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Questioning Schenkerism

Bengt Edlund

During the past fifty years Schenkerian theory has been adopted as the main method for analysing tonal music. This book questions the value of Schenker’s «tonal analysis» for musical description and interpretation, and discusses its relations to «generative» theory and «implicational» analysis – taking into account its links with linguistic syntax and the perception of tonal closure. It is observed how auxiliary theoretical concepts transform the music so as to pave the way for preordained tonal structures. Alternative readings of the music examples are provided.
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Chapter 1: Schenkerian theory and better comparison: An out-of-the-way perspective


← 12 | 13 → Chapter 1 Schenkerian theory and better comparison: An out-of-the-way perspective

“as long as we remain silent about the questions, we may keep the illusion that we might one day be able to find the answers”. From The Year when Ricardo Reis died by José Saramago


Taking part in a discussion devoted to the problem of whether or not music analysis can or should raise claims to be a scientific activity, Nicholas Cook has argued that analyses are not be measured by scientific standards.1

One of his reasons for denying scientific status to music analysis is that the scientific stance has turned out to be untenable in the light of negative empirical evidence, brought up not least by Cook himself.2 People tend to notice very few of the things that analysts are keen on observing, and speaking specifically about Schenkerian analysis, he concludes: “If the principle of tonal closure has little or no perceptual significance at the larger time scales found in most tonal compositions, is there not something radically wrong with a theory that ascribes fundamental aesthetic importance to it?” But this is, Cook maintains, too easy a way to get out of the dilemma: “To ask this is to assume that a theory of musical structure has to be also a theory of perception. But there is no intrinsic need for the theorist to conceive of musical structures in the same manner that the listener perceives them.”3...

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