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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 8: Tonics and returns. A modest investigation


← 369 | 370 → Chapter 8 Tonics and returns. A modest investigation


That pieces of tonal music should begin and close in the same key is a basic tenet in Schenkerian theory and a prerequisite for orthodox Schenkerian analysis.1 The belief that a single key dominates all progressions in a tonal music work and imparts unity to it, is at the core of the theory, and the presence of a persisting background key in turn lends credibility to the Ursatz, the fundamental cadence governing and informing the musical flow, and justifies the analytic endeavours to recover it from the depths of the musical design.

Taken as a descriptive generalization, this tenet seems fair enough. Practically all pieces of tonal music – some very extended late Romantic symphony movements are among the exceptions – do keep to a single key, i.e. they return, after ever so many modulations, to the key in which they started. And as a prerequisite for analysis, it seems to be justified as well. A great number of compositions have been shown to conform to their tonic keys, i.e. when analysed according to Schenkerian principles, their surface events appear to be governed by fundamental tonal structures of the sort prescribed by the theory, a conclusion that not only applies to whole works but to various sections of them as well.2

Felix Salzer states in very clear terms the Schenkerian views on tonality – its relationship to the fundamental structure and its importance for...

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