[Smt-talk] Was subdominant

Nicolas Meeùs nicolas.meeus at paris-sorbonne.fr
Mon May 21 01:23:14 PDT 2012

Le 19/05/2012 17:18, Olli Väisälä a écrit :
> Some further comments to Nicolas Meeùs:
>> Your stressing of "the framing points", your "partition principle" 
>> and "penult principle", all tend to give weight to single notes. 
>> This, I think, is a reductionist manner of presenting things (but I 
>> trust that your description is meant as pedagogical). When I stress a 
>> 6th-progression from F to D, I do not mean that its framing points, F 
>> and D, are more important, merely that the progression is an 
>> elaboration of an abstract space delimited by these notes – i.e. of a 
>> triad to which these notes belong.
> Your description of the roles of F and D here is synonymous to what I 
> expressed by saying that they have greater structural weight; hence 
> there seems to be no actual disagreement here. Of course, their 
> significance is not limited to those single notes; nevertheless, in 
> order for the structure to be comprehensible, these notes and their 
> special structural status has to be expressed somehow in the musical 
> surface.
But, on the contrary, I consider that these notes have no special 
structural weight! They merely frame the 6th-line and help naming it. As 
such, they indeed might take on some special status at the surface level 
(or at the level at which the line appears), but that does not mean they 
had this special status exists at deeper level.

> We can construe Schenker's theory as a systemic description of syntax 
> in tonal "masterworks" (Schenker himself compared music with language).
Schenker indeed compared tonal music with language, but I would think 
that he compared it mainly from a semantic point of view: he was 
concerned with how music "makes sense". The comparison hardly could 
concern syntax because linguistic syntax deals with phrases exclusively, 
while what Schenker is describing are discourses. Schenker described a 
"discursive syntax" which has no real equivalent in linguistics. This is 
a highly interesting topic, but let's leave it for another occasion.

> In my view, the theory has nothing to lose but much to gain, if we try 
> to supplement Schenker's accomplisment by determining principles 
> relevant to this question. In the end, this question is not only 
> heuristic or pedagogical, but epistemic. Insofar as we can identify 
> what kind of compositional features are required to justify readings 
> of structural weight, it becomes possible to test the theory empirically.
Right, but at the same time we should not forget (nor let our students 
forget) that the theory is generative. Several of us start a Schenkerian 
analysis by circling in the score the notes of "greater structural 
weight" and, so doing, we give the false impression that the background 
structure retains the surface notes having sufficient weight to survive. 
It is in this sense that critics said in previous messages in this 
thread that the choice of the notes forming the Urlinie is arbitrary: as 
if the Urlinie was made of notes chosen at the surface! The notes that 
we circle in the score often bear the same names as those in the 
background; but that does not mean that they are the same notes!
     Mine makes an abstract view of Schenkerian theory. I believe 
however that, without that, the theory may indeed appear arbitrary. It 
is because its level of abstraction has not enough perceived that it has 
been so much criticized. We must not retreat in front of the 
abstraction, we must try to explain it.


Nicolas Meeùs
Université Paris-Sorbonne

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