On Schoenberg and the Muiscal Idea


1. We did very little this term on Schoenberg and the musical idea, and I think that there's a good reason for this: our consideration of Schoenberg occurred in the shadow of Reti, who would normally be an easy act to follow. The problem, I feel, is that we saw Schoenberg's analytical project as, in some ways, a more rigorous application of Retian motivic analysis; that is, that Schoenberg's analytical theory, while more sophiticated, was still something like a species of Retian analysis. While this may seem to be the case, and I will suggest that we did come to this conclusion in considering the reduction of the Beethoven sonata to a single motivic germ which described a certain major/minor ambiguity. This conclusion resembled, very strongly, the conclusion we came to vis a vis Reti: of course one can find thirds in a piece of tonal music, and is it reasonable to suggest that this is exciting, revolutionary, or even relevant to the greater understanding of the musical work? I would argue, and will argue in my paper, that this conclusion does not capture the essence of Schoenberg's "musical idea," and I will offer below a few reasons why. For a more detailed argument, see my impending paper on Schoenberg's Six Little Piano Pieces, Op. 19, analysis, and the musical idea.

2. While there are extent definitions of the musical idea as the "technical idea," the "germ," or as a manifestation of "musical logic." To think of the musical idea interms of motive is, I think, a mistake. In analysing a work with the concept of the musical idea in mind, one must avoid simply collecting motives and considering there transformational/developmental significance. I argue, elsewhere, that Schoenberg's musical idea is a much more "open" concept than it appears to be, in either commentary on Schoenberg's work, or in his own writings. Schoenberg writes in 1934: "The presentation of ideas is based on the laws of musical coherence. According to these, everything within a close composition can be accounted for a originating, derived, and developed from a basic motive or at least from a Grundgestalt." However, Schoenberg also identifies composition, the presentation of the musical idea, as "human activitiy," and that the laws of comprehension, as they apply to the musical idea, are dependent in part on a dialogic relationship between composer and listener: "The presentation of the idea will have to suit the powers of comprehension of the intended listener...[he must] have the feeling that one is speaking to the point and that he will always an answer to the question "What is this doing here"". While this sounds like a case for both structural listening and for the musical idea as composer's monologue, I would suggest that Schoenberg is describing a dialogue, one in which the "idea" is part of shared generic communication, which anticipates and, to an extent suggests certain "destinies," but at the same time is open to interpretation and is dependent upon reception, upon the listener, for meaning and coherence. Schoenberg writes: "[The idea]can only be understood if it is recognizable that its individual parts are identical to or resemble what is familiar": thus, what Schoenberg is implicitly proposing is a theory of associative meaning, one in which the familiar conjures up the distantly related, and in which feeling and emotion, "richness" and "beauty" are as important as logic, form and coherence.

3. What am I suggesting? That Schoenberg's musical idea is a valuable way in which one can analytically approach a text, in the same sense that Schenkerian analysis is valuable: it suggests a process which, whether one agrees with the goal or not, is rigorous and informative. What would this process consist of? Read my paper.

Please follow the links. To get in touch with me directly, please e-mail me at carpenao@mcmail.cis.mcmaster.ca


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