[Smt-talk] Music theory on Wikipedia

Jack Boss jfboss at uoregon.edu
Sun Jul 17 19:59:27 PDT 2011

I¹ve been following the argument over how to define ³prolongation² on
Wikipedia with some interest.  Some of you may know I authored an article in
the Journal of Music Theory 17 years ago called ³Schoenberg on Ornamentation
and Structural Levels.² (Volume 38/2)  One of the main purposes of the
article was to compare and contrast Schenkerian and Schoenbergian notions of
structural levels (Yes, indeed, Schoenberg DID have a notion of structural
levels, though he claimed that what constitutes the levels changes as
history progresses).

>From what I discovered while researching that article, it seems to me that
Y-X-Y represents better Schoenberg¹s notion of ornamentation as he discusses
it in the Harmonielehre, particularly the infamous chapter on non-harmonic
tones.  X has all the same characteristics as Y, it¹s a capital letter too,
so that it could conceivably exist all by itself--X!-- or even take on
ornaments of its own, X-Z-X.  Likewise, dissonant intervals created by
passing tones, neighbors, etc. are intervals in their own right, though they
reside higher up on the harmonic series, and a progressive composer ought to
think about ³emancipating² them or even giving them their own ornaments,
even though Bach and Mozart didn¹t.

Schenker¹s viewpoint, which I understood through his response to Schoenberg,
³The Dissonance is Always a Passing Occurrence, It is Never a Chord,² part
of ³Resumption of Urlinie Considerations² in Meisterwerk Vol. 2, and through
his comments on the passing tone in second species in Counterpoint, was
something different.  To him, the sensitive listener shouldn¹t understand
dissonances as intervals with the bass at the level they are created‹they
have no vertical existence at all, only a horizontal one.  Sure, at lower
levels they can be harmonized and grow their own diminutions, but at the
level they appear they do NOT have the status of intervals or chords.  In
other words, Schenker seems to be challenging us as listeners to take a
music-cognitive step‹to hear through the dissonant interval as if the
consonant one that preceded it was still there.  This is how I understand
³prolongation²--a mental process of holding on to the consonance through the
dissonance.  My late colleague Steve Larson used to demonstrate this in his
Schenker classes by singing the prolonged notes as he played musical
examples.  And I¹ve incorporated this viewpoint into my Schenker teaching
too with some success‹whenever my students stem or beam a note and draw
slurs from it, I ask them to find the consonant bass note and chord that
supports it, then draw a box around the notes under the slur and ask, ³could
you hear the stemmed note/chord sustaining itself all the way through this
box?²  You wouldn¹t believe how many mistakes that simple principle helps
them avoid.

So I¹d represent Schenker¹s understanding this way: ³Y-(X)-Y, which later
becomes Y-X-Y as we progress down closer to the surface.³ The parentheses
represent the idea that X isn¹t of the same status as Y originally, it¹s
³only a passing occurrence,² but it attains that status as we progress
through the graph from back to front.

Don¹t ask me to write the Wikipedia article, however, I¹m a little too busy
right now.  Jack
Jack Boss
Associate Professor, Music Theory
Director, School of Music Summer Session
President, West Coast Conference of Music Theory and Analysis
1225 University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403-1225

email: jfboss at uoregon.edu
phone: (541) 346-5654
cell: (541) 556-6139
fax (shared): (541) 346-0723

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