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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 2: Disciplining reduction and tonalizing interpretation


← 78 | 79 → Chapter 2 Disciplining reduction and tonalizing interpretation

The sardines want the tin to be opened towards the sea.

(Werner Aspenström 1918–1997)


As the title suggests, this essay has two topics. The first is to study how analysis of tonal music was (and no doubt still is) disciplined into what we know as “tonal reduction” or Schenkerian analysis. The second is to take a fresh look at the relationship between reductive analysis and interpretation. In what ways can the former support the latter?

But in addition to these topics there is a preliminary task, or indeed a most important third topic. The enforcement of discipline cannot be divorced from the analytic practice being disciplined: it is necessary to evaluate the method that was (and is) the object of training. How do Schenkerian reductions come off when confronted with the music dealt with? What did (and do) the teachers try to sell to their students? The question of validation is also crucial since it is fundamental for the relationship between reduction and interpretation. Interpretation – understood as the art of turning scores into music – amounts to a most sensitive test of the relevance and value of analytic efforts.

It may appear from what has just been said that the present study only offers a critical investigation of Schenkerian analysis, of the way it has been taught and propagated, and of its usefulness when it comes to...

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