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    Music theory vs music analysis [Was "But what do we call music theory?"]

    [I open this new thread for several reasons: (1) It will leave the managers of SMTDiscuss free to decide whether it is worth it. (2) It will allow the first discussion to go on. (3) It raises a question that I think rather different, but equally important.]

    The question of music theory vs music analysis has been explicit or implicit in many postings so far. Stephen Soderberg wrote:

    the theorists who set up SMTDiscuss saw fit to include two categories: "Theory" and "Analysis" -- not "Theory, i.e., Analysis". Surely this was not a thoughtless choice & it was made with a very large, varied, at times unruly community in mind.

    Yet the reasons why they classified some postings in one of these categories, some in the other, and the majority in none of them, remains unclear — it was no easy choice, obviously.

    The recent European Music Analysis Conference was organized by seven European societies, of which three call themselves "for music theory" (the Nederlandse Vereniging voor Muziektheorie, Netherlands and Duch speaking Belgium, the inviting society; the Gesellschaft für Musiktheorie, Germany, Austria and German speaking Switzerland; and the Russian Society for Theory of Music), three "for music analysis" (the French and French speaking Belgian Société(s) d'Analyse musicale and the British Society for Music Analysis), and one which calls itself both (the Italian Gruppo Analisi e Teoria Musicale). This is quite a remarkable equilibrium, especially for an odd number of societies. And if the conference itself was of "Music Analysis", it probably merely is because the first one (Colmar, 1989) had been organized by the French society.

    It is striking that, in the same language, the American SMT chose "MT", while the British SMA chose "MA". This was perhaps merely in order to clarify a distinction, but maybe not. [British colleages might have an opinion about this...]

    Let me start the discussion by quoting a few recent statements. Stephen wrote

    In effect you are saying that music theory is "analysis," no more & no less. In other words, theory has no need to provide a generative function because the text is "just there" & your job is to pick it apart in a variety of ways.

    Yes, indeed. I do believe that a theory of music necessarily is analytic, i.e. descriptive – because that is how and why it is a theory. Even a generative theory as Chomsky's is eminently analytic. It certainly does not describe how novel languages could be created, nor even how novel utterances could be generated, but merely how a universal linguistic competence generates utterances. Chomskyan generative theory had been preceeded by Schenker's, but a main difference was that Schenker was not considering a universal competence, merely one in tonal music.

    John McKay:

    There is certainly an empiricist mindset in much theory that seeks to create models which describe existing music.  But that's not really saying that "theory = analysis" anymore than Kepler's laws of planetary motion are simply observation of nature.  The abstraction process of theorizing of course creates new understanding that is somewhat different than the sum of all analyses.

    Indeed, analyses are never merely inductive, rather, they are hypothetico-deductive, starting from a hypothesis, a method, a theory (Roman numerals, Riemann, Schenker, neo-Riemann, set theory, etc.) which they apply to existing works. Celestin Deliège defined music analysis as that from which emerges a new hearing.

    There is in all this an interplay between theories (which often turn out to be analytic methodologies, or "models" as Isaac Malitz calls them) and empirical analyses that confirm or falsify (sorry to come back on this) the application of the theory/methodology used to this or that particular piece. I must confess that I fail to see what other theories could occupy music theorists. How could a composer, for instance, consider say set theory of neo-Riemannian theory to be generative for her/his own work, unless they proved enlightening for the understanding of existing works?

    Or is there something that escapes me?




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    • To paraphrase Marvin Minsky (the great pioneer in the field of Artificial Intelligence): When people are thinking about complex matters, they (almost) always are employing one or more models in their thought process. (They may not be conscious of what model or models they are using.)

      Thus, I believe that models-of-music are an inescapable aspect of music-analysis.

      I can provide examples if anyone is interested.

      Isaac Malitz, Ph.D.




    • Isaac, all serious analysts of music are aware that their job of analyzing rests on a model, a methodology, a theory. They have often been reproached that their activity consisted in checking that the musical works verified their theory. I don't think we need the examples that you could provide.

      But I do believe that even the theories mentioned by Stephen, maximally even scales & rhythms or isomeric twins ultimately are analytic: their sole purpose is to make it possible to analyze music from the particular point of view that they represent. It is only on a second stage that this may help composers or become "generative".




    • I would like to second Nicolas's statement and elaborate on the use of model in music theory. It is not as exact and relevant, as it may seem. In fact, the grandfather of model is Greek paradeygma. In its simplest form it describes a classroom in pottery. A model--a perfect clay pot--is set on a tripod and boys and girls are trying to make their own pots maximally similar to the model. This method of learning is called mimesis. This is also the root of most of scientific research that followed in the next 25 centuries.

      Music theory comes from a different background. Music is non-mimetic. This is, perhaps, something most philosophers and musicians agree about nowadays. Jean-Luc Nancy, Jean-Jacques Nattiez, and Milton Babbitt would corroborate. In order for mimesis to function, it is necessary to have a tangible object in front of our eyes. Aristotle suggested that all knowledge works just like that (in his Poetics), We observe natural phenomena and learn something from such observation. But in his other book, Peri psyche, he admitts, that the soul can move itself by itself (auto seauto kineisthai). That there is something in our psyche that does not require the tangible external object. He wanted to disagree with this Platonic view, but failed to do so. Music theory does not observe external tangible objects. It deals with the objects that have no extension (in terms of Baruch Spinoza). Music belongs to the same category as God. Both exist, both are invisible. So, model is not a functioning method of music theory.

    • Ilmar, I think this is a very good statement of an important point of view. However, I would elaborate as follows:

      [a] I think there are portions of music which can be modeled. Schenker for instance is an excellent partial model, in my opinion.

      Accepting for the moment that music is non-mimetic, it is still plausible that the way that music is experienced can be modeled to a degree.

      [b] People naturally have an inclination to talk about music and think about music (at times!). When they do, they usually utilize one or more models, even if not consciously. This is the way people think about complex matters, it almost can't be helped. It does not mean that the models used are correct. Marvin Minsky (the eminent pioneer in AI) has written extensively about this. See his book "The Emotion Machine", which he summarizes at http://web.media.mit.edu/~minsky/

      [c] btw, there are even respected models of God ! Consider: Leibniz (Monadology); Godel (his attempts at a formalized Ontological Argument, which utilize a specific model of God). When I say "model", I do not imply that the model is accurate or complete.

      [d] My term for what you write about is the "Transcendental" aspect of music. There is a partial model for this aspect, see my brief article http://www.omsmodel.com/music/main/docs/transcendental_model.htm . This article utilizes research by the great psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion, who gave long study to the transcendental aspect of human life (the "O" as he calls it). Your statement above is in the spirit of Bion.




      Isaac Malitz, Ph.D.




    • Dear Isaac, of course, I agree with you that these characterizations are somewhat black-and-white. Music is filled with simple tangible objects. For example, the title Prince Igor is related to a historical personality. There has been a man with this name. Yet, I think Nicolas and I were trying to tackle that which Dahlhaus called absolute music, music per se. Analysis of music as such requires a different language. What would it be? Non-mimetic language of description? Perhaps, a circular mimesis, intertextuality and deconstruction of the very idea of a model? Psychological reduction--phenomenological reduction--transcendental reduction?

    • You have stated a question that I am very interested in, probably more than anything else !

      My current views:

      [a] Models play an essential, inescapable role in the perception, analysis, and application of music.

