Saturday, 10:30 am–12:00 pm

Schenkerian Perspectives: New Applications

Chair: Matthew Brown (Eastman School of Music)

  • Redefining the Romantic Fragment
    Aaron Grant (Eastman School of Music)
  • The Dissolution of the Imaginary Continuo
    Ryan Jones (CUNY Graduate Center)
  • Program

    Redefining the Romantic Fragment

    In the last thirty years, a growing scholarly literature has developed concerning the romantic fragment. Despite this, there remains no consistent way to analyze these structurally incomplete pieces, for romantic fragments pose numerous analytical problems, particularly when viewed from a Schenkerian standpoint in which structural closure is of central importance. Indeed, Schenker himself acknowledged the concept of the musical fragment in his discussion of Handel’s F-Major Suite #2 in Der freie Satz. Yet the topic of how to use Schenkerian theory to analyze pieces that neither project a complete Ursatz nor begin and end on the same structural Stufen has not been explored systematically in the secondary literature. This study, using Schumann’s early piano works as a case study, proposes a method for addressing this concern as well as offering a way to explain the background structures in these tonally and formally incomplete works.

    The first section of this paper evaluates various musicological, theoretical, and aesthetic definitions of the romantic fragment. The second part expands upon these previous definitions in order to redefine the conception of the romantic fragment and establish four concise criteria for analyzing them. In the process, this section addresses methodological concerns for dealing with fragmentary works. After establishing a rigorous set of criteria for analysis of romantic fragments, part three creates an index of possible Ursatz prototypes applicable to these pieces, which illuminates the diverse tonal structures that manifest within the genre.


    The Dissolution of the Imaginary Continuo

    While coining the term “imaginary continuo,” Rothstein 1990 argues that “this latent chordal texture… underlies every piece of tonal music—regardless of scoring, texture, or date of composition” (p. 94). This paper will examine the relationship between the imaginary continuo and the history of tonality. The primary focus will be on the dissolution of the imaginary continuo in the later part of the long nineteenth century, using the music of Gustav Mahler as a case study.

    This paper will begin by constructing a definition of the imaginary continuo based on its use in the history of music theory, including theorists of counterpoint, continuo, and harmony. Pairs of compositions by Mozart and Handel will demonstrate the imaginary continuo as part of the compositional process. A final definition will incorporate Schenkerian perspectives.

    With these facets of the theory in place, this paper will analyze the dissolution of the imaginary continuo and illustrate it with examples from Mahler. The increased independence of Mahler’s contrapuntal voices and the striking heterogeneity of his harmonic language leave the imaginary continuo on questionable ground.

    It would be wrong to characterize the dissolution of the imaginary continuo in Mahler’s music as a purely destructive phenomenon. On the contrary, the very elements that contribute to the dissolution of the classical imaginary continuo can point to a contextual (in this case, Mahlerian) imaginary continuo. This paper will conclude by arguing for selective places where a Mahlerian imaginary continuo correctly implies notes that the classical imaginary continuo would not.