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    Multiple analytical approaches



    Dear collective wisdom,

    A student recently asked me if I knew of any writings that endorse more than one analytical approach to a single piece. While I am aware that many theorists are sympathetic to more than one approach (for example, Schenkerian analysts now routinely invoke Schema theory or Sonata Theory in their work) I wonder what would be a good example of what the student is asking for. It seems to me that writers tend to be fairly strongly inclined to favor one approach as the guiding line of inquiry.

    Thanks in advance.

    Mark Anson-Cartwright 

    Queens College, CUNY



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    • 10 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
    • Dear Mark,

      This may not be what you're looking for, but one multi-authored volume that examines a single piece from many perspectives is Beethoven's Tempest Sonata: Perspectives of Analysis and Performance, ed. Peter Bergé, Jeroen D'hoe, and William Caplin.

      To quote from the book's publicity blurb, the book "presents essays by Scott Burnham (hermeneutics), Poundie Burstein (Schenkerian approach), Kenneth Hamilton (history of performance), Robert Hatten (semiotics), James Hepokoski (Sonata Theory), William Kinderman (source studies), William Rothstein (tempo, rhythm, and meter), Douglas Seaton (narratology), Steven Vande Moortele (20th-century Formenlehre) and the editors themselves (motivic analysis and form-functional approach respectively)."



    • I second Ed's suggestion. I would also point to James Webster's "Multivalent" approach to formal analysis (see his essay in the Musical Form, Forms, and Formenlehre collection), which is an approach arrayed around the idea of bringing multiple perspectives to bear on a single piece. (Also see Sherrill's MTO article "Susanna's Deh vieni" for an insightful critical response to this sort of pluralistic approach)

      Another essay that's explicitly engaging with multiple methodologies is Steve Rings's MTO essay on "It's Alright Ma"
    • I would recommend David Lewin's extended 1974 essay on Morgengruss (co-edited by David Bard-Schwarz and me, OUP 2015). It offers several distinct and explicitly conflicting approaches to a short Schubert song, and is also an extended position-staking on what it means to analyze a piece in distinct and conflicting ways. And it is accompanied by several recently written essays which respond to Lewin's position staking. 


      I would also recommend Steven Rings's article in 2007 Journal of Schenkerian Studies, on Schubert's E-flat Impromptu, from a Schenkerian and neo-Riemannian standpoint. 

      If your student is attracted to mathematical modes of inquiry and discourse,  Julian Hook compares four distinct analytical approaches to a passage from a Fauré quartet in "Contemporary methods in mathematical music theory: a comparative case study." Journal of Mathematics and Music 7.2 (2013): 89-102.

      --Rick Cohn





    • The obvious seminal example of multiples approach is Nicholas Cook's great A guide to musical analysis from the 80s. The first half is a compound of different approaches and the second a succession of diverse analysis combining techniques.

    • Thank you to Ed, Rick, Nate, and Daniel for these very helpful leads, some of which I was already acquainted with. Thanks also to a couple of people who wrote to me privately. In the meantime, I wish to mention two authors who endorsed multiple approaches many years ago:

      Janet Schmalfeldt's 1991 article in MusA, titled "Towards a Reconciliation of Schenkerian Concepts with Traditional and Recent Theories of Form"

      Kofi Agawu's 1991 book Playing With Signs. (There, tonal structure, in the Schenkerian sense, gives rise to introversive semiosis, while topics and formal patterning give rise to extroversive semiosis.)

      What I think remains an open question, especially as regards the notion of bringing multiple approaches together when analyzing a single work, is this question: Does (Can) the author truly combine multiple approaches, or is it merely a case of using one tool to talk about this aspect and another tool to talk about that aspect.

      I believe that analysis as such is not a strictly theoretical activity. It is by its very nature interpretative, and practically requires the analyst to use several theoretical tools rahter than one. So I shall have to ask my student what he seeks: analytical pluralism or theoretical pluralism. (Is the latter a chimera?)

    • I would like to suggest my article "Schoenberg–Schenker–Bach: A Harmonic, Contrapuntal, Formal Braid," ZGMTH 16/1 (2019): 67–97, https://www.gmth.de/zeitschrift/artikel/1005.aspx. It uses Schoenbergian and Schenkerian approaches, as well as Hattenian, and it critiques both the approaches themselves and their reception, including Schmalfeldt 1991. So, it is not just interpretative but, if you like, theoretically pluralistic.

    • My dissertation as well as the companion articles on my website, channanwillner.com, weld traditional Schenkerian analysis to durational, narrative, and ritornello theroy (Fischer/Dreyfus), and also show why a close study of the borrowing sources is essential to the analysis of a composition.

    • Hello all,

      Although their various observations are in separate essays, not juxtaposed in the same essay, I would recommend the anaysis symposia that JMT has featured over the years. Allen Forte inaugurated the first one in 1966, when he was editor, with the idea that a "short composition [would be] selected and experienced musicians [would be] invited to prepare analyses" without restrictions, using "any technique [they regarded] as appropriate." As a result, readers would “have an opportunity to observe technique, and give thoughtful consideration to the insights provided by different, possibly divergent approaches.” Only one such symposium appeared while Forte was editor, but the series continued in subsequent years.

      David Carson Berry, Ph.D.

      Professor of Music Theory

      University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music

    • One more suggestion to add to those already given. It's more of a reminder, since I assume many here are aware of the W.W. Norton Critical Scores series. As an example of how the volumes in the series are structured, the volume before me right now is Wagner: Prelude and Transfiguration from Tristan and Isolde, ed. Robert Bailey. There are 40+ pages of historical background; copies of Wagner's program notes; the full scores; Wagner's preliminary (pno) drafts; a 33 p. analytical study of the sketches and drafts (presumably by Bailey); "views and comments" by Tovey, Ernest Newman, Sessions & Deryck Cooke; analytical essays on the Prelude and the Tristan Chord by Schoenberg, Leictentritt, Kurth, Lorenz, Hindemith, Karsten, William Mitchell, Roland Jackson, Cone & Babbitt, and on the Transfiguration by Reti and Meyer. There's a brief bibl. pointing to Wagner's writings & other biographical & critical studies. The analyses vary in length & depth with a variety of approaches including Riemannian & Schenkerian.


    • A slightly different response, that raises the question of what “a piece” is (in your original post): The 2nd chapter of my book Performing Knowledge (OUP 2019), “Interpreting Schoenberg’s Klavierstück Op. 19 No. 4,” compares analysis of the score (form, rhythm, pitch structure) with empirical analysis of three recordings. This is but one example of analysis-and-performance literature that treats analysis of a “text” and of recordings: Alan Dodson has discussed recordings in relation to, for example, Schenkerian readings or Lerdahl and Jackendoff’s analysis; see also the work of Daniel Barolsky, Peter Martens, Mitch Ohriner, and many others (including Nicholas Cook and Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, for example). The 3rd chapter of my book analyzes a portion of Bartók’s Fifth Quartet from the viewpoints of performance traditions (via recordings and primary sources) and score analysis in tandem with Bartók’s ethnomusicological writings. Examination of interfaces between physical actions involved in performing a piece (integral to a performer’s experience of the piece) and structure found in notation and sound is often fruitful; see, for example, Jonathan De Souza’s Music at Hand, as well as work by Jodi Rockwell, Anna Gawboy, and others. One might also consider various analytical viewpoints incorporated in discussions of embodiment (earlier work by Cusick, Mead, as well as more recent work by Cox, Kozak, etc.). Once one considers “piece” to include performance, multivalent analytical approaches arise naturally.