      [b] Music, like most complex areas of human activity, allows multiple models. Multiple models are a good thing.

      [c] For over 400 years, western music has been dominated by just one model - the "note-centric model", which has not been a good thing. The note-centric model of course is an outstanding model, but it has a limited scope. We need some additional, big, robust models.

      [d] An excellent new kind of model can be built, focused around the experience of music. And I have done this. The key to success is to borrow from a big model of human intelligence that has been developed in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The AI model is called the "Society Of Mind" ("SOM"). SOM is a huge model of human intelligence which on the one hand looks like pure theory, but which on the other hand has been based on decades of intensive practical experience in AI research. I have carved out a portion of SOM, organized it apropos music, and it becomes a beautiful and comprehensible model of how music is experienced. When SOM is applied for analysis of specific musical works, the output looks a lot like the work of a very capable critic or professional music theorist.

      You can see specifics about my model in  www.OMSModel.com  . This site includes background, and also some sample analyses. (The site is a little messy right now, it is being re-organized, and will be relaunched in about 2 weeks).

      [e] There is room for additional modeling via methods of Husserl, etc. Multiple models (languages, or ...) are a good thing. However, I will say that OMS (model focused around the experience of music ) is especially productive. It has some "sweet spots" that are missed by someone like Schenker.

      However, a model based on Husserl (or Sartre! I'd love to see that!) could be very exciting, would have different sweet spots.

      [f] "Absolute music": I haven't found that to be a useful concept for understanding, modeling, analyzing music.





      Isaac Malitz, Ph.D.




    • Dear Ildar, dear Isaac,

      The question of the link between music theory and music analysis, to me, is both important and quite concrete. I don't think we need to enter the kind of philosophical or etymological questions you raise – which, in addition, appear to me quite doubtful. Let me try to bring the church back in the centre of the village (as we say in Europe; I wonder whether that has any meaning on the other side of the Ocean, but you'll tell me).

      Ildar, I cannot figure from where you deduce that the Greek word paradeigma might "describe a classroom in pottery". So far as I know, the word derives from para, "beyond", and deiknumi, "to show". This does indeed refer to a model, but I don't see why particularly in pottery. The term was much used by Plato to denote the model used by God to create the world. You are right to describe this way of doing under the term "mimesis", but I utterly fail to understand what you mean when you say that "music is non-mimetic". Gjerdingen, Sanguinetti, and many others have shown that musical composition in the 18th century is entirely based on imitation of models (partimenti) – and this includes Mozart. I am convinced that musics of oral tradition that belong to the domain of "modality" also are based on imitation. And all that makes a lot of music, to which other cases could easily be added. What you write about music theory dealing with "objects that have no extension" involves a level of abstraction (?) in which I fail to follow you.

      Isaac, we are not discussing whether "the way that music is experienced can be modeled", but whether the way we consider music is based on models (or theories). I can only repeat that for me and for most analysts of music, the fact that our musical analyses are based on musical theories is obvious. We are not particularly interested by the question whether analysis itself can be theorized (or "modeled") and, in any case, that was not the question I was asking.

      Can we please come back to the question itself, "Music theory vs Music analysis"? If not, I am afraid this thread is stillborn.




    • @Nicolas, thank you for "reimag(in)ing" the topic (TOTH to Brian Hyer). I'll have to bring some points forward from the previous thread, but the shift in focus helps.

      (1) A minor point: The SMTDiscuss manager doesn't classify postings as they come in, they are "self-classified" by the posters (and I have yet to see a commentor complain that a post was miscategorized). Add this to the labeling confusion/differences you list among various societies & I believe this at least shows how unsettled the terminology is among theorists - both between individuals and even for the same individual at different times to fit the occasion or topic. As I've noted, our discussion won't settle the issue(s), but may serve as an opening to a larger discussion with many more viewpoints and approaches added in.

      (2a) @IldarKhannanov: I just read your recent comment that ends

      Music belongs to the same category as God. Both exist, both are invisible. So, model is not a functioning method of music theory.

      In fact, I read the entire comment at least a dozen times. That's all I have to say about it.

      (2b) Nicolas, I just now read your recent post & hope the following comes back closer to "Music theory vs Music analysis" – but with a good dose of compositional techne. I'm going to post this without further editing, so there may be a thing or two I will have to rephrase later - but all the ideas are here.


      (3) Nicolas wrote:

      I do believe that even the theories mentioned by Stephen, maximally even scales & rhythms or isomeric twins ultimately are analytic: their sole purpose is to make it possible to analyze music from the particular point of view that they represent. It is only on a second stage that this may help composers or become "generative".

      This statement is false if it is meant to convey that theories are absolutely non-generative. However, your use of the hedge word "ultimately" may ultimately bring us together on this. But let's look at your statement in its strong (take out "ultimately") form. I admit the issue of maximal evenness is less clear because it is descriptive of pre-existing states of affairs in music (diatonic scale, bossa nova rhythm, etc.) and I included it to demonstrate a characteristic generative component whereby a concept occasionally  leaps from one theory to a second theory that is thought to be entirely separate and unrelateable to the first. In this case music theory leaps into physics via a deep connection in mathematics. (The existence of God is highly debateable, the existence of mysteries is not.) No one ever claimed that notes are electrons (except possibly Beethoven). Still in this case they both dance to the same piper-mathematician. I admit this example is unclear because it is shot throught with both analysis and synthesis and, for me, ends up in a chicken-and-egg conundrum.

      The z-related set example gets closer to the issue of whether a theory can be generative or not & it may be helpful to extend that example. It is pretty clear that when fully atonal works began to appear something had to be done on theory's analysis side  since all available theory was incapable of handling them analytically. Scholar-critics don't like to be caught helpless. After making a few astute (analytical) observations, Schoenberg himself lamented this lack in the last chapter of Harmonielehre.

      The two choices were to (A) look for an entirely new analytical theory or (B) simply declare these works to be non-music. (B) was a good choice when Europe was closer in time to Brahms and Tchaikovsky and there were as yet only a few "experimental" non-tonal works; today (B) is indefensible but still the most popular choice for reactionaries as far as I can tell (even though it is normally muted and underground & hence difficult or impossible to root out). The reason it is indefensible has nothing to do with your or my musical preferences or even those of the public at large. It is the more objective fact that composers are continuing to add to a growing library of non-tonal works (I will spare you the list of a thousand composers and ten thousand works) – and it's not just quantity: these works are coming in a greater variety of "styles and genres" and ways to defeat tonal functionalism (though that is rarely the goal) that have little to do theory-wise with Schoenberg (still our culprit of choice). I've addressed (or at least introduced) this expanding library conundrum in "In Praise of Monsters" in E&EN.

      So due to a combination of the lack of analytical theory and composers' desire to expand their palette of sonorities and connections, complete 12tet SC lists were assembled, circulated & published. This gave a complete picture of the entire 12t universe with no bias in favor of diatonic chords but yet with no hint of "functional" relationships. These first efforts naturally led to a turn to primitive set theory (on this, there is more than one theorist in academia who is still in primitive mode), and we're off and running. But that's not yet the point I'm aiming at here.

