Steven D. Mathews

Realizing Schenkerian Formenlehre through 21st-Century Lenses

Recently, authors of three musical form treatises – William Caplin, James Hepokoski, and James Webster – each received an unusual chance to defend their theories and also write a critique of the other two methodologies (Bergé 2009). In a review, Mitch Ohriner (2010) agrees with the editor’s conclusion regarding the apparent “endorsement of methodological pluralism” by the three authors. However, Ohriner also sees “a further need to evaluate other theories with an awareness of their unique ambitions”, which is analogous to the three authors’ common belief that Heinrich Schenker’s theory of tonal music “discourages a tolerant engagement with other theories by asserting their own analytical intolerance”. Robert Gjerdingen (2007) adopts a similar view towards Schenker, though his ‘schemata’ resemble patterns typical of Schenkerian middlegrounds. Still, it turns out that refuting older ideas and subtly showing some of their influence is a familiar music theory narrative. As Jason Hooper (2011) has shown, Schenker’s Der freie Satz (1935) contains latent 19th-century ‘Formenlehre’ concepts despite his more famous obstinate disapproval of this tradition.
My goal in this presentation is to investigate the implicit similarities between the recent theories of form and structure (Caplin 1998; Hepokoski and Darcy 2006; and Gjerdingen 2007) and those of Schenker: to locate intersections between their theoretical worlds and to ask productive analytical questions (e.g., How can non-Schenkerian formal concepts, such as the ‘Type 2’ Sonata, modulating Prinners, formal functions, and crux points complement a convincing Schenkerian analysis?). My presentation emerges as a result of a recent inspiring publication by David Damschroder (2012), just one indicator of a growing field of neo-Schenkerian analytical pluralism vis-à-vis 21st-century approaches to form in tonal music.