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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 4: Prolongation vs. implication


← 234 | 235 → Chapter 4 Prolongation vs. implication


As the title makes clear, the purpose of this paper is to compare and evaluate two analytic approaches. One of them has given rise to a widespread school of analysis, the other one less so, and they have sometimes been confronted with each other, often to the detriment of the most recent tradition. The earliest of these analytical systems was codified in Heinrich Schenker’s Der Freie Satz (1935), and Schenker’s ideas eventually turned out to be very influential. Especially in post-war America his many followers have applied and developed his ideas, efforts documented in textbooks such as those of Salzer (1962) and Forte & Gilbert (1982), and in a host of analytic essays.1 The later approach to analysis has been propounded in works by Leonard B. Meyer (1956, 1973, and 1989) and Eugene Narmour (1977, 1990, and 1992).2

The main issue of Schenkerian theory is to show how tonality imparts unity to pieces of music by means of the coherence guaranteed by the Ursatz and its recursive prolongations. In all music that makes tonal sense, it is held, there is such a fundamental tonal structure underlying not only the whole piece, but also its hierarchically arranged sections. Schenkerian theory is normative and top/down whereas the practice of “tonal” analysis is (or should be) a mixture of top/down deduction and bottom/up reduction, proceeding from the actual music to ever-deeper layers (ever-higher levels) and to ever more...

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