      When the entire universe of 12t sonorities was surveyed – analyzed if you will – isomeric pairs (Hanson), later unfortunately re-named z-related sets (Forte), were discovered. Outside of possible accidental (unconscious, subconscious, compositionally unplanned) appearances in the extant literature, z-sets played absolutely no role in analytical theory. After I wrote my 1995 paper on z-sets, Allen Forte asked me if I knew of any instances of z-sets in the literature. I understand now that he likely had his own agenda behind the question, but I had to answer that I did not know of any (at the time). 

      In fact (this is leading up to my own music theorist's credo which I don't expect anyone to share), the question was irrelevant to me. At this point there are z-sets that composers have consciously used in their work. Once the idea is out of course there will be composers who will play with it. the point is that z-sets didn't arise from practice but from theory.

      An even better example would be Elliott Carter's all-interval 12-note chords. Learning about these, John Link worked out the "Link chords" in abstracto, sent them to Elliott, and Elliott used them compositionally. I call this generative theory, but do not deny an element of analysis is always present, even for the composer. It's all a matter of balance, not a choice of one or the other. This is why I've been struggling in E&EN with a tri-partite model which additionally I consider to be more faithful to the history of the way theory was passed from one composer to another. Today, the composer has been cut out of the loop.

      NB: Because of the lingering effects of (B) above, I have chosen not to mention the most obvious example of an abstract generative theory springing up with no precedents in the literature: serial theory & its resulting 12 tone serial compositional methods. There is also the abstract musings of Charles Seeger resulting in the achingly beautiful compositions of Ruth Seeger. But enough.

      Now to something even more radical.

      The existence or absence of any given "music theory hypothetical" in the literature does not, in my view, confirm or deny that hypothetical. It is unimportant to me (as a theorist) whether or not music theory's hypotheticals find application or not, whether in extant works or those yet to be created. So how do I identify a "music theory hypothetical"? That brings me to what I might call "A Music Theorist's Apology." I will identify its source after you read it.

      The music theorist is a creator and discoverer of patterns. These patterns must be beautiful – they must fit together in a harmonious way. Beauty is the first test: there is no place in music for ugly music theory. ... The best music theory hypothetical is serious as well as beautiful – 'important' if you like, but the word is very ambiguous, and 'serious' expresses what I mean much better. ... The 'seriousnes' of a music theory hypothetical lies, not in its practical application to composition or analysis, but in the significance of the music theoretic ideas which it connnects. We may say, roughly, that a music theory hypothetical is 'significant' if it can be connected, in a natural and illuminating way, with a large complex of other music theoretic ideas. Thus a serious music theory hypothetical, a hypothetical which connects significant ideas, is likely to lead to important advances in music theory itself and even in other arts and sciences. ... There are two things, at any rate, which seem essential in a 'significant' music theory hypothetical, a certain generality and a certain depth. ... But coming full circle to give application its due, there are the words of Whitehead: 'It is the large generalization, limited by a happy particularity, which is the fruitful conception.'

      Some readers may recognize the preceding "credo" as a paraphrase of selections from G.H. Hardy's A Mathematician's Apology.

      There is a (4) and much more minutiae, but this is already way too long.


    • Dear Isaac, surely, the problem with music theory is that theorists are not ready for philosophical reflection. We spend too much time crawling over the scores. We do not have time to read Aristotle and doubt that paradeygma means an exemplay clay pot. No, we doubt that and have strong opinions about weakness of Greek philosophy and music theory. I am obliged to read something istead.

      Model, is perhaps, the most common and the cheapest tool. You mentioned music experience. That cannot be modeled, in most cases, because it deals with singularity. In order to approach it one has to come up with other tools. Fortunately, the history of philosophy is filled with discoveries of various instruments of analysis. Descartes suggestion to cut the thing that we do not understand into pieces, get the meaning of each piece, and the put the whole thing together, with the hope that now you will understand it--is alsow too crude for music. I completely agree with you that note-centric analysis is dead. What could you suggest in its place?

    • P.S. Dear Isaac, I went to your web site. Fantastic! Crazy in a good sense, but very interesting. I expecially liked your transcendental model. Good luck with developing it further.

    • Ildar: You have posed a big question. I think it is good to stop for a moment and appreciate how big a question it really is. I'll restate it as follows:

      [a] MUSIC is one of the most important, broad, complex, and deep aspects of the human condition

      [b] For 400+ years, the study of MUSIC has been dominated by just one theory/model, let's call it the "note-centric model" (or theory or conception) of music.

      [c] That model is dead, or at least showing its age.

      Where do we go from here ?


      To honor this question, my response for now will be SILENCE. 

      Good night.

      Isaac Malitz, Ph.D.




    • I would like to defend Isaacs' most important comments.  The discussion does not need to revert back to the original premise; it needs to move forward with new insight.  For those of us that are existentialists, let's leave God out of the discussion! - human beings created music and science.  If God had anything to do with that, we are a long way from comprehending his/her/it's motivations.  The initial premise is of course somewhat absurd - what intellectual discipline can separate itself from theory?  Music is not science.  The goal of science is to understand the laws of nature and find the patterns that govern those laws.  Music has nothing to do with that in it's historical ethnomusicological role anymore than Literature does.  Music is related with science as sound is energy, sound is governed by acoustical physics, sound is a wave form vibration and contemporary musicians as well as Pythagoras are/were informed by these mathematical relationships and realities - Isorhythmic motets employ mathematical ratios, but they do not tell us anything about the laws of nature.  Ratios are important scientific aspects of engineering mechanics however.  Serialism is concerned with set theory relationships, but it does not tell us anything about the laws of nature.  Statistics does rely on set theory permutations to make calculations and predictions of combinatorial possibilities, but those are objective conclusions, not necessarily compositional musical choices.  Of course as theorists we examine the components of structure.  All human progress rests on that fact.  But facts and models do change.  Note centric theories are core and central to investigating music, but no theorist can explain the art of music by categorizing it's parts alone - and this is Isaac's point.  Note centric theories (Schenkerian analysis for example) cannot explain the decentralization of classical orchestration and the expansion and inclusion of new instruments and instrumental combinations after Beethoven by the early Romantic composers, mainly Berlioz.  Note centric theories cannot explain the transition from motiv related development of the Germanic classical masters to Idée fixe of the early French Romantic period.  So as Isaac rightly points out - models change, reality changes, theories change.  Musicians need information that will expand their musical horizons, their technique, their creativity, and their social place within humanity relative to their own time.  That is the purpose of musical theory - to understand the [human] creative mind as related to the musical arts.  The objective relationships scientists investigate and theorize have little to do with the choices made by composers and authors.  If music were science we would listen to the background random noise of space or assign notes to the genome sequence combinations and call it art, find it interesting - but not very enjoyable.  Computers can generate musical patterns, but computers cannot generate the emotions necessary to create a Sarabande and if they could it would be a model of human emotion, not a scientific model.   

    • Carson, let me quote from the answer that I gave privately to Isaac about this. Isaac had written "For 400+ years, the study of music has been dominated by [...] the "note-centric model". I answered this:

      It is much more than 400+ years, Isaac. Antique Greek theory certainly was note-centered, and so is any written theory that I know for any music of the world. [On this point, however, see * below.] It is only in recent times, and mainly in the West, that note-centricity began to be questioned. The question is clearly posed by Leonard Meyer when he opposes "statistic" elements of music to "syntactic" ones, or by Curt Sachs when he opposes "pathogenic" music to "logogenic" one.

