Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Short(ish) Post About Schenker

I think I'm becoming known for notoriously long posts. :-) I'll limit myself to one thought-provoking quote from the "Cook book" and a few follow-up questions this time:

"Music theory emerged from the ferment of ideas that surrounded the reception of Beethoven's music. Heinrich Schenker did a kind of reverse engineering job; this model wasn't intended to represent the chronology of composition. Schenkerian analysis assumed the music of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms was of value, and tried to demonstrate this by showing how the music really was coherent. It was an apologetic discipline, in the sense of being designed to defend a valued repertory, to underwrite its canonic status. In the decades after the Second World War, intuition and emotionally loaded language were ruthlessly eliminated. Theory and analysis became increasingly technical, increasingly incomprehensible to anyone except specialists. In this way, then, theorists were guilty of refusing to engage critically with the music. Instead of just deferring such engagement, like the musicologists, the theorists proclaimed it unnecessary or even philosophically suspect."

1. Does Schenkarian analysis occupy the same role in today's musical world that it did in Beethoven's? Should it? Has the focus on increasing technicality widened the gap between classical musicians and their audiences?

2. What does Cook mean when he speaks of "engaging critically" with music? Why do we support a theory that carries with it the baggage of so many built-in assumptions? What purposes might other forms of criticism serve, and what elements of critique are frequently absent in a contemporary academic setting? What can we, as musicians, do to foster the sort of "balance" that Cook describes in our own critical engagement with music?

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