[Smt-talk] Prolongation & time

Michael Morse mwmorse at bell.net
Sun Jul 17 06:30:09 PDT 2011

Dear Folks,

  At the risk of pedantry, why on earth should "lebendig" be translated as "live," rather than "living," "life," even"lively" [see italicized passages in the quotes below]? I have often heard--among others, from you, Nicolas!--that odd & deficient translation has signally informed and misshaped North American understandings of Schenker. This might seem a trival enough case. But getting it right goes a way towards rendering Schenker's metaphorical apparatus correctly; the present debate is a perfect illustration of what is at stake. When push comes to shove, the triad of itself is not of itself "living content"; that requires intelligent context. And for Schenker, arguably unlike for Pythagoras (or some pythagoreans), life is, at least potentially, a context marked by intelligence.

  Can a chord occur outside time? Does merely audibly stating the chord, of necessity in time, constitute its [musical] articulation, and so entail prolongation? I read Nicolas to be suggesting that Schenker's goethean organicism attenuates his pythagoreanism here, and so blunty the force & relevance of these questions to his position. If with dogmatic pythagoreanism we see the entire semantic potential of a chord as a priori, quintessentially outside time, then the questions apply with force. But Schenker is evidently arguing, with Goethe, that the properties of chords are in nature, as are we human beings. In that sense, a priori is the possibility of chordal harmonic sense in human practice, not outside it. A triad realized by Beethoven or Schumann both causes and allows intrinsic natural connections to unfold as they should. Hence Schenker's lunatic assertion that Rameau, not to mention Wagner or Schoenberg (or Alice Cooper!), errs by combating the order of things. 

  The aesthetics are grotesque and indefensible; but the metaphysics, as Nicolas argues, and as the quotes from HS themselves demonstrate, shouldn't be dismissed out of hand as a naive or mistaken philosophy of time. Webern's Path to the New Music lectures offer a strikingly cognate temporal metaphysic, and his Variations opus 30 show, if you will, that a schenkerian conception of time does not depend in the least on acceptance of the master's quirky canons of taste.

MW Morse
Trent University, Peterborough/Oshawa
Date: Sat, 16 Jul 2011 18:24:18 +0200
From: nicolas.meeus at paris-sorbonne.fr


      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). Schenker
      further 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





    Nicolas Meeùs

    Université Paris-Sorbonne


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