      The question touches that of music as language. Languages are characterised by their economy: two dozen letters suffice to write all philosophy, all science, everything. Similarly, music is satisfied with 12 notes (roughly) for thousands of works. Yet, one realizes more and more that similarly as language adds to its letters (or phonemes) all sorts of gestures, intonations, etc., that also are significant, similarly music adds all sorts of things that hardly can be quantified or discretized, dynamics, timbres, etc., but that nevertheless are equally important.

      This becomes a crucial problem for all of us because music analysis (as linguistic analysis), up to now at least, can only deal with what is quantifiable – music analysis is inherently note-centric. I don't think this is a problem that one can solve merely by a change of model: it is the very definition of all our terms, theory, analysis, even music itself (the term, I mean) that must be modified. You can make music perception attentive to unquantifiable, statistic, pathogenic elements: that is what your model does, Isaac. But the problem of theory and analysis remains... (Note that the Italian journal of analysis, Analitica, will devote its 2015 issue to this question: see http://www.gatm.it/analiticaojs/index.php?journal=analitica – it is in English or usually is; the website is somewhat unpredictable. Click on "More..." at the end of the page to read further, hopefully in English.)

      * To these comments, let me add this:

      As a matter of fact, I know of at least one theory that may be less note-centric than many. Amnon Shiloah, in his paper on "The Arabic Concept of Mode" (JAMS 1981) explains that the so called "stagnation" in Arabic music theory of the 13th century AD and later may well be a misinterpretation, that Safi al-Din (+1294 AD) has been an important theorician and that his writings inspired several subsequent generations. Shiloah's paper has been the source of further research. One of my students, Amer Didi, recently presented his PhD in which he publishes and translates several Arabic treatises from the 14th to the 18th centuries, evidencing the existence of a school which he (and several other researchers) termed École des praticiens, as opposed to the systematic school of al-Farabi and others. The characteristic of this École des praticiens is that it often describes modes in terms of affects, etc.. instead of scales or intervals. The whole remains quite complex and I won't develop here, but it is clear that this theory is one of the least note-centric that exists. And this is not "crawling over the scores", but trying to make sense of highly complex texts in Arabic.

      [Stephen, I owe you an answer, but it needs reflexion.]



    • As I said in my previous post I need to bring forward a couple of points from the oiginal thread.

      One of several dropped issues brought up previously was a question I asked that has been lost in the tussle. It has to do with music theory's history. I realize I am treading on thin ice here since I cannot claim anywhere near the expertise Nicolas has as well as others who are possibly lurking this thread. But my point does not go to the content of historical theories or their development over a thousand and more years mostly in the West, but to the authors' intended contemporary audience for those theories. Perhaps Ildar thought I was being flip when I asked him the question previously. I was not. Here it is again:

      Why did Josephus come to Aloysius?

      This is prompted by the initial exchange between student and master at the beginning of Book 2 of Fux' Gradus. My own answer is this:

      Alfred Mann translates the first few lines of the dialog into English as follows (my attempts to retain a bit of the baroque are in brackets):

           Josephus.  I come to you, venerable master, in order to be introduced [initiated, imbued] to the rules and principles [precepts and institutions] of music.

          Aloysius.   You want, then, to learn the art of [musical] composition?

          Josephus.  Yes.

      His purpose is declared at the outset. Josephus is not coming to a scholar ("musicologist") to learn the mechanics of counterpoint established by the masters in order to analyze with the goal to better understand and appreciate and perform the works of those masters. He is coming to a composer (Aloysius is Palestrina, as Fux himself tells us) to be initiated into a guild which holds the combinational precepts ("theory") that lie at the heart of their own contemporary musical composition (in this case, Palestrina, Fux' personal choice for an "ideal" ).

      My contention is that Gradus, as well as Rameau's Traité and similar texts spanning hundreds of years were originally intended as composition insruction manuals, not guides to the analysis of extant music (even though they can serve secondarily as such, thereby further aiding the composer in understanding his/her compositional forebears in order to improve his/her basic skills/tools & be inspired & challenged to go beyond basic techne).

      The composer was at the center of the music theory enterprise in the past. That came to an abrupt end in the 20th century for a boatload of reasons we might try to sort out another time. The "theory vs analysis" question, to me, unfortunately boils down to composer-as-theorist VS theorist-as-analyst.

      The farmer and the cowman should be friends, but this is not now the situation. This split was not the initial reason I have taken the position expressed in my quasi-credo, but attempting to stake out a "general theory of musics" (whether that is attainable remains to be seen & NB this is not the same as attempting an impossible grand unified theory for music) certainly has the advantage of not having to choose between incompatible or even unrelated theories and musics and then defend my choice in a debate between the proverbial apples and oranges. The main reason for my somewhat elitist position is that it is my natural inclination. However, to return to viewing the question as composer vs theorist, I'd like to pose it as a pedagogical issue. The situation I am about to describe actually occurred to a quite famous theorist, making it more than a hypothetical – and I'd bet it has happened to others in various other teaching situations. Try to put yourself into this picture.

      You have decided to teach a graduate level course on "the history of music theory from Rameau to Schenker."  [I like the juxtaposition of end-points.] Sixteen students enroll, 8 composition majors and 8 musicology majors. The composers want to read Rameau for IDEAS. The musicologists want to know exactly what Rameau said. How do you reconcile this situation? Or is this a problem at all? If not, why not?


    • Returning to Analysis vs. Theory theme, I have to say, first of all, that recent EUROMAC8 was a smorgasbord  of professional knowledge, perhaps, the most representative forum I have ever attended. I would like to express my late but never fading gratitude to Dr. Pieter Berge and to all organizers. Indeed, as Nicolas mentioned above, major national traditions of European continent were represented in their own shape and form. Yes, French, British and Francophone Belgian traditions have the word analysis in their core, while German, Russian, and Dutch focus on theory. Italian--as, perhaps, the oldest and the most venerable among all--nowadays carries both words in the name of the discipline. These differences are rooted in history. They are not accidental. Let Dr. Spitzer correct me if I am wrong, but the English tradition of music analysis is related to the overal tradition in humanities, started by two great universities, Cambridge and Oxford, Even today, these universities have a very specific set up in musical education, with an emphasis on liberal arts and general discourse on musical art. French adherence to analysis is, on my view, the reflection of the marvelous tradition of Lettres, with all that ensues from it. German and Russian traditions are closer to each other than any other two. They rely upon theory as such. A slight difference of Russian approach is related to the roots in Greek Patristic literature, the postulates of which were inherited via Russian Orthodox Christian tradition. There are specific interpretations of eidos in Florensky, logos in Losev, and the role of theory in Kholopov. The emphasis is on the etymology of the word theory--theon horao, inner vision of God, seeing the invisible, epiphany, etc. In general, I am ready to defend theory as such, not related to practice (comositional, performance, reception, etc.). However, the theory in Platonic and neo-Pythagorean interpretation deals with the eidetic aspects and has nothing in common with mimesis or modelling. Theory is a 26-centuries-old love affair of theology, philosophy, science and music. Minsky, AI, z-sets--all are welcome, but not before the heritage of these 26 centuries with the roots in ancient Greece.

    • @S_Soderberg. Stephen, my intention in all this certainly is neither to be right, not to have the last word. I'll be happy to be proven wrong, but I won't be defeated without fighting, if only because I love the debate. I have now too many things that require an answer, and I'll do so in installments. This is the first one.

