[Smt-talk] has been Music theory on Wikipedia, now prolongation

Nicolas Meeùs nicolas.meeus at paris-sorbonne.fr
Sat Jul 16 09:24:18 PDT 2011


I did not quite follow. Do you mean that Schenker is too stupid for 
Wikipedia, or Wikipedia too stupid for Schenker?

Schenker writes (/Harmonielehre/, p. 281): /In der praktischen Kunst 
kommt es im allgemein darauf an, den Begriff der Harmonien durch 
lebendigen Inhalt zu realisiren/, which means: "in [music], it comes 
down in general to realize [to make real] the concept of the harmonies 
through a live content". (E. Mann's translation, /Harmony/, p. 211, 
reads"the main problem is how to realize the concept of harmony in a 
live content", which although not really incorrect, seems to me slightly 
biased). Schenkerfurther writes that the abstract concept of a triad 
"reaches but the function of a provisionally merely sketched 
proposition", .../allein bloss etwa die Wirkung einer zunächst nur 
skizzierten Behauptung erreicht /("would have the effect of an assertion 
merely sketched for the time being", in E. Mann's translation)/./
     This idea is much in line with contemporary ideas of Husserl or 
Saussure, about thoughts remaining chaotic (Saussure: "a shapeless and 
indistinct mass") before they have been uttered. Harmonies, Schenker 
believes, are at first ideal, shapeless, abstract entities; they must be 
uttered, if only in a mental process leading from an abstract 
/Harmoniebegriff /to a sound-image of it, much as thoughts are turned 
into sound-images of concepts, in Saussurean linguistics. Schenker's 
ideas on this are by no means anachronistic; on the contrary, they are 
extraordinarily modern.
     I can agree with you that a chord has no reality outside time; but 
is that not exactly what Schenker says, namely that a /Harmoniebegriff 
/is at firs but ideal and that it must be musically 'realized' - that 
is, inscribed in time, in order to transform the concept, the 
/Begriff/,  into a 'real', musical chord?
     As to Y–X–Y as a "model of prolongation", I can only repeat that 
this would form an excessively superficial view of the process. There is 
only one "Y", that which is prolonged; the prolongation does not consist 
in splitting Y in two in order to insert X between the two parts, but in 
letting Y grow. "X", if any, fully belongs to Y, of which it is an 
organic outgrowth.

Schenker's thought is not an easy one; it certainly never is "naive".


