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WEEK 1: AN INTRODUCTION TO SCHENKERIAN ANALYSIS

IAN SHANAHAN (2002)

Welcome! Now to administrative matters...

tutorial times;
go through reading list. NB: its further reading, not obligatory.

Im no expert on Schenkerian analysis, and indeed I find it problematic for many reasons (Ill
expand on these later). Nonetheless, it does embrace one useful temporal paradigm...

to overhead...

History (Cook p.27). This analytical method stems from the theories of Heinrich Schenker.

Schenker analysis (pre-WW2, by the man himself or his students), constantly evolving.

Schenkerian analysis (post-WW2 America, but not Europe!), is more standardized in its
techniques and jargon. NB: American theorists (e.g. Allen Forte) jettisoned Schenkers
metaphysical and psychological foundations (a desire to hide agendas?).

Schenkerian analysis analyses the essential structures of tonal music the triad and its linear
unfurling (via arpeggiation, passing notes, auxiliary notes etc.) within and/or across
adjacent zones from the time-continuum (i.e., from note-to-note, through to the more
abstract, large-scale forms) and how they might be interrelated. It aims to omit any
inessentials a rather problematic assumption? so as to clarify important structural
relationships. (Linear motion that doesnt form part of a harmonic aggregate is regarded as
being inessential ... not of genuinely structural significance.) Schenkerian analysis assumes
goal-directedness (teleology), and sets out to reveal its mechanisms.

Implication: its inherently not an appropriate tool for non-teleological musics.

{Quote: Cook, p.36} Schenkerian analysis is in fact a kind of metaphor according to which
a [tonal] composition is seen as the large-scale embellishment of a simple underlying
harmonic progression, or even as a massively-expanded cadence; a metaphor according to
which the same analytical principles that apply to cadences in strict counterpoint can be
applied, mutatis mutandis, to the large-scale harmonic structures of complete pieces.

Now discuss the 3 forms of fundamental structure in the handouts.

Each piece is a unique elaboration of a fundamental structure.

Each line of a fundamental structure is normally confined to a gamut of an octave! ...


although of course the music itself almost never is.

A basic premise made by Schenker is that a tonal composition is a linear prolongation of the
tonic triad, together with appropriate lower-voice support.

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{Quote: Cook, pp.39-40} Schenker saw music as the temporal unfolding, or prolongation, of
the major triad the chord of nature, as he called it, since it exists as the first five partials
of the overtone series, and which Schenker therefore saw as a specially privileged
formation and indeed at the point of junction between what exists in nature as a
simultaneity and what exists in art as a temporal process. Any analysis by Schenker is
intended to show how the music in question is derived by means of elaboration from its
tonic triad, which is its ultimate Schenkerian background.

But Schenkers metaphysic here is highly questionable:

Why only the first five partials?

What about the minor triad, which is not present among the first five partials?

Is the overtone series itself prototypically natural, given that the overwhelming majority of
natural acoustic phenomena (such as the sound of wind, or of rustling leaves, or rainfall,
thunder, or flowing water) exhibits noise and inharmonicity?

Moreover, Schenkerian graphics seem to mould the musical details so that they conform to his
archetypal fundamental structure rather like a physicist massaging data in order to fit a
preconceived theory. In other words, it all seems rather contrived and arbitrary.

Anyway ... the point of Schenkerian analysis is to show a compositions unique way of linking
foreground to background.

{Quote: Cook, p.41} ... the analysis proper takes place in the middleground, or series of
middlegrounds, that show the relationship between foreground and background; for this
reason there is little value in presenting a background graph on its own, without the
middleground graphs that give it content and make its interpretation convincing or
unconvincing. In other words Schenkerian analysis consists of inter-relating the actual
foreground lines of the music which may be continuous or discontinuous, directed or
meandering, chromatic or diatonic, and which may shift between registers with the
imaginary voices of the background, which are by definition continuous, directed,
diatonic, and do not shift registers. All the symbols used in Schenkerian graphs serve to
distinguish between structural and non-structural formations, and to show how surface
discontinuities of pitch, register or texture elaborate the continuous, directed motions of
the fundamental structure. Almost all the mistakes that can be made in Schenkerian
analysis arise out of confusing foreground lines and structural voices with each other.

{Quote: Cook, p.45} ... the best procedure, both in making a Schenkerian analysis and in
reading one, is to work backwards from the final note of the fundamental line which
must by definition be the tonic and establish the successive stages in the descent of the
fundamental line in accordance with the bass ...: in other words, in accordance with the
structural harmonic progression of the music.

But working backwards is precisely the opposite temporal direction to the way music is
actually heard and experienced!

{Quote: Cook, pp.57-59} But listeners do not work backwards. ... in its tendency to ignore
ambiguities whereby a given foreground event might be interpreted in different structural
ways, Schenkerian analysis is not a truly credible model of the way listeners normally

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experience music.

Now Schenker was an out-and-out elitist and would probably have retorted that this was
because his account of musical structure corresponds to the way the inner meaning of
masterpieces (not run-of-the-mill compositions) is apprehended by those few listeners
capable of appreciating them: if most people dont hear the music like that, then so much
the worse for them. Schenker, in fact, regarded his theories as constituting a touchstone of
excellence music which did not work according to his principles was primitive,
degenerate or plain bad and he justified this on the grounds that his theories of musical
structure were directly based on human psychology or even physiology, so that they were
equally applicable to the musical productions of all times and places. Now it is an
undeniable fact that Schenkerian analysis works very well for some music and hardly at
all for other music. It works well in eighteenth and nineteenth century [European art-]
music, and within this period it is best for through-composed forms and German music in
general (with the exception of the nineteenth-century progressives like Wagner); but it is
not so good for highly sectional forms and for French, Italian or Russian music[s].
Basically this coincides with Schenkers own tastes and he was perfectly prepared to
conclude that other music must be aesthetically worthless (in fact the development of his
analytical theories seems to have gone along with a certain narrowing of his tastes ...

And there are many postulates of the Schenkerian system that is, things which are taken
for granted by the very act of doing a Schenkerian analysis which strike me as being
purely conventional, rather than expressing necessary truths, the contradiction of which
would be inherently absurd. Why shouldnt structural dissonances be prolonged as well
as, or rather than, structural consonances? Why should triads be assigned a privileged role
as against sevenths or ninths, or indeed non-triadic functions altogether, especially in
music where such formations make up the prevailing sonority? Why should structural
lines necessarily descend and why do they have to be contained within a single octave?
Why should a piece be derived from a single tonal formation rather than evolving from
one to another? Why should the voice-leading rules of strict counterpoint necessarily
apply, ... especially at middleground or background levels where there is surely no
auditory correlate to the effect that things like parallel fifths make in the foreground? ...

Nevertheless, Schenkerian analysis remains a valuable (if somewhat limited) analytical method:

{Quote: Cook, pp.58} ... there is still a considerable value in the standardization of
Schenkerian practice, especially if comparisons between analyses of different works are to
be made so that, for instance, the common feature of a whole repertoire of pieces can be
established a procedure which turns Schenkerian analysis into a valuable historical and
style-analytical tool.

Symbology (see handout).

NB: crotchets can be used in the middleground(s) for further clarification, though in my
examples (which span only [sub]sections) they are not employed. See also Cook, pp.42-45.

To handouts worked examples Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms. (Chopin and the Mozart string
quintet will be looked at in tutorials, if time permits.)

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