Shaving Schenker

Bengt Edlund

Abstract


The title of the paper is explained by the fact that “Occam’s razor” is applied to Schenkerian analysis. The guiding idea of this critical assessment of the metodology of tonal analysis is that several concepts in Schenkerian theory, and the analytical artifices associated with them, violate a basic principle in scientific/scholarly work: the law of parsimony. One should not increase,

beyond what is necessary, the number of postulates required to explain a phenomenon. The problem addressed by Occam’s principle is of course aggravated to the point of giving rise to an evil circle if the auxiliary ideas influence, or even predetermine, the analytical results – results that are then used as evidence for the theory. Schenker’s reading of the main theme of the third movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in D minor, Op. 31. No. 2, is chosen to demonstrate this criticism. It is first shown how ideas like “unfolding”, “covering”, added virtual notes, and the preference for stepwise motions, combine to produce a local fundamental structure that perfectly complies to a Schenkerian. Then, working bottom/up without preconceived notions as to how tonal music must be organized, an alternative analysis is proposed. Three subtly different structures emerge, structures that are hidden away by the standardized Schenkerian approach, and that do justice to the musical peculiarities of the theme and make it fit in better with the other themes of the movement.

Keywords: Schenkerian analysis, critique of Schenkerian analysis, Beethoven’s keyboard sonatas, Occam’s Razor, reduction, alternative tonal analysis


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