From Class

Other Resources


Disclaimer: In these readings, Schaffer introduces the music theorist Heinrich Schenker (d. 1921). As you all know, many prominent historical figures are persons that have/had controversial viewpoints; sometimes these views are ignored or even argued to be superseded due to a person’s accomplishments.

Heinrich Schenker’s theoretical writings underpin a large part of North American music theory, and are highly ingrained in the language and approaches we use to talk about (common-practice) tonal music. Schenkerian theory is often a required course for many music masters students across North American universities. Much of the terminology we use in class stems from his disseminated writings and outgrowths of this work, including translations of his original terms – terms like prolongation, structural lines/tones, linear progressions, harmonic elaborations.

However, Schenker is an extremely problematic individual: he was a colossal racist, classist, and chauvinist. Despite being Jewish and living during the rise of Nazism. He believed that German (and Jewish) elite society was the only one capable of understanding/creating real truth, knowledge, and beauty. In many cases, students do not know about Schenker’s viewpoints, and teachers fail to mention them. His writings have been translated in ways that veil the true intent of his language, or problematic parts are merely redacted from published translations. Sources like his Wikipedia article paint him like, perhaps, a curmudgeonly guy that just didn’t like certain types of music. But, in fact, Schenker used his musical theory and its assertions to corroborate the superiority of (Classical) Austro-German music over others (including popular music, folk music, and non-German classical music). He wrote that only Jewish/German people are capable of true genius; Beethoven of course was the epitome of all composers and, basically, was God’s conduit for musical composition. While most of his written prejudices were toward “non-German” Europeans, he also wrote vile things explicitly about black people.

We will be discussing some of these aspects of Schenker but I wanted to give you this preface. And also, if you wanted to read more about his worldviews, here are some resources. Note that some materials/writings you find by Schenker (or discussions of him) will be offensive, so just beware.