Schenkerian Analysis: Valuable Asset for Music Critics


1) It is not difficult to see the value Schenkerian Analysis can have in the analysing of tonal music, but what use can Schenker's theory be of for non-tonal music or of all musics in general?

2) In determining what sort of value Schenkerian Analysis can have one should remember the process by which Schenker himself formulated his theory. Schenker's initial conclusions arose from inductive methods. His observations and unstructured analysis of many tonal pieces eventually led to his deducing a theory and using other musical examples to validate this theory. Schenker did not include non-tonal pieces in this process because he did not consider non-tonal music to be "music." It is therefor not surprising that Schenkerian Analysis is considered well suited for the analysis of tonal music.

3) Some may see this limitation to tonal music as a flaw in Schenker's theory. However, I believe that Schenker's specificity to tonal music is what makes it so valuable. A system of analysis must have a focus. Whether the focus is specific (ie. geared toward only tonal music) or broad (ie. includes all musics), its usefulness will depend on one's particular reasons for analysis.

4) For example, the Schenkerian Analysis of Mozart's k.280 was useful in showing how the piece works within the confines of the tonal/Schenkerian music system. Here Schenker's background is the foundation for the first 12 bars (and presumably the rest) of the piece. This background serves as the compositional "rules" Mozart is following. The way in which Mozart works within this system of rules is what makes the piece original and ultimately a work of art. This idea of "rules" in music is one which I believe can be useful for music critics.

5) Most classical, non-tonal composers, such as Schoenberg (Schenker's rival), have seen themselves as continuing in the Western Classical music tradition. In other words, tonal music was the foundation from which their music grew out of. Indeed, it is not difficult in retrospect to see the gradual stretching and eventually abandoning of tonality over the centuries in the history of Western music. If critics agree that Schenker's theory of musical analysis can adequately be used to sum up the "rules" of tonal music, and thus the foundation of music, then Schenkerian Analysis can also be useful in the analysis of non-tonal music and musics in general.

6) Schenkerian Analysis can prove to be a valuable asset for music critics because it clearly highlights these "rules" (the foundation) of tonal music. It lends music criticism a means for being objective in the evaluation of music. Critical judgments can be made according to how the composer works within the rules of music, works around the rules or refuses to use the rules at all and for what purpose or effect.

7) For example, when the final cadence in Mozart's k.280 is evaded, the critic can see how Mozart was creatively playing within the rules. Similarly when Schoenberg purposely abandons the rules, the critic can see how he does this and to what purpose or effect. (The critic may for instance focus on the piece's ability to have a sense of phrasing without the aid of tonality or despite/by not complying with the rules.) In other words, the critic sees Schoenberg in relation to tonal pieces, in relation to the "rules."

8) Another Schenkerian "rule" (to help illustrate my point) is that music must start in a resting position (I), move elsewhere (V) and return home (I). It is not difficult to find a modern piece of music that does not follow this rule. The music critic can ask themselves "why?" and "how?". "What were the composer's reasons? What was the effect? Does the piece meet fulfilment or gratification by some other means? or does the piece leave the listener feeling confused and rest-less?" (These questions can lead us further into an investigation of the nature of music.) However, before the music critic can observe how the rules are broken and what the effects are, he/she must first be aware of their existence. Schenkerian analysis gives us a clear set of musical "rules" to work with.

9)The Schenkerian system of analysis when used in this respect- as a referral to and understanding of the "rules" of music- is not only useful in appreciating and evaluating tonal pieces but non-tonal pieces and musics in general as well. Schenker's theory can become a tool for objectivity, a tool for relating all music to its fundamental principals. In this respect, Schenkerian Analysis can be a valuable asset for music critics.


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