[Smt-talk] Analytical methods and critical thinking-2

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Sat May 12 10:40:15 PDT 2012

Professor Sanguinetti's hypothesis on the influence of the continuo practice in Naples on some Austrian composers, makes perfect sense and is very interesting. I was wondering how did Schoenberg - as an Austrian composer who worked in Vienna - escape that influence? In his harmony books he rejects the general bass practice as a relic. 

In regards to the "Schenkerian versus the rest of the world" talk, I think that in the today's music theory world, especially in North America, it is the Schenkerian paradigm that shapes the mentality, the discourse, the writing, and the teaching. It is almost impossible to publish something against, or to deliver a lecture criticizing some of the main premises of Schenkerian theory, or even to ignore Schenkerian theory when you share a harmonic analysis with a "serious audience". In other words, today's music theory landscape looks like a one-party system, where every move must be aligned to the correct policy. Dissident movements, such as the three-man club, as Stephen Jablonsky once put it, do not seem to stand a chance against a Goliath who is armed to the teeth.

But there is a light in the tunnel. David has allies among practicing musicians, composers, arrangers, and improvisers, for whom tonal music is too diverse to be analyzed in a uniform manner and to yield the same result each time. Some of those musicians are not aware of the existence of Schenkerian analysis, others consider it as a peripheral discipline that does not have the weight of any of the three main fields in music theory: harmony, counterpoint, and formal analysis. This lack of respect to a theory stems from the conviction that Schenkerian analysis has no significant practical application in the process of music making; it does not help an improviser to choose a scale or to hear changing harmonies better - in fact, the improviser is supposed to hear prolongation lines instead; it ignores the breath of form through the motive, phrase and sentence; it pays no attention to style; and it creates imaginary aural connections between single tones that are kilometers apart.

I personally consider unfortunate the fact that most recent textbooks in theory printed in the US are Schenkerian-molded. I have had the opportunity to realize how students who have been taught to analyze tonic and dominant prolongations just about everywhere, are lacking practical knowledge in functional harmony and in the craft of harmonizing a melody. Some of these students will become tomorrow's teachers; I can imagine what their teaching will be like, and what their highly limited practical capabilities in harmony will allow them to do.

In a sequel to this expose, I will comment on how Schenkerian theory changed the perception of cadential types and formal structure.

With best regards,


Dr. Dimitar Ninov, Lecturer
School of Music
Texas State University
601 University Drive
San Marcos, Texas 78666

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