[Smt-talk] prolongation

Eytan Agmon agmonz at 012.net.il
Sun Jul 17 14:54:07 PDT 2011



I appreciate very much your efforts to track the evolution of Schenker’s ideas. This is an important project, and is indeed more “historical” than “theoretical.” However, let us remember how this discussion started. You claimed that the “Y-X-Y model” is a “superficial” or “naïve” interpretation of Schenkerian Prolongation. This is a theoretical claim, not a historical one, and particularly, a claim that assumes that “Schenkerian Prolongation” is a definable concept. If there is no such thing as “Schenkerian Prolongation” (because the concept constantly “evolved,” or was riddled with problems and contradictions from the outset), then there is really nothing to discuss. But if, nonetheless, “Schenkerian Prolongation” is a theoretically viable concept, as I believe it is (its “evolution” and other issues notwithstanding), then I merely wanted to point out in my original posting that your judgment concerning the “Y-X-Y model” may have been a somewhat hasty one.


One final point by which I hope to close this fascinating discussion: chromaticism, in my view (and I believe Schenker’s as well), is not inconsistent with diatonicism. To the contrary, diatonicism makes chromaticism possible (thus chromatic degrees do not contradict the “diatonic scale”).


Eytan Agmon

Bar-Ilan University 


From: Nicolas Meeùs [mailto:nicolas.meeus at paris-sorbonne.fr] 
Sent: Monday, July 18, 2011 12:18 AM
To: Eytan Agmon
Cc: 'SMT Talk'
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] prolongation


Le 17/07/2011 20:54, Eytan Agmon a écrit : 


 Are we really going to play the game of a close reading of Schenker? (I played the game once, in an MTO article entitled “The Bridges that Never Were.”)

For sure, I am engaged at present in a close reading of Schenker, and I am very pleased with the game. My intention is to find out how his ideas evolved and eventually produced Free Composition. Because Free Composition probably was translated without the possibility of a direct comparison with earlier writings, it may not always reflect Schenker's thought. I do not mean that Oster had insufficient knowledge of earlier writings, merely that, unable to directly confront Freie Satz with other texts that probably were not easily available during his translation, he was not always able (and may not always have had the desire) to reflect Schenker's ideas in their historical context. Salzer, similarly, preferred writing Structural Hearing to commenting Freie Satz (adding a few concepts of his own which I consider most interesting, but which may not be fully compatible with Schenker's own ideas).
    "Tonal space" certainly is a case in point. It is an idea that Schenker first published in Tonwille VIII-IX (1924) and that he repeated until Das Meisterwerk II (1926). It must have helped him tremendously in developing the final concept of Ursatz, first described in 1930 [it may be significant, in addition, to note that he published nothing between 1926 and 1930]. A few paragraphs about tonal space did survive in Free Composition, mainly § 13 (but also §§ 25 and several others). However, a most striking difference between Free Composition and Erläuterungen which I quoted in previous postings is that in 1935 Schenker indentifies the tonal space with the Urlinie, while in 1924 he linked it with the concept of chord. In the meanwhile, the concept of Urlinie itself was deeply modified: up to 1926, the Urlinie merely was a line, a "fluent melody" (fliessender Gesang) [this may have aspects in common with your "efficient" voice leading; the idea may have originated in Fux or earlier], ascending or descending, that directed the musical flow. From 1930, the Urlinie was a single abstract descending line expressing the tonal space. Other basic concepts (among the most complex ones, such as Quintteiler or Übergreifen) were involved in the development of the Ursatz theory.
    Having shortly browsed through your "Bridges that Never Were" (which I'll reread with attention), I think that your approach is that of a theoretician, when mine is that of a historian. I have no judgment to make about whether the bridges are or were, I am only interested in that Schenker thought they were or, better still, in how he conceived them. Whether they exist "truly", or whether any logical truth is involved in this, is not of my concern.

Surely the statement “there are no other tonal spaces than those of 1–3, 3–5, and 5–8,” which of course cannot be taken literally (due to such “tonal spaces” as 2-1-7, 4-3-2, etc.), essentially equates “tonal space” with “diatonic system.” 

In Schenkerian terms, the statement that "there are no other tonal spaces than those of 1–3, 3–5, and 5–8" merely means that if 2-1-7, 4-3-2, etc. appear to constitute tonal spaces, it must be within an embedded space, say, that of the dominant chord, in which the apparent 2-1-7 (of the higher level space) becomes 5-4-3, and 4-3-2 becomes (8)-7-6-5. (I purposely leave open here the matter of the tonal space of a 7th chord: that is a matter for Yosef Goldenberg; Schenker obviously did not fully make up his view on this point.)
    I repeat what I said before, that Schenker probably would have admitted 3-5 to be filled by 3-#4-5, or 8-7-6-5 by 8-b7-6-5, etc., which contradicts the equation of "tonal space" with "diatonic scale" (I think that "system", in this context, is a much too heavily loaded term).

That Schenker (apparently) wants us to believe that his Urlinie is conceptually prior to the diatonic system is one of his many conceits.

As hinted to above, Schenker changed his mind about the role of the Urlinie. Your statement may be true of the final version of the concept, the abstract "fundamental line" of the Urstaz theory of the 1930's, where indeed he presents the Urlinie as the source of the Diatonie. It is much less true of his earlier idea of the Urlinie(n), the "line(s) or origin" (he does at time use the term in plural). Again, I find this evolution in his thought utmost interesting. Some would take argument of these changes to reject the whole as nonsense. I am not really concerned with value judgments, but I might be willing to admit that the final version in Freie Satz may not be the most interesting one.

Nicolas Meeùs
Université Paris-Sorbonne

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