Five Graphic Music Analyses by Heinrich Schenker
These analyses (Bach, Ich bin's, ich sollte büssen and Prelude no.1, book 1; Haydn, development of Sonata H. xvi, 49; Chopin, Etudes op.10 nos.8 and 12) were first published in 1933 and now reappear handsomely paperbound and presented in the best Dover style. Like most pictures they are more readily viewed than reviewed; and Schenker's ideas are by definition indefinable. No wonder his writings were ignored or misunderstood for so long; their medium was not the message. Fortunately his prose style was bound sooner or later to drive its author as well as its readers to wordless analysis, if only in self-defence. Even his accredited English translation reads like a parody of German musicology. “The scale-steps have intercourse only among themselves” - how unlike our own prohibited degrees. And how true it is to say that ‘The sentence "Father rode his horse through the woods" makes a different impression from other possible versions of that same sentence: "His horse rode father through the woods".' it would certainly make a different impression on father.
In contrast, the new introduction and glossary by Felix Salzer seem lucid and cogent. So, in my view, are Schenker's analyses. They might be said to consist in the simultaneous multi-perceptional presentation of spatio-temporal interconnection, for what that is worth. What they show is germ-idea and living form, which is worth a lot. But of course all such words are clumsy forceps which damage new conceptions at birth. One sees why diagrams are needed; and with their help we can see (if not say) what Schenker saw in music, and what people see in him.
But it must be said that his musical X-ray diffraction techniques, however penetrating, are valid only for those who share his view that art and nature are deeply interfused. Unfortunately this philosophy is even more vulnerable to misunderstanding and parody than his prose style. It is not so far on the Hintergrund via the Urlinie to some private creation myth where matter, light and mind become doh, ray and me (no doubt respectively). These analyses will surely give some people an ineffable sense of insight into sound; oh world inaudible, we view thee. But how does one answer the commonsense objection that music cannot really have a background which is more readily seen than heard, that the Ursatz is at best Ersatz? One can only say: try it and see.
The Musical Times, Feb. 1971 (p. 140) © the estate of eric sams