Nicolas Meeùs
Université Paris-Sorbonne

Le 16/07/2011 10:21, Ildar Khannanov a écrit :
> Dear Nicolas and Dmitri,
> yes, indeed, there are  philosophical problems with prolongation.
> "What is given is Y, at first a mere abstraction of a chord, a mere 
> image of the series of harmonic partials. In order to become a musical 
> chord, Y must be inscribed it time, "prolonged", which may be done by 
> a mere arpeggiation – producing no subordinate chord. "
> This statement is problematic, as well. So, Schenker perceived a chord 
> as something outside time and, of course, in order to be present in 
> time, the chord had to be "prolonged," that is, to be inserted into a 
> preexistent physical timeline.  This understanding of time is so naive 
> that it renders all the following system irrelevant. It is 
> unforgivable for a person who lived in Europe in the first third of 
> the 20th century and could read literature in German to have such a 
> skewed and anachronistic understanding of time.
> Musical time does not exist outside the chord. The chord is an entity 
> which constitutes musical time. If one keeps banging on a tonic triad, 
> musical time does not occur. The quality of the chord may initiate the 
> temporal process. However, simple arpeggiation is too weak of an 
> impulse to create a large-scale  temporal process. That is why rock 
> musicians grow old and still cannot produce anything larger than a 
> tunelet.
> As for Y-X-Y as a model for prolongation, the first Y is never the 
> same as the last Y. It has been described by Hegel and supported by a 
> consellation of philosophers. So, truly, prolongation should be taken 
> back to the old drawing board. It is not ready for posting at Wikipedia.
> Best,
> Ildar Khannanov
> Peabody Conservatory
> solfeggio7 at yahoo.com <mailto:solfeggio7 at yahoo.com>
> --- On *Fri, 7/15/11, Nicolas Meeùs 
> /<nicolas.meeus at paris-sorbonne.fr>/* wrote:
>     From: Nicolas Meeùs <nicolas.meeus at paris-sorbonne.fr>
>     Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Music theory on Wikipedia
>     To: "Dmitri Tymoczko" <dmitri at princeton.edu>
>     Cc: "SMT Talk" <smt-talk at societymusictheory.org>
>     Date: Friday, July 15, 2011, 4:46 PM
>     Le 15/07/2011 19:26, Dmitri Tymoczko a écrit :
>>     I've always thought that the notion of "prolongation" is
>>     freighted with really serious philosophical complications. Anyone
>>     who could remove these complications, and come up with a
>>     non-circular definition of "prolongation," would be doing the
>>     field a great service ...
>     I think that Schenker's own notion of "prolongation" is without
>     much problem in Schenker's own terms – which must be read in the
>     original German.
>>     I've actually been thinking about this issue off and on for years.  My current best guess is that "prolongation" is an intentional, rather than a grammatical concept: to say "X prolongs Y" is (roughly speaking) to make an intentional claim about how the composer used X as a means of getting to (or doing) Y.  This contrasts with the formal or grammatical or descriptive concepts (e.g. "V7 chord") familiar from other regions of musical discourse.
>     To say that "X prolongs Y" fully contradicts Schenker's own
>     description, in that is presupposes, as you say, that X preexists
>     as "a means of getting to (or doing) Y". What is given is Y, at
>     first a mere abstraction of a chord, a mere image of the series of
>     harmonic partials. In order to become a musical chord, Y must be
>     inscribed it time, "prolonged", which may be done by a mere
>     arpeggiation – producing no subordinate chord. The prolongation,
>     however, may involve filling in the "tonal space" (the empty
>     intervals) of the initial chord and this, is special cases, may
>     happen to produce a subordinate chord X. This X by no means is
>     "doing Y"; it merely is a by-product of Y itself.
>         I think that Roland Barthes' description of the construction
>     of discourses proposes something similar, which I didn't reread
>     recently enough to remind his own terms. A discourse is a
>     succession of nodes, each of which may receive an ornamentation (I
>     think his term is /catalyse/)//which certainly smooths the
>     succession and which possibly gives rise to secundary nodes. This
>     also has to do with how a discourse can develop from a deep
>     structure, in Shomsky's terms.
>         Schenker's conception of the "tonal space" is developed in a
>     text titled /Erläuterungen/, that he published twice in the last
>     volumes of /Der Tonwille/ and twice in the two first ones /Das
>     Meisterwerk in der Musik –/  this fourfold publication might
>     suffice to stress how important this short text was for him.
>     Prolongation indeed is intentional – not in the sense that the
>     composer used X as a means to doing Y, but that Y served as a
>     means to produce X. This is the intentionality of the work itself,
>     not necessarily of the composer. And, obviously, Schenkerian
>     analysis has nothing in common with a mere descriptive labeling of
>     chords with roman numerals. I am not sure that this can be viewed
>     in terms of intentionality /vs /grammaticality, as you suggest.
>     Roman numeral analysis is lexical at best, and has little to say
>     about grammar; I do not see how a grammar could be conceived
>     without a level of intentionality.
>>     Interestingly, my digression couldn't be included in a Wikipedia article, since it hasn't been published anywhere.  (Wikipedia has strict standards about avoiding "original" or "unpublished" research.)  But nor could Wikipedia include a simple, uncontroversial summary of what "prolongation" means, because we in the field don't really agree about the issue at all.  So about the best you could hope for is a survey of the various proposals that have been made, one that gets updated as the discussion proceeds.
>     Well, I would be tempted to consider that proposals based on
>     Schenker's own writings should gain preeminence, at least in
>     articles devoted to Schenkerian concepts (prolongation, as a
>     concept, may have an existence as a non-Schenkerian, or
>     post-Schenkerian, or neo-Schenkerian concept, but that is not my
>     concern here).
>     Yours,
>     Nicolas Meeùs
>     Université Paris-Sorbonne
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