Dissertation Diary 2015-10-29

whew. Sent rough draft of first half of chapter 2 to two different editors this morning. After merging the two halves of chapter 2, I have 43 pages and 12,206 words. There’s definitely some bits I need to flesh out, but there’s also several bits that I think will just get axed, so that’s probably close to where we’ll come out when finished. This chapter I’ll have to set aside a week to just go over citations, and make sure the punctuation and everything else is correct. I also still have a number of footnotes that read “???” or “author, ???” but that will happen before Christmas, I expect.

Here’s the bit that I wrote on Tuesday. It still needs a conclusion/transition is kinda terrible, but I just wanted it done so I could get it out of my head and get comments:


Section 2.3 Functionality of Schenker

Possibly the most influential thinker on modern tonal analysis is Heinrich Schenker.[1] Though he is best known for his very analytical third book, Der freie Satz (Free Composition 1935),[2] in this section, I am interested in his writings on harmony, which mainly come from his first book, Harmonielehre (1906). Schenker’s Harmony is paired with his writings on counterpoint (Kontrapunkt 1910, 1922), as was quite common for theoretical compositional writings of the time.[3] He was very emphatic that these two disciplines were different; and that contemporary teaching manuals using contrived examples did both subjects a disservice. In a critique of a Stufentheorist teaching book (by Ernst Richter, who was mentioned/will come later), he comments that voice-leading and harmony are separate concerns, and that if the teacher cannot separate the two, no wonder current students are confused by these contrived examples.[4] Even with more practical examples, like thoroughbass realizations of CPE Bach, though not contrived and more musical, do not demonstrate harmony: “It is impossible that every note of a true bass line should be a scale-step and that the progression of the bass notes should be identical with the progression of the scale-steps.”[5]

This quote introduces the most Schenkerian of words: “scale-step” (Stufe, plural Stufen in German). This is because Schenker’s academic lineage comes from Stufentheorists through Simon Sechter.[6] To determine whether a chord is a scale-step or not, many things are taken into consideration, but some of the salient features include length, accent, harmonic flow, not having non-chord-tone type motions, and having principle pitches in bass-lines.[7]

Schenker’s use of scale-steps is reductive in nature, viewing less important harmonies as supporting more structural harmonies,[8] so that one can understand a piece of music as decorations (diminutions) on a structural framework.[9] Schenker is often presented as anti-Riemann, which is partially due to Riemann himself; Riemann saw music history as a battle between functional ideas and Stufentheorists – and it can be said that Schenker is the ultimate culmination of Stufentheorie.[10]

However, like many of the other theorists previously covered in this chapter, Schenker has very functional ideas, but uses different vocabulary to discuss these ideas: “scale-step” can often be replaced with “function” and have sensical thoughts come out. Take the following quote from Harmony, and replace “scale-step” with “function:”

“For not every triad must be considered as a scale-step; and it is most important to distinguish between C as the root tone of a triad and C as a scale-step.

The scale-step is a higher and more abstract unit. At times it may even comprise several harmonies, each of which could be considered individually as an independent triad or seventh-chord; in other words: even if, under certain circumstances, a certain number of harmonies look like independent triads or seventh-chords, they may nonetheless add up, in their totality, to one single triad, e.g., C-E-G, and they would have to be subsumed under the concept of this triad on C as a scale-step. The scale-step asserts its higher or more general character by comprising or summarizing the individual phenomena and embodying their intrinsic unity in one single triad.” [11]

It is more difficult to do the reverse with a Riemann excerpt, since “function” also serves as a verb, but MAYBE FIND AN EXAMPLE ANYWAY.

Schenker’s reductive view of analysis lends well to Functional Analysis. Even if Funktiontheorie was not originally intended to be reductive, that is primarily how modern thinkers use function now in addition to Roman numerals. As seen in the Riemann section, Funktionstheorie relates other chords back to three primary functions. In Schenker, chords relate to Stufen. In both of these cases, either the ideal of the function or the Stufe is primarily represented by a chord.

Schenker’s description of dominant is similar to how we use it today, as tension, or need for resolution.[12] And even comments that dominant is what defines a key[13] which is exactly how I tell freshmen how to find a key today still. As for our interpretation of VII as dominant, when it also has two notes in common with predominant type chords, Schenker notes that VII “is psychologically akin, by virtue of its univalence [the tritone between ti and fa and the pull of the leading tone], to the V7 chord; accordingly it would take us straight to the dominant.”[14]

[1] William Drabkin, CHOWMUT, “Heinrich Schenker,” 812.

[2] Drabkin, 816.

[3] Drabkin, 813.

[4] Schenker, 176-177.

[5] Schenker, 181.

[6] Bernstein, 788.

[7] Schenker, 141-149.

[8] Schenker, 152.

[9] Structural does not necessarily equal interesting, salient, or motivic. Cadwallader/Gange?

[10] Christensen, Music Theory and its Histories, 12.

[11] Schenker, 139.

[12] Schenker, 219.

[13] Schenker, 214.

[14] Schenker, 229.

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