The cultural context of the theories of Heinrich Schenker

Whittle, Barbara (1994). The cultural context of the theories of Heinrich Schenker. PhD thesis The Open University.



The thesis presents Schenker's theory of musical structure as grounded in the (mainly pedagogic) music theory and practice of the eighteenth century, like the music of the period of German classicism to which it relates. It argues that Scheriker was right to see his theory as having a wider significance than the strictly music-theoretical, and that the music-structural concept which he elaborated and codified is inseparable from the work as a whole. Set apart from the aesthetic and cultural outlook from which it emerged, the historical and critical studies of the repertory and of the theoretical literature, it may still be usable, but it is profoundly impoverished and loses the very particular meaning it had for Schenker.

The thesis proposes that while Schenker' s formulation of his structural concept is unique,. the concept itself is not, but was a cultural property which Schenker re-discovered and that it is in this re-discovery as much as in the thing itself that the significance of his work resides.

The view of Schenker as an eccentric is counterbalanced by a picture of a thinker moulded by experiences anything but unique to him, but, nevertheless unique to a particular historical phase. It is suggested that in the absence of a minimal degree of understanding of this phase and these experiences no judgement of Schenker as thinker,' writer, even musician, can properly be made.

Chapter One gives a brief account of Schenker' s career. Chapter Two attempts to define a context for his exploration of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century pedagogic theory. Chapter Three attempts to dispose of sane mid-century shibboleths inhibiting understanding of Schenker. Chapter Four explores the radical changes in the character of musical scholarship taking place in Schenker' s lifetime, relating these to developments in other fields, especially in philology, and considers their effect on him. Chapter Five considers Schenker' s attitude towards aesthetic and scientific theories in circulation in his day and their contribution to the formulation of his music-structural concept and its development. The main focus of this chapter is the metaphysics of music of Schopenhauer. Chapter Six examines sane of the problems arising from Schenker' S historical-cultural situation and considers the enabling role played for him by the work of Nietzsche.

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