      You write:

      It is pretty clear that when fully atonal works began to appear something had to be done on theory's analysis side  since all available theory was incapable of handling them analytically. Scholar-critics don't like to be caught helpless. After making a few astute (analytical) observations, Schoenberg himself lamented this lack in the last chapter of Harmonielehre.

      I presume that you refer here to the very last page and a half of Harmonielehre. It is not obvious to me that Schoenberg laments the lack of a theory, nor that this lacking theory concerns atonal works. What Schoenberg says more specifically concerns the question already raised here of a music that would not be tone-centric. Schoenberg writes (I quote frome the translation by Roy Carter, pp. 421-422):

      In a musical sound three characteristics are recognized: its pitch, color [timbre] and volume. Up to now it has been measured in only one of the three dimensions [...], the one we call 'pitch'. Attempts at measurement in the other dimensions have scarcely been undertaken to date [...]. And, as is evident, we can also get along without such laws. [...] Tone-color melodies! [...] In such a domain, who dares ask for theory!

      But Schoenberg obviously believes that such a theory will come. He also writes:

      Our attention to tone colors is becoming more and more active, is moving closer and closer to the possibility of describing and organizing them. [...] How all that relates to the essence of natural sound we do not know, perhaps we can hardly guess at it yet [...]. What system underlies these progressions?

      Schoenberg evidences here how much he believed in the "natural sound", the sound of nature, a belief so often (and unduly) reproached to Schenker... He also believes one may eventually be in the capacity of quantifying tone colors. [See also Theory of Harmony, pp. 432-433, especially when he mentions "the bidding of a higher power" — Nature?]

      But even today we remain unable to musically quantify (or discretize, it is almost the same) tone colors. It is much easier to theorize about pitch classes modulo 12 (or modulo what you want), because these remain quantifiable. The problem of theory and of analysis becomes crucial when dealing with the "music of sounds" (Leigh Landy and others).

      Here, all what I said before about theory and analysis may fail, but I do not think that there exists an easy solution: what we need is not a novel theory, but a novel definition of "theory". The answer might reside in fuzzy sets and fuzzy logic, but this is a bit too much for me. I will have enough to occupy my remaining years with the kind of theories I have been busy with up to now.

      I hope that what I write here does not boil down to anything similar to declaring some works "non-music" (I am wary about that, because it would only mean that I am getting too old). I do believe that at some point we might be in need of a fundamentally different theory, for a fundamentally different type of music. Structuralism is still too close to allow that. And, obviously, maximally even scales or Z-related sets remain note-centric.



    • Dear Stephen, I am amazed by your clarification. Indeed, why theorists do what they do? For what end? Fux's example strikes me as very interesting. So, seemingly impractical theory is intended for composers, while seemingly pragmanic analysis is intended for general use, for the overall education of masses. I think I can side with that. Moreover, I find the criticism of Rameau, voiced by Fetis, a little bit pretensious. He writes that M. Rameau created some sort of abstract scientific concept that lacks practical application. In fact, Rameau did not create much, and it was not that abstract. If we are to take the model of catechism, a dialogue between the teacher and the student, from Fux, then, for Rameau's time the only collocutor would be J. S. Bach. He completed WTC1 in 1721, and Rameau published his treatise in 1722. Who is the teacher, and who is the student here? It may look like Rameau is the teacher (good or bad) and Bach is the student (composer). However, I have a strong feeling that Rameau did not invent the bass fondamentale: he picked it up from Bach's music, in which the clear-cut TSDT syntax shows up, perhaps, for the first time in history of music. All this goes in defence of music theory as such.

    • @S_Soderberg A second partial answer. You write:

      My contention is that Gradus, as well as Rameau's Traité and similar texts spanning hundreds of years were originally intended as composition insruction manuals, not guides to the analysis of extant music

      This indeed seems inescapable. In the case of Fux, however, one may wonder why Josephus (Fux) turns to Palestrina, a composer who died more than a century before, to learn composition, while so many had produced all sorts of musical theories in between. Why is it, in addition, that Fux' examples and exercises appear based on diatonic modes, and almost never include any accidental, while he recognizes, in the last chapter of Book I, that the music of his time mixes the diatonic and chromatic genres? Isn't this the result of (a) an attentive reading (i.e. some kind of analysis) of Palestrina's music, and (b) a belief that this music, even if it is not to be imitated (because it is outdated), nevertheless can be inspiring?

      Of course, the Gradus was intended as a composition instruction manual, there is little doubt about that (Rameau's Traité, on the other hand, is quite explicitly a treatise about continuo playing, I think); but that does not prevent it from being heavily based on analysis. You rightly note that analysis as an independent discipline (analysis for itself) didn't really exist before the 20th century; Ian Bent's New Grove article would largely confirm that. But that does not mean that analysis did not exist before (often under other names, though).

      @IldarKhannanov [Ildar, I trust that Fetis' criticism against Rameau was not directed against the Traité, but rather against the naturalist theories that he later developed, concerning the résonance of harmonic partials. These frontally contradicted Fétis' own idea that tonality was "metaphysical", i.e. was not based on physical (acoustical) properties of sound. As to Rameau and Bach, and Bach and the basse fondamentale, there would be a lot to add...]

      @S_Soderberg again:

      The composer was at the center of the music theory enterprise in the past. That came to an abrupt end in the 20th century...

      Well, I think this is only partly true. It the 19th-century Paris Conservatoire, for instance (but the Paris Conservatoire was then more than merely an instance among others), for a long time, the classes in "composition" reduced to the study of two topics, counterpoint and fugue, after which the student received the advice to do for the best with that. This was based on the idea that anyone able to practice "strict writing" would be able to perform "free writing" as well. We may not enough realize today how important this idea was for Schenker, even as late as 1935 when he finally (posthumously) produced Der freie Satz. I am afraid much of the teaching in the Paris Conservatoire today still sticks to that idea, as do many of us who today teach harmony and counterpoint to composers.

      True classes of compositions appeared only in the late 19th century. One of the most famous ones in the Paris Conservatoire was Messiaen's class of ... analysis!

      A last point: I have been almost exactly the teacher that you describe at the end of your posting, teaching (with colleagues) the history of theory; we started from the Middle Ages rather than from Rameau, and stopped somewhat later than Schenker; and we always doubled all that by classes of analysis of music of the same periods (I gave the Middle Ages and Schenker, both theory and analysis). Our purpose always has been to transmit ideas, which we always confronted to what the theorists had said. I hoped to give you examples of what we did, but I realize tonight that our website disappeared (for reasons linked with a change of the status of our research groups). I hope to be able to find back the documents of one of my former students about his classes on 18th- and 19th-century theory.

      [My next installment will concern G.H. Hardy's A Mathematician's Apology.]



    • Dear @Nicolas,

      right–wrong ... win–lose – – these are (again) irrelevant to me – and I think to you. Here is our charge:

      It is not incombent on you to complete the work, but neither are you free to abstain from it. (The Mishnah)

      ... and I put this together with some sage advice from E.E. Cummings:

      and even if it's Sunday may i be wrong

      for when men are right they are not young.


      I will have to subdivide your installments so I can keep up. Here's today's:

      You write:

      You write:

      It is pretty clear that when fully atonal works began to appear something had to be done on theory's analysis side  since all available theory was incapable of handling them analytically. Scholar-critics don't like to be caught helpless. After making a few astute (analytical) observations, Schoenberg himself lamented this lack in the last chapter of Harmonielehre.

