Dissertation Index

Author: Väisälä, Olli

Title: Prolongation in Early Post-Tonal Music: Analytical Examples and Theoretical Principles

Institution: Sibelius Academy

Begun: unspecified

Completed: June 2004


The studies that compose this dissertation analyze a selection of pieces of early post-tonal music (by Debussy, Scriabin, Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern) on the basis of the notion of prolongation. They also discuss extensively the theoretical principles of post-tonal prolongation and, to some extent, the relationships of these principles with psychoacoustical phenomena.

Prolongation is a key notion in Schenkerian analysis of conventionally tonal music, and there have been various attempts to generalize this notion to meet the demands of post-tonal music. However, whereas conventional Schenkerian analysis is regulated by well-defined theoretical principles related to the normative referential position of the triad, purported prolongational analyses of post-tonal music have, in general, remained unsatisfactory, owing to the lack of comparable theoretical principles. The present studies determine such principles for the selection of works analyzed, on the basis of non-triadic referential harmonies.

The theoretical discussion draws on Joseph Straus\'s (1987) four conditions for prolongation, a well-known formulation of pitch-based functional norms required by prolongation. However, the approach differs from Straus\'s in its conception of harmonies and intervals, by incorporating aspects outside the purview of pitch-class set theory; it turns out that this decisively improves the prospects for post-tonal prolongation. Two such aspects are discussed. The first is registration; it is argued that registral distinctions (such as between certain complementary intervals) are crucial for functional distinctions in almost any kind of prolongational organization. The second — which pertains to a more limited repertoire — is rootedness, a property stemming from approximate correspondences between musical intervals and those in the harmonic series. Theoretical principles, such as these two aspects, are considered from two angles: how they illuminate the works analyzed, and how they relate with perceptual (psychoacoustical) principles.

In the present selection of compositions, the theoretical foundation enables prolongational analyses whose descriptive power is largely comparable to that of conventional Schenkerian analyses. While several of the theoretical principles are likely to have general significance for the illumination of musical organization in comparable repertoire, only further studies can decide the extent to which this illumination actually amounts to the revelation of prolongational structures.

Keywords: Post-tonal prolongation, register, rootedness, psychoacoustics, Debussy, Schoenberg, Scriabin, Berg, Webern


1. Introduction, 2. Analysis, Theory, and Psychoacoustics, 3. The Concept of Prolongation, 4. Conception of Harmonies and Intervals, 5. Connections between Psychoacoustics and Musical Organization, 6. Concluding Remarks on Theoretical Principles and Analytical Results; Three articles attached: I Concepts of Harmony and Prolongation in Schoenberg\'s Op. 19/2 (Music Theory Spectrum 21 [1999]: 230-59); II Prolongation of Harmonies Related to the Harmonic Series in Early Post-Tonal Music (Journal of Music Theory 46 (2002): 207—283), New Theories and Fantasies on the Music of Debussy: Post-Triadic Prolongation in Ce qu\'a vu l vent d\'ouest and Other Examples (draft; final version published in Cadwallader [ed.], Essays from the Third International Schenker Symposium [Hildesheim: Olms, 2006])


Porttitie 4B, 02180 ESPOO, Finland

     Return to dissertations