[Smt-talk] Criteria for Old and New

Sheehan, Paul J. Paul.Sheehan at ncc.edu
Fri Mar 8 09:00:21 PST 2013

Dear Dimitar and other readers:

“…. Schenker is what he is, and his theory does have the right to exist and inspire musicians who like it.”

No theory has rights. Human beings have rights and, concomitantly, responsibilities.  I think we have a responsibility not to willfully misrepresent “Schenkerian Theory” (however one would describe such a thing) or any other credible theory (by whatever standards we agree upon that make a theory or set of theories credible).  Maybe others disagree, thinking that whatever it takes to win the argument is acceptable.

          This thought brings me to a pair of rhetorical questions:  Does anybody really think _Tristan und Isolde_ doesn’t end with a plagal cadence?  Does anybody actually think that Schenker _didn’t_ think it ended with a plagal cadence?  C’mon.

          Certain aspects of Schenker’s thinking are pervasive in college theory programs with which I am familiar.  (That having been said, Schenker’s politics and resentments are indeed unfortunate.)  Instead of fussing over details, making exaggerated, dishonest claims, and pretending not to be being disingenuous about it, a more productive path would be to identify and scrutinize aspects of Schenker’s thinking that have attracted so many musical thinkers.  By extension, aspects that have fallen away might reveal themselves.  What would these imply about current/past thinking about music and about culture more broadly?  A contrapuntal attitude is one aspect of Schenker’s thinking I find extremely valuable in my thinking about music and in my teaching.
          Finally, formulating your last point as follows, “I want to believe X…”, is tantamount to saying that you do not believe X.  The crystal clear implication that composers, arrangers, improvisers, creative theorists who play the piano and develop their own materials constitute a group, and “Schenkerians” constitutes a different, separate group is a fantasy.  It's utterly absurd to suggest, as your formulation does, or even to vaguely hint, that Schenkerian-minded instructors do not create their own materials, compose, possess creativity, nor PLAY PIANO in or out of pedagogical settings.  Wow.  Based on your past practice, I imagine your denial is forthcoming, but your feelings and beliefs about many whom you address as “colleagues” remains clear.  I think it’s unfortunate.  You might be missing out on some brilliant musical insights and friendships.


Dr. Paul Sheehan
Instructor, Music Department
Nassau Community College (SUNY)
One Education Drive
Garden City, New York 11530

From: smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org [smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org] on behalf of Ninov, Dimitar N [dn16 at txstate.edu]
Sent: Thursday, March 07, 2013 5:42 PM
To: smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
Subject: [Smt-talk] Criteria for Old and New

Dear Colleagues,

I agree with Mr. Chaloux. Schenker is what he is, and his theory does have the right to exist and inspire musicians who like it.

The problem is that it has been forcefully imposed almost everywhere and has become a mandatory portal for shaping the mentality of every theory student in the United States. This cult also has hidden tides that wash away alternative concepts and create a barrier before prospective publications whose premises are openly non-Schenkerian. Another big flaw is the deliberate neglect of a number of older American harmony textbooks based on non-Schenkerian approach. In some cases, the realization that someone does not consider Schenkerian theory as a serious musical discipline is enough to make an eternal enemy out of this person.

But it does not have to be this way. I want to believe that the theory community is large enough to welcome diversity, and that musicians who deal with harmony in a practical manner (composers, arrangers, improvisers, creative theorists who play the piano and develop their own materials) know better.

Many thanks to all who participated in this thread.

With best wishes,


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