Author: Chong, Eddy K. M.
Title: Extending Schenker’s Neue musikalische Theorien und Phantasien: Towards a Schenkerian
Institution: University of Rochester, Eastman School of Music
Completed: May 2002
Ravel’s strong grounding in the traditional techniques of harmony and counterpoint suggests that his music might be amenable to Schenkerian analysis. Indeed, a close look at Schenker’s triptych Neue musikalische Theorien und Phantasien reveals a way to extend his methods without departing from his original conceptual framework. The latter involves: (1) the Law of Consonance and the Postulate of Melodic Fluency as the two fundamental principles (Urgesetze) of harmony and voice leading; (2) various basic harmonic concepts and voice-leading archetypes (Urbegriffe); and (3) the concepts of free composition and essential counterpoint, both of which are ontologically distinct from each other and from strict counterpoint. All these elements operate under his motto: “Sempre idem sed non eodem modo.”
A selection of Ravel’s solo-piano works shows that many of the surface dissonant sonorities, as well as (in Schenkerian terms) unusual middlegrounds and foregrounds, arise from the extended use of such Urbegriffe as passing tones and displacements. At times, daring use of implied tones and mixture (Mischung) characterizes the voice leading. As for parallels, many of the surface ones are, ontologically, non-essential doublings; otherwise, essential parallels are typically either eliminated through foreground means or mitigated according to Schenker’s inter-level justification. Finally, repetition (Wiederholung and Gliederung) accounts for certain otherwise atypical harmonic progressions. In all the cases examined, the fundamental principles are never violated and no new forms of Ursatz need to be introduced.
The implicit claim here is that Schenker’s all-important motto holds for the Ravel pieces examined. The preservation of the Urgesetze and Urbegriffe upholds the sempre idem component of Schenker’s motto whereas the proposed extensions demonstrate the sed non eodem modo theoretical necessity. Ravel’s tonal language is presented as a dialect akin, but not equivalent, to the tonal language(s) of the common-practice period. In other words, the Schenkerian Fernhören is possible with Ravel's music.
Keywords: Ravel's piano music, Impressionist, Schenker, Urgesetze and Urbegriffe, Sempre idem sed non eodem modo, parallels/consecutives, mixture/Mischungen, displacement, Wiederholungen and Gliederungen, Fernhören
1. Setting up the Schenkerian Apparatus
2. Parallel Constructions
3. Extended Tertian chords, Altered Chords, and Other Dissonant Harmonies
4. Impressionist Musical Syntax and Forms
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