Recent History of Functional Analysis

I’ve been reading articles for the literature review portion of my dissertation proposal (and coursework too!) and found a few interesting perspectives from 20 years ago. Two of these articles are from Music Theory Online, which I believe anyone should be able to access, and the third thru JSTOR if you have an institutional link-up.

Kopp, David, “On the Function of Function,” Music Theory Online, v 1.3, 1995,

This is a pair:
Agmon, Eytan. “Functional Harmony Revisited: A Prototype-Theoretic Approach,” Music Theory Spectrum, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Autumn, 1995), 196-214. Article Stable URL:
Rothgeb, John. “Re: Eytan Agmon on Functional Theory,” Music Theory Online, v 2.1, 1996,

The first of these articles explains some of the background figures that people often talk about when discussing functional harmony: Rameau, Weber, and Riemann. The bulk of the argument is that when we read old treatises, especially those that are before the use of the word “function,” we may misrepresent what some of the treatises are actually saying. That being said, the ideas of Rameau, Weber, and Riemann outlined in this article are important to where our current definition of function sits, and how my newer system is. One of the concluding arguments is that because we have Schenkerian Analysis, functional analysis is possibly less necessary or fruitful. I find that I cannot do Schenkerian Analysis without knowledge of Functions and/or Functional Analysis, and I hope to demonstrate this point in more detail in my dissertation.

In the first of the paired articles, of which the second is a commentary on the first (and provides much of it’s main points if you don’t have JSTOR), the argument is to define how we know which chords have primary functions and then why the other chords are sometimes one function and sometimes another. This particular article I think is going to be useful when I get into modal and jazz contexts. The answering article, takes issue with the idea of separating chord progression from function, which I think is fair, but then goes on to say that function is therefore not helpful, or that it is not helpful because it’s too simplistic and Schenkerian Analysis can do better; that each scale degree can hold its own. I hope that my system shows a clear root AND functional emphasis, which these authors seem to be trying to separate, and I’m not quite sure why.

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