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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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Tonal structure in terms of “focal” events


The core event within the A-sections is no doubt the harmony based on f and topped by the d2 appoggiatura appearing in mm. 5 and 13: this quite unstable, relative-minor sonority, rather than the cresting f2, is what the preceding melodic rise actually achieves. The dissonant d2, not the resolution note c2 appearing in both mm. 5 and 7, will therefore serve as input for the “focal” reductions to be proposed in the next section, and it is no doubt a note that listeners attend to and that pianists want to express.

The consonant third-degree c2 is obviously the “tonal” favourite in the second phrases of the A-sections. As already mentioned, there is a gradually emerging emphasis on the tonic function throughout these phrases – in the antecedent, the last weak-beat events of mm. 5, 6, and 7 are relaxing second-inversion, first-inversion, and root-position A-major chords, respectively – but having the third-degree c2 in your mind when playing these phrases seems tantamount to an interpretation with very little driving force. Their theoretical precedence notwithstanding, nobody is really interested in resolutions (unless they somehow go against the grain).

← 161 | 162 → Bars 6 and 14 make up inconclusive attempts at reaching further, and the fifth degree strived for in the A-sections is what the middle section eventually attains, but when this e2 at long last emerges as a stable fact, it is supported by a dominant chord, patently tonicized by a quite elaborate modulating (II–V) cadence, including...

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