[Smt-talk] Perahia and Schenker

Scott Spiegelberg spiegelberg at depauw.edu
Wed Apr 22 05:43:18 PDT 2009

Devotion wouldn't be the right word, but Jeremy Denk certainly knows  
his Schenkerian theory and is able to express his thoughts about music  
most eloquently.  And Jeremy has achieved the stature, well-deserved  
with his wonderful performances of the Hammerklavier and Concord  
sonatas.  He is also infamous as the "interviewer" of Sarah Palin on  
her views about Beethoven.  Jeremy does feel that systematic theories  
can be too confining, and at one point wrote:

"I was intending to write about the opening of the Mozart Wind  
Quintet, which I played at Marlboro... and I got stopped by a  
metaphor. "Opening" means "beginning;" in this case I am using a  
synonym (constant, careless expedient of writing) to refer to the  
piece's slow, magnificent introduction. But: "opening" like the  
opening/raising of the curtain at the beginning of an opera, of an  
entertainment? I posit this equivalence of spatial (curtain going up)  
and temporal (first moments of anything) without any hesitation; it is  
an accepted currency exchange. But how is this moment of the piece  
like other openings--like, say, the lifting of the lid of a box to see  
what lies inside; or, the opening of a flower; or, to use a metaphor  
given me by Anner Bylsma post-concert, the cracking open of a walnut?  
In each case, something is revealed, which was initially concealed; we  
have to "get at" the main thing, which is behind the opening (opening  
as looking for a thing, opening as action, opening as layer/ 
obstruction which must be pulled aside). Again, these are spatial  
constructions, seemingly separate from music, where tones dance in  
their so-called abstract space: how can one moment in music be  
"behind" another, in the way that the opera's set lies behind the  
curtain? It would seem that every moment in music comes "after" the  
previous (not behind)... in a row, in order... if we were to be  
literal. But I think every listener feels at some point that some  
moment in a piece is a core, a kernel, a revealed, lurking truth (it's  
out of order, from another place). And I am speaking not just of goals  
or climaxes, which are the obvious cores and kernels, but also the  
secret, random, quiet moments, parenthetical turns of phrase from  
which other things radiate (another spatial, physical metaphor).

Schenkerian analysis seems to address this spatial possibility of  
music by proposing levels: background, middleground, foreground. Music  
has deeper and more surface levels, like a cave! But the background in  
the Schenker view is almost always the same, the deepest level is the  
unfolding of a triad, of a single chord. It is true that very often  
phrases seem to reveal harmonic frameworks; I will concede that this  
may be, in fact, the purest, least metaphorical way of expressing what  
phrases reveal (as they open, unfold, show). But I cannot resign  
myself to that; for me this prioritization is too meticulous,  
systematic. Sometimes, I think, phrases reveal quirks, they reveal not  
the central thing but the detail; I have a more "literary" view of  
these levels. Each phrase of music pulls back, opens, to reveal its  
own rounding, its own completion... (or lack thereof) ... which may  
happen with a flourish, or merely "by the way," or any number of ways.  
A single word may outweigh the grammar of the whole."

He then goes on to explain what he means with examples from the Mozart  
quintet: http://jeremydenk.blogspot.com/2005/08/curtains-for-mozart.html


Scott Spiegelberg, PhD
Associate Professor of Music
DePauw University School of Music
1106 Green Center for Performing Arts
spiegelberg at depauw.edu

On Apr 21, 2009, at 12:52 PM, Murphy, Scott Brandon wrote:

> Dear collective wisdom,
> Is there any performer working today comparable to Murray Perahia  
> both in
> stature and success as a performer, and in knowledge of and devotion  
> to
> Schenker's ideas?
> Thanks,
> Scott
> -- 
> Scott Murphy
> Associate Professor, Music Theory
> University of Kansas
> smurphy at ku.edu
> _______________________________________________
> Smt-talk mailing list
> Smt-talk at societymusictheory.org
> http://lists.societymusictheory.org/listinfo.cgi/smt-talk-societymusictheory.org

More information about the Smt-talk mailing list