      I presume that you refer here to the very last page and a half of Harmonielehre. It is not obvious to me that Schoenberg laments the lack of a theory, nor that this lacking theory concerns atonal works. What Schoenberg says more specifically concerns the question already raised here of a music that would not be tone-centric. Schoenberg writes (I quote frome the translation by Roy Carter, pp. 421-422): ....

      You then proceed to give a summary of what Schoenberg wrote on pp.421-422 by quoting select potions of his text separated by elipses, taking you off into quotes and commentary on color -- interesting, but that's not what I was referring to. It's not irrelevant but it gets ahead of the issue. The poroblem is, I was refering to what came immediately before your choice of what you assumed I was referring to. This is entirely my fault for not being more specific.

      On pp.418-421 (Carter tr.) AS gives specific examples leading to the statement I was thinking of:

      Ex.340 taken from his Erwartung; 343 from Webern's 5 pieces for string quartet; 344 from Schreker's opera Der ferne Klang; 345 from Bartok's Fourteen Bagatelles, op.6, no.10; and 346 from Berg's Vier Lieder op.2, no.4.

      All of these (yes, still "pitch centric") examples, as I indicated about what I understand was happening "in the air" at this time of crisis (Charles Seeger's characterization), are entirely unanalyzable by any theory devised up to that time (even though most of these examples, but not all, had chords of stacked thirds that could, at a stretch, be analyzed vertically as 9ths, 11ths, 13ths, 15ths, etc. (and "quartal theory" fixes won't help). These examples make even less sense when one tries to apply common notions of "voice leading" or "resolution" of "dissonances." He makes a couple of stabs at how the example chords from Erwartung might be "resolved" -- almost convincing but ultimately it just demonstrates the futility & I, at least, can sense a smirk in the text. Neither Roman numerals nor Riemann nor countless other prior theories going back to Greece and God Himself are of any help here; and even Schenker (despite respectful words about Schenker from Schoenberg himself and a later valiant attempt at reconciliation made by Allen Forte) is useless at this point. If things have changed, someone should let me know, but in the ensuing century it has just gotten "worse."

      At this point Schoenberg makes the astute (analytical) observations I referred to -- he was making a leap, actually.

      It seems that the progression of such chords can be justified by the chromatic scale. The chord progression seems to be regulated by the tendency to include in the second chord tones that were missing in the first, generally those a half step higher or lower. Nevertheless, the voices seldom move by half step. Then, I have noticed that tone doublings, octaves, seldom appear, ... etc. etc.

      Then shortly after (just before Nicolas begins his series of quote fragments) AS makes the statement I was referring to (top of p.421) and should have quoted previously:

      Laws apparently prevail here. What they are, I do not know. Perhaps I shall know in a few years. Perhaps someone after me will find them. For the present the most we can do is describe.

      This is where I sense a bit of lamentation. Perhaps that wasn't exactly the right word, but it is nevertheless, to me, Schoenberg wanting to be Aaron but realizing he may be Moses -- allowed only a glimpse of the Promised Land.

      I suppose I read too much into this. But I recall a conversation with Milton Babbitt. I was saying that I felt that Schoenberg was continually trying to make connections to the past - to justify his own work by making it appear to be an evolution from the masters (the next logical and natural though admittedly  difficult step), thus providing a legitimacy to it that would eventually be recognized on that basis; but in fact his work was a radical break with the past -- more than a revolution, actually.

      Milton just smiled at me and said, "Exactly."

      (This proves nothing, but it's a nice story. (And I still have my own bone to pick with Milton (but not here)).)

      I hope this clarifies the point I was trying to make (more clarification to come). I have never tried to say or meant to imply that analysis has no role in theory. To attack my position on that line will go nowhere. Again, what I am saying is that any music theory that does not account for the creative act that provides analysis with something to analyze is not necessarily wrong (though it may be, given the circumstances); but it is most certainly incomplete - and as such is at risk for becoming entirely useless, unless it recognizes and accepts other models/theories and their associated works.


    • Dear Nicolas, this discussion is rich and fascinating, but I received a side note in your post above that contains pretty subjective judgments. First of all, you wrote: "Rameau's Traité, on the other hand, is quite explicitly a treatise about continuo playing, I think." Thank you for adding "I think" at the end and, please, allow me to disagree with that. Moreover, this sounds like an offence to me and looks like the sign of ideology. I know where this is coming from. I would  reply to you that Treatise on Harmony is not and has never been a mere book on continuo playing. Now I remember that Schenker called this Treatise a Buchlein. I can forgive him this major misinterpretation (he did not study at the Conservatory), but in your words this sounds quite menacing.

      As for Fetis, we all read his book on harmony on other texts. Allow me to disagree with your distinction. Nowere in the texts of Fetis one can find and document a distinction, saying that he appreciated Treatise and criticized solely Generation or any later books of Rameau. In fact, what Fetis criticizes in the beginning of his book on harmony is pretty clear: he did not like the scientific aspect of Rameau's theory (which was present in all Rameau's writings, includin Treatise) and, what is interesting, Fetis suggests as a solution going back to continuo playing. In this, by the way, Fetis seems to resonate with Schenker's critique of Rameau. Yes, later in the text Fetis also suggests that harmony should be based on metaphysics, but that metaphysics in his interpretation is linked to the continuo tradition. He also mentioned in another place that Catel did not even understand anything about Rameau and he, Fetis, at least understands his main premises. In general, I find it fascinating how Fetis remained undecided about theory of harmony. Half of him wanted to develop it further (including the concept of tonalite) and half of him was anchored in good old conservatory tradition of Rameau-haters.

      I can answer to your intentional misconceptions about Rameau's treatise with a poke: no, Rameau's Treatise was not about continuo playing; most of Schenker's books, on the other hand, were exactly about this obsolete practice: not many composers and performers were infatuated with continuo playing in the first half of the 20th century. That is why Schenker was not a noticeable figure during his lifetime.

      Please, do not take my poke too seriously, it is a joke. However, let us not misconstrue the facts of history of music theory in order to fit them into current ideology.

    • Dear Ildar, I fail to see in what sense you may view my comments as an offence to you (or a "menace", or the expression of an ideology). I don't understand why you want to heat the debate like that, and I won't follow you on that track.

      About Rameau, you are right and my short parenthesis about the Traité should have been more explicit. I think that Rameau's theories originated as a critique of the règle de l'octave, that Rameau first thought that continuo playing would be easier with a conscience of the inversion of chords (which drastically reduces the number of different chords to consider), that therefore the root was more important than the real bass, etc. Once again, you are right: these ideas which at first were concerned with figured bass eventually turned into a theory of harmony and of composition.

      On Schenker calling the Traité a Büchlein, I am surprised. The only Büchlein mentioned in Harmonielehre and in Der freie Satz is Bach's Generalbassbüchlein. I chekked most of his other writings (the two volumes of Kontrapunkt, the ten volumes of Tonwille and the three volumes of Meisterwerk) without finding any reference to Rameau's Traité as a Büchlein. I'd be interested, if you could provide a more specific reference.

