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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 7: Syntactic vs. rhetoric structure. Language, music, and tonal reduction


← 333 | 334 → Chapter 7 Syntactic vs. rhetoric structure. Language, music, and tonal reduction

In what follows will be advanced an argument to the effect that a fundamental mistake may be involved when music is subjected to “tonal” reduction. The point is actually quite simple, but before presenting it, it is necessary to give a background, in language as well as in music. Then two examples, illustrating the analytical consequences of the criticism, will be thoroughly discussed.

Syntax and closure in language and music

It has over and over again been proposed that music is a kind of language, and it is hardly very controversial to use the expression “the language of music” in a metaphorical sense when suggesting that there is a general similarity between language and music, or when drawing attention to some trait in music that you think can be likened to some property in language. But if you want this worn-out phrase to be understood as an analogy, a deeper commitment is involved. There must be a number of substantial similarities between the two domains if the analogy is to produce any new insights – indeed, if it is to be credible as an analogy at all.

The relationship between language and music has often been discussed, and quite a few plausible parallelisms with respect to structure, production, and reception have been advanced, but there are differences as well, and they may be as interesting as the similarities. Fortunately, all...

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