[Smt-talk] Criteria for Old and New

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Tue Mar 5 14:49:53 PST 2013

Dear Colleagues,

I am sorry if some people perceive the critique of a theoretical system as an “attack”. This is simply an argumentative discourse. On the other hand, those who feel tired of someone’s arguing that Schenkerian principles must not be imposed as a platform to teach undergraduate students (as they are increasingly being imposed), please bring up strong arguments against this reasonable concern.

Professor Bonds wrote: “This discussion also reminds me of Nietzsche's comment that "the errors of great men are more important than the truths of small men." Please, allow me to share with you what I think of as “the errors of a man”. Whether this man is great or small is a priority of everyone’s individual reflection.

1.	Repudiation of the subdominant function and the plagal cadence. Schenkerian theory builds a tonality on two functions: tonic and dominant.
2.	Repudiation of authentic cadences that involve inverted dominant or tonic chords.
3.	Repudiation of ascending melodic lines as means of ending a piece of music.
4.	Repudiation of the leading tone as a structurally important factor in the melodic line.
5.	Dismissal of rhythm in analysis.
6.	Imposition of the concept of omnipresent functional prolongations.

I think that, as a result of the embrace of the above principles, today’s harmonic analysis lacks the diversity and the inherent logic of the TSDT interaction. Everything looks binary: black and white, tonic and dominant ridden, either stable or intensely unstable. For instance, such wonderful examples of a plagal half cadence as encountered in a Bach choral in G major (Aus meines Herzens Grunde, m.14) or in a Beethoven sonata (Op. 10 No.2-I, m. 8) would most likely be dismissed with the statement “tonic prolongation”, which would destroy the beauty of the plagal interaction between T and D. These are important factors of functional interaction that Schenkerian theory has chosen to discard, but undergraduate and graduate students are entitled to know, understand and appreciate.

Professor Klein argues that Schenkerian theory is “a theory of how harmony and voice-leading work/interact in a certain repertoire of tonal music). But once a mentality has been developed on the premise that, in a certain repertoire - plagal relationships do not exist, the leading tone is not structurally important melodic factor, rhythm and meter are not important in the background, and there are prolongations just about everywhere – how do you expect a musician to discover, hear and appreciate all those elements outside of that repertoire? Baroque music, Romantic music, tonal music of XX century rooted in classical traditions, popular music, standard jazz – are we supposed to suddenly start to hear in those repertoires the elements that have been theoretically discarded in classical style? Once you learn your mother’s tongue, you only speak that, until you learn another language. Once you deny the existence of the subdominant function, you stop seeing and hearing that function not only in classical, but also in other repertoires. Once you state that endings on V6-I or V - I6 cannot be cadences, you stop hearing such "cadences" in other styles too. This is how a detachment from real musical world is being built, and this is how a musician is becoming disenfranchised from practicality. 

In conclusion, I would like to say that, for me, the concern of how we teach our students and whether or not we open before them the door to diversity, critical thinking, and creativity is worthy of discussion. Also, how do we lay a bridge of common language between our theory world and jazz theory, where neither Schenkerian analysis nor geographic names are practically valuable tools for analysis?

Thank you,


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

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