      As to Fétis, similarly, I searched in vain through his Cours complet for the text(s) you mention. On p. 6 (of the 9th edition), he writes, comparing Rameau and Catel:

      if, on one side, I found a more philosophical method in the writings of Rameau, I saw the natural facts of the art tormented to make them agree with the principle of a system; and, on the other side, if Catel did present an order of facts more conforming to the feeling of harmony and to the practical devices of the art, this advantage was counterbalanced by a purely empiric method, of which the illusory fundation rested on arbitrary divisions of a string.

      Is that what you have in mind? I can nowhere find Fétis "going back to continuo playing". On the contrary, he derides the French, saying that

      if they had been able to understand that the work of Rameau went to no less than creating the fundations of a philosophical science of harmony, the idea would have seemed to them so farcical (bouffonne) that it would certainly have turned the object of their mocking. This disposition of mind was a long way from the one needed to receive the Traité de l'Harmonie with the interest that it was worthy of inspiring. (pp. 201-2)

      I am always eager to learn, Ildar, and if you can provide more precise references, I'll be delighted. [Note, about the chekkings I made for Schenker and Fétis, that I have all these texts in electronic format, which allows me quick automatic checks – just in case you wondered how I did that.]



    • Every once in a while I need to leave the lecture hall & stretch my legs. But now I'm a bit worried Zhdanov himself will be there waiting when I return. So I think it's best if I now just go home, pour a scotch, and read the Phaedo (it is, after all, Lent, and I just received this tweet: "@Crito we ought 2 offer a cock 2 Asclepius. See 2 it & dont forget #bucketlist".)

      Again, many thanks to @Nicolas for opening up to a lively discussion. I have left a (partly) tongue-in-cheek note concerning this thread on a recent post at E&EN .



    • Dear Stephen, You asked for it! Here is some Zhdanov for you:

      Songs of the people, as musical organisms, not the compositions of certain musical-creative talents, but the works of the whole nation, are different in every fiber of their structures. They are far from artificial music, from the results of conscious imitations of the models, from the products of schools, science, routine and reflection. They are the flowers of this particular soil, spawned to the world immediately in their entire splendor, without a slightest idea of authorship and, therefore, having little in common with greenhouse products of composer’s activity.[1]

      It is not that much different from Joh. Herder's views on folk song, though. And it is pertinent to your ideas on theory as helper for composers. So, there is another helper for them. It comes from the forests, mountains and steppes.

      P.S. Dear Nicolas, I am on the train in Siberia, cannot carry all my library with me. Will be back with the answers to your questions, with legally binding quotations.


      [1]          Andrey Nikolayevich Zhdanov, “Vystuplenie na Soveshchanii Deyateley Sovetskoi Muzyki v TsK VKPb v yanvare 1948go goda” [Appearance at the Meeting of the Workers of Soviet Music in January of 1948], in: Sovetskaya Muzyka [Soviet Music] (February 1948), p. 19.

    • I will leave just one more comment. I rather doubt very many readers of a music theory discussion list based mostly in the U.S. will have come across the name Zhdanov, a name I dropped half in jest & (halfway) regretted afterward. So I expected indignation at the comparison and was prepared to apologize. What I got instead was a shock from what amounts to a defence of Zhdanovism alive and well(?) in the year 2015. I was having a great deal of difficulty understanding just where Ildar was coming from. But then this. Теперь я понял!! (I said, slapping my forehead)

      Please note that Ildar quoted VERY selectively from a Soviet document that ought to be read in its entirety by every student of the arts and humanities today, but he did not include a link to the entire document. Assuming the Andrey Nikolayevich quoted by Ildar is in fact Andrey Aleksandrovich Zhdanov, the document Ildar quoted from can be found here in its entirety in English: "On Literature, Music and Philosophy." I do hope everyone will read it through, including the condemnation of those producing "artificial music," such as Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Khatchaturyan, Kabalevsky and others. This is not a Russian document, it is a Soviet document.

      It is certainly possible to state a version of what Ildar has quoted and defend it on its own merits (which is not to say it will prevail). But once you quote Zhdanov as an authority and a reason to accept this idea, you must take the "Coryphaeus of Science" and "Gardiner of Human Happiness" along with him. Say what you will about the problem of separating the man Wagner from his music, or Schenker from his theory, or Picasso from his paintings – there is no separating Zhdanov from Stalin. And Zhdanov can't be resurrected  and his words cherry-picked simply because a rival out-Zhdanoved him; Stalin had him committed & quite likely killed & the poor fellow was just trying to follow the party line.

      Finally, however one might tie oneself in knots trying to love and teach Shostakovich or Prokofiev at the same time one is trying to recalibrate and defend poor misunderstood victimized Zhdanov, one ought to consider also two of Zhdanov's other brilliant additions to the humanities, his "Speech at a Conference of Soviet Philosophical Workers" and his "Speech at the First All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers" (also included in the link given above). One can't separate the three of these statements. The latter especially, on poetry & literature, is particularly deadly (literally: consider that all this Zhdanovist "theory" was accompanied by actions). One of the greatest (in my opinion) of the Soviet-era poets, Anna Akhmatova, was singled out by Zhdanov. It is only fitting that I add here a quote by Ildar's Zhdanov.

      Anna Akhmatova is one of the representatives of this idea-less reactionary morass in literature. She belongs to the “Acmeist” literary group, who in their day emerged from the ranks of the Symbolists and she is one of the standard bearers of the meaningless, empty-headed, aristocratic-salon school of poetry, which has no place whatever in Soviet literature. The Acmeists represented an extremely individualistic trend in art. They preached “Art for Art’s sake”, “Beauty for Beauty’s sake”, and had no wish to know anything about the people and the people’s needs and interests, or about social life. ....

      Akhmatova’s subject-matter is individualistic to the core. The range of her poetry is sadly limited; it is the poetry of a spoilt woman-aristocrat, frenziedly vacillating between boudoir and chapel. Her main emphasis is on erotic love-themes interwoven with notes of sadness, longing, death, mysticism, fatality. A sense of fatality (quite comprehensible in a dying group), the dismal tones of a deathbed hopelessness, mystical experiences shot with eroticism, make up Akhmatova’s spiritual world; she is a left-over from the world of the old aristocracy now irrevocably past and gone, the world of “Catherine’s good old days”. It would be hard to say whether she is a nun or a fallen woman; better perhaps say she is a bit of each, her desires and her prayers intertwined.

      And then – [I love this] – to prove his point, he quotes:

      “But I vow by the garden of angels, 

      By the miraculous icon I vow, 

      I vow by the child of our passion...”

      – from Anno Domini, by Anna Akhmatova.

      Such is Akhmatova, with her petty, narrow personal life, her paltry experiences, and her religiously mystical eroticism.

      Her poetry is far removed from the people. It is the poetry of the ten thousand members of the elite society of the old aristocratic Russia. whose hour has long since struck and left them with nothing to do but sigh for “the good old days”, for the country estates of Catherine’s time, with their avenues of ancient lime trees, their fountains, their statues, their arches, their greenhouses, summer-houses and crumbling coats of arms, for aristocratic St. Petersburg, for Tsarskoye Selo, for the railway station in Pavlovsk, and for other relics of the nobility’s culture. All of these have vanished into the irredeemable past. The few representatives of this culture, so foreign to the spirit of the people, who have by some miracle lived on into our own times, can do nothing but shut themselves up in themselves and live with chimeras. “All has been plundered, betrayed and sold”, writes Akhmatova.

