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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 9: Shaving Schenker


← 393 | 394 → Chapter 9 Shaving Schenker


In a recent conference, Poundie Burstein read a paper whose title and main example stirred my interest.1 His contribution was called “Schenker and Occam’s Razor”, and its main illustration was the main theme of the third movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op. 31, No. 2 as analysed by Heinrich Schenker and as read Burstein himself in order to show an alternative to Schenker’s account; cf. Exs. 1, 2, and 3.

The idea to bring up the notion of Occam’s razor with regard to Schenkerian analysis struck me as quite important, but Burstein’s reflections – I could concur with many of his views – turned into other directions than I had expected, and to my disappointment he did not use the cutting edge of the razor. In what follows, I will first deal with the just-mentioned analyses, and then turn to what I missed in Burstein’s presentation: the shaving of the barber.

If we accept the definition in Wikipedia, well-informed in most mundane matters, “a razor is a bladed tool primarily used in the removal of unwanted body hair through the act of shaving”. It is also a fact that razors might cut deep, and that they can be used – by accident or on purpose (like the stiletto in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown) – to remove the tip of people’s noses.

“Occam’s razor” is a more sophisticated tool since in philosophy and in scientific/scholarly practice a razor is,...

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