[Smt-talk] Schenker / Diminution

Edward Klorman eklorman at juilliard.edu
Sat May 12 16:18:48 PDT 2012

Dear all,

I am reluctant to join a thread that has equated Schenkerians to  
skinheads (a comparison that strikes me as distasteful), but I would  
like to follow up on a point from Giorgio Sanguinetti's message.

Prof. Sanguinetti mentions the diminution of basic voice-leading  
paradigms--such as cadential formulae--as a traditional aspect of  
musical pedagogy and practice. This is an important aspect of  
Schenkerian thinking that is often misunderstood by critics of  
reduction as an analytical practice.

Ornamentation and reduction can be understood as a two-way street.  
That is, the act of elaborating or embellishing comparatively simple  
melodic lines is a traditional part of improvisational and  
compositional practice. Conversely, a "reduction" is the reverse of  
this process, whereby the notated material is understood to be the  
embellishment of a hypothetical, prior, un-ornamented version. The  
Schenkerian idea of levels is helpful for juxtaposing relatively  
simple and relatively more elaborate versions of the same material,  
and Schenkerian notation and concepts (such as octave transfer,  
reaching over, etc.) serve to illuminate the transformations from one  
level to another.

This aspect of Schenkerian thought is, I think, what William Benjamin  
(1981) means when he perceptively refers to the foreground as a  
"performance" of the middleground and background. It is by no means  
the goal of a Schenkerian analysis to "reduce" the composition to its  
most "important" notes but rather to understand the relationship  
between an embellished musical surface and a simplified or normalized  
version. Carl Schachter (1987), in a famously colorful footnote, has  
addressed this conflation of a note's level with its importance, along  
the same lines as Walter Everett's recent message.



Edward Klorman
The Juilliard School

Chair, Music Theory and Analysis
Faculty, Chamber Music

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