      So one might well ask what I, a non-Russian, consider to be genuine "Russian" vs Zhdanov's mystical art of the Soviet people who Stalin alone knows when he sees it. In my well-worn two volume copy of Akhmatova's poetry there is a photograph of a small notebook. The pages appear to be made of birch bark. The caption reads: "Handmade prisoner's notebook with Akhmatova poem committed to memory (Zh. 186)" Evidently the Russian people had their own ideas about Acmeism & formalism.



    • Yes, horrible Zhdanov. How could I! Well, I have found another paragraph, but I do not remember, who wrote it, Zhdanov or, maybe, Goebbels himself:

      Betrayal was perpetrated on their own territory: by a spiritually and morally venal fringe group, which—when not treasonously exploiting the market, and racketeering as manufacturers, merchants, framers, etc.—were obeying the law whereby human commoplaceness ever lusts after other commonplaceness by selling itself body and soul to the West, to the disadvantage of the fatherland, its dignity, and its future, the very epitome of human commonplaceness, its tawdry form concealing an even more trivial spirit beneath, and in this sense of the word concealing by form, lying by form.

      By certain ballad-mongers of intellectualism, certain “world citizens with love for the fatherland,” representatives of a spiritual half-world who, lacking any truly national feeling, let alone love for the fatherland, were incapable even of discovering for themselves how the exalted world citizenship of our greatest poets and thinkers is rooted primarily in a keenly felt, deep-running Germanity; and whose unprincipledness it served to make out a quintessentially German poet such as Goethe, Jean Paul, Hölderlin, etc., as just the opposite: anti-German, un-German.


      And, what is Germanity?

    • Ildar, your quotation, as you perfectly know, is from Schenker, "Von der Sendung des deutschen Genies", in Tonwille 1 (Ian Bent's translation). Your attitude in all this is despicable. Schenker's political opinions cannot serve as an excuse for Zhdanov's. Neither is excusable, but they are not of the same kind.



    • No, nothing can serve as an excuse. Still, who are these people Schenker writes about? Venal fringe group? There is a playful footnote to this paragraph, but it explains Schenker's ideas on form. There is no footnote that explicates the object of vicious attacks in these paragraphs. After that I have to ask, why is this book kept in our libraries? This is a legal question.

    • By 1948 Acmeism was not the most urgent problem, by the way. Using women as horses, since there was famine and no tractors to plough the ground--that was the overwhelming question. My grandmother worked as a horse, she pulled the plough.  As for the aristocratic culture, the struggle between social realists and formalist was not clearly defined along the social lines. Those who were on the formalist side and who were criticized were not exactly Shostakovich and Prokofiev, The critique was directed at the members of Composer's Union, such as Marian Koval, Vano Muradely and folks alike. These were not Russian aristocrats; rather, they were the sons of Polygraph Sharikov, the guy who expropriated the appartment of Professor Preobrazhensky in 1918. So, these things are a bit more complicated.

      Still, I would not like to see the writings of Zhdanov in my library. I provided a quote to Stephen to fend off his attemts at an unwelcome joke. However, the other guy I quoted (what is his name?) probably also does not deserve to be exposed to students.

    • Ildar wrote

      Still, I would not like to see the writings of Zhdanov in my library. I provided a quote to Stephen to fend off his attemts at an unwelcome joke. However, the other guy I quoted (what is his name?) probably also does not deserve to be exposed to students.

      I had resolved to just let this go (the theory debate such as it was is long over & I already said I was ready to apologize when Ildar suddenly took it out of the category of a bad joke and into a grotesque reality), but as a retired librarian (forget my non-position as closet music theorist) I have to say this last statement is disgusting. It's not about music theory or spirited debate, it's about censorship. He's all yours. You own him. And now I really AM done with this. 

    • Dear Stephen, please, do not jump into conclusions. Censorship is bad, I am not supporting it. Double standards are also anacceptable. Reality is grotesque, so grotesque, you would not believe it. Please, do not call me Zhdanov, ever more, it is disgusting. I have shown you, just how disgusting it can get. So, with that said, please, let us continue useful exchange concerning theory and analysis.

    • In this thread, some interesting contributions from Ildar, Nicolas, Stephen.

      However, it appears that references to Zhdanov are incendiary and probably unnecessary (there are artists and philosophers who can be referenced in his place)


      Isaac Malitz, Ph.D.




    • As in Einstein's theory of relativity, motion is relative to the observer.  We are all looking at music theory from different vantage points - we all see in [it] musical theory reflections of our own experience relative to our own knowledge, limitations, education, musicianship.  The objects are there - notes.  But as is often the case in art and science - revelations discovered are often [previously] invisible or non observable - not deduced from direct observation.  Quantum mechanics is an example of the unpredictability of matter.  The fact that we are all contributing to the debate from various perspectives further illuminates Isaac's statement that in complex matters more viewpoints or models are a good thing and a natural strategy for problem solving to boot.  Thinking outside the box is one of the most important rules for creative thinking/problem solving according to my research.  If we remain in the box we might be surprised to find our theories are no longer relative or relegated to dead languages!  Maybe such an approach to musical analysis would be beneficial as a model.  Suppose that a composer, theorist, performer, historian, and educator all analysed the same piece of music and contributed their conclusions towards an understanding of the whole?  They would not all use the same language, but perspectives missed by one group might be illuminated by another.  

    • Let us wipe out reference to Zhdanov, and to some parts of Schenker's writings that you would not write home about. Thank Heavens that we do not live in the times of trouble, before the Great War.

      I have a suggestion about theory, its current state. Perhaps, we went a little bit too far with diversity and multiplicity of basic assumptions (core assumptions). It looks like there is a desire to create a Unified System, similar to Unified Field Theory in physics. After a long period of observation of Schenkerian doctrine, I came to a conclusion that Schenker was right about the skewed interpretation of harmony by his immediate predecessors. Indeed, the old tonal-functional system aknowledged other parameters (such as NCT embellishments and local prolongations) but the attention of theorists was dedicated solely to the functional syntaxis of chord progression. Well, the opposite extreme position, the explanation of eveything by reference to embellishment by Schenkerians, is also quite single-sided. What if we try to unite three heterogeneous forces into one hybrid system: tonal function--prolongation--embellishment? And cause-effect relationship is presented in this triad from left to right. Tonal function generates motion, which results in prolongation, which then spills over to the low-level melodic embellishments outside the harmonic context. We can propose that all three work together and complement each other. The analogy, which I would like to use, is the fact that we see some cars moving on the streets. It is very natural to assume that cars move because their wheels turn, and this would be a sufficienc explanation for most pedestrians around. Turning wheels is an analogy of voice leading. However, we know that wheels turn because there is a source of energy, an engine. That engine is invisible, hidden under the hood, but nevertheless, it is of fundamental importance. And there are various types of engines (internal combustion, diesel, hybrid, electric, hydrogene, gas turbies, ets.) So, I would compare the functional meaning of a chord (dominantness of the dominant) to the engine that moves everything and generates prolongations. And, each composer creates his or her own engine--that causes the birth of various styles and genres of music. Therefore, the engine can be not only a function of a chord, but something else.  I disagree with the idea that there is an Ursatz and an Urlinie, though, because voice leading is an effect, and not the cause of structural development in music. I would look in Fetis for the support of this hybrid system, since he supported Rameau, but obviously preferred Kirnberger for the final explanation of the linear structure.