Dissertation Index

Author: Arndt, Matthew

Title: Schenker and Schoenberg on the Tone and the Genius

Institution: University of Wisconsin—Madison

Begun: June 2005

Completed: August 2008


Comparative treatments of Heinrich Schenker’s and Arnold Schoenberg’s ideas have restricted themselves almost exclusively to the area of tonal theory and analysis, at times emphasizing differences stemming from their seemingly opposite historical orientations as tonal antiquary and post-tonal luminary. But if we listen carefully to the figurative and extramusical aspects of Schenker’s and Schoenberg’s work, in each case we can detect the faint signal of a comprehensive theory of music as a determination of a theory of reality. These theories motivate and shape their writings, music, and actions; thus by neglecting these signals, we have inadequately understood both the context and the content of their work. We have also failed to perceive the deep consanguinity between Schenker and Schoenberg, which goes far beyond the area of tonal theory and analysis. This dissertation aims to amplify these faint signals, explicate these theories, and relate their practical consequences.

Taking as a starting point Schenker’s and Schoenberg’s Harmonielehren, I demonstrate that the most fundamental elements of their theories of music, the tone and the genius, are essentially the same, and that in each case these elements define a process of musical reflection—for the one, paralyzing, and for the other, blinding: Schenker is barred from composing, and Schoenberg is bereft of the light of God. Whereas Schenker interprets his condition as the sign of a music-historical breakdown, Schoenberg interprets his condition as necessitating a music-historical breakthrough. Thus the tonal and post-tonal eras are not realities toward which Schenker and Schoenberg orient themselves as loyalist and revolutionary—they are Schenker’s and Schoenberg’s own inventions. Schenker and Schoenberg are not divided by history—they are united by their division of history. Inasmuch as our discipline presupposes this division, its peculiar metaphysical basis ought to give us pause.

Keywords: metaphor, interruption, musical idea, self-expression, evolution, developing variation, atonal music, twelve-tone music, "Ich darf nicht dankend" Op. 14 No. 1, Sechs Kleine Klavierstücke (Six Little Piano Pieces) Op. 19


Part I. Schenker and Schoenberg on the Tone
Chapter 1. The View of the Ground Tone
Section 1a. Schenker on Tonal Life
Section 1b. Schoenberg on Tonal Life
Section 1c. Tonal Painting and Tonal Language
Chapter 2. Marginal Distortion
Section 2a. The Tonal Center
Section 2b. The Tonal Periphery

Part II. Schenker on the Genius
Chapter 3. The Eye of the Genius
Section 3a. The Realization of the Idea
Section 3b. Self-Realization
Section 3c. The Realization of Mankind
Chapter 4. Double Vision
Section 4a. The Meta-Theory of Synthesis
Section 4b. The Theory of Synthesis

Part III. Schoenberg on the Genius
Chapter 5. Snow Blindness
Section 5a. Penetrating the Supersensual
Section 5b. Penetrating the Tone
Section 5c. Penetrating Cold
Chapter 6. Enucleation
Section 6a. Catch-22
Section 6b. The Aftermath


Matthew Arndt
University of Iowa School of Music
Iowa City, IA 52242

Date Listed: 07/02/2009

     Return to dissertations