understand
the passing note must be the elaboration of how it connects into larger spans. It is
a harmony. A passing note right at the important for the performer to reflect on
foreground (surface) of a piece of music the direction and shape of the phrases, in a
may not always fulfil this condition. natural and logical way. At the basic level,
Examples might be a chromatic passing one can understand Schenker's ideas as a
note or a note that connects two surface formalization of his intuitive thinking that
harmonies. music should not be regarded as a series of
A. PREDA-ULITA : Basic concepts and principles in modern musical analysis. 51

notes, but in terms of larger-scale shapes phrase are like words into a sentence. One
and patterns. analyzes a word as a part of speech,
The basic method of Schenkerian having, in the same time, a function within
analysis is to show how elaborations such the sentence.
as neighbour and passing notes, Felix Salzer (1952) introduced a concept
progressions and arpeggios group into that describes very well the schenkerian
forming music. These patterns do not analysis: structural hearing. He considered
appear only on the surface of the music but that the understanding of tonal music is a
that they also span much larger fragments. matter of hearing, and the ear has to be
Schenker regarded music like a trained to hear not only a succession of
superposition of layers/levels, the surface tones (sounds), melodic lines and chord
layer being the elaboration of a simpler progressions, but also their coherence and
layer beneath that surface. The surface of structural signification.
the music defines as the foreground, the Schenkers conceptions rely on an
deepest layer the background and those observation that represents the corner stone
layers of elaborations in between refer to of his research: the distinction of the
as the middle ground. In addition, an chord grammar and chord signification
important feature of Schenkerian analysis (Salzer, 1952). Chord grammar signifies
is showing how melodic figures are the usual method of analysis, this being the
elaborations of harmonies. most important feature of a harmonic
The basic ideas stated by Schenker in his analysis that has the purpose of status
theory are quite simple, but the process of recognition of the chords in a musical
analysis is a complicated one, mostly piece. On the other hand, the study of
because music itself is complex. Analysts chord signification shows his specific
that approached this kind of analysis found role in a phrase, or an entire piece.
that it provides richly rewarding insights Schenker discovered that the roles that
into the shape and structure of tonal music. chords have are diverse. Two identical
Schenker is probably most famous for chords that appear in the same phrase can
his suggestion that musical works are fulfill different functions. The signification
elaborations of the basic model that he and the function of a sound or of a chord
called the Ursatz a two-voice reductive depend on the direction of the movement
structure forming the basis for an and on the purpose, in other words on the
analytical approach that emphasizes the context.
essential simplicity of tonal music. It Schenker made a distinction between
shows how pieces are contrapuntal structure chords and prolongation chords,
elaborations of a tonic chord. Schenker by means of chord grammar and
stated that we could reduce a piece of signification, taking into consideration the
music to the Ursatz, and we can explore direction of music this being the main
the complexities of the piece by idea of his approach. Salzer considered
considering them in relation to this simple that this method of understanding the
model. movement of music represents the
Some theorists (like Steven Porter instinctive perception of a truly musical
(2002)) that approached schenkerian ear; this can be called structural hearing.
analysis referred to grammar in order to The structural outline and framework work
explain the principles of Schenkers signifies the main movement to its goal,
theories, taking into consideration that showing the shortest way to it.
notes and chords that belong to a musical Nevertheless, the tension of music consists
52 Bulletin of the Transilvania University of Braov. Series VIII Vol. 4 (53) No. 1 - 2011

in modifications, expansions and only refer to members of a harmonic

elaborations called prolongations of the progression; these are harmonies in the
structure, and the artistic coherence rises if true sense of the word, because they
one understands their basic direction. connect based on a harmonic association
The distinction between structure and (Salzer, 1953). Chords not based on
prolongation led Schenker to a new harmonic associations are products of
conception of the functions of harmony motion, direction, and embellishment and
and counterpoint in creating organic unity: have a horizontal tendency. Harmonic
not all chords are of harmonic origin, this chords are also structural chords (they
statement having an effect on constitute the structural framework), and
understanding the music. the contrapuntal ones are chords of
Schenkers harmony explains the tonal prolongation (they prolong and elaborate
system like a group of major triads derived the space between members of harmonic
from the harmonic series, like a vertical progressions).
aspect of music. His theories of
counterpoint show the way that simple References
progressions can be ornamented following
simple rules based on the succession of 1. Cadwallader, A., & Gagn, D.:
consonant and dissonant intervals, like a Analysis of Tonal Music: A
horizontal aspect of the music. In Free Schenkerian Approach. New York:
Composition (1953), Schenker explains the Oxford University Press, 1998
way that harmony and counterpoint 2. Cook, N.: A Guide to Musical
combine in tonal compositions. Using the Analysis. New York: Oxford
basic principles of consonance and University Press, 1994
dissonance from the species counterpoint, 3. Forte, A., & Gilbert, S. E.:
Schenker identifies a number of common Introduction to Schenkerian Analysis.
linear units that he named diminutions, New York & London: Norton, 1982
showing, by means of concrete analyses, 4. Jonas, O.: Introduction to the Theory
the way that these linear units prolong of Heinrich Schenker. New York &
harmonic units. The concept of London: Longman, 1982
prolongation is the base of the schenkerian 5. Salzer, F.: Structural Hearing. Tonal
theories and because the diminutions have Coherence in Music. New York:
to prolong a harmonic unity, just a Dover Publications, Inc., 1962
consonant tone with the harmony can give 6. Schenker, H., Oster, E., & Jonas, O.:
rise to a diminution. Free composition: New Musical
Beside the structural and prolongation Theories and Fantasies. Pendragon
roles or the diverse functions that chords Press, 2001
can have, they can have harmonic or 7. *** SchenkerGUIDE. Available at:
contrapuntal importance. A chord performs
a harmonic function in the context of a
fundamental progression. Schenker
considers that the term harmony should