Wednesday, October 7, 2009


In March 1994, I read a paper at a conference organized by Peter H. Smith. The conference took place at Peter's home institution, Notre Dame, and was called "Critical Perspectives on Schenker: Toward a New Research Paradigm." My contribution was titled "Ursatz as Narrative: Or, 32 Ways to Hear a Schubert Waltz."

"Narrative" was an overly ambitious word for my actual topic, which was alternative strategies of analysis (reading, interpretation). I chose a single composition, a waltz by Schubert that had been analyzed by Carl Schachter and also by Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff, and I added to their readings 30 others. The point of the exercise was (a) to counter the idea that, even within the general constraints of linear analysis, one was obliged to find a single, correct analysis (even if that is exactly what Schenker himself required); and (b), more radically for the earlier years of music theory as an academic discipline, to imply that other modes of analysis produced interpretations that were equally interesting.

My notions of analysis-as-interpretation were not very well formed at that time. Since then, my attention to the question has been mainly in the context of film (music) studies, but it has also recently become an important topic in the music theory literature. In 1994, I naively assumed that pointing out a variety of options would in itself create a more self-critical practice of music analysis. But such an approach can be -- and was -- too easily rejected as relativistic, as lacking the moral (prescriptive) dimension that the rhetoric of interpretation always assumes, if not necessarily highlights. An effective self-critical practice has to include, rather than simply undermine, the conventional rhetorical strategies of interpretation. (I will write directly to this point in a subsequent blog entry.)

In this blog, I will post and discuss a variety of readings of D 779n13, not only the 32 from the Notre Dame conference but many others that I have generated since, a few of which have been published in "Description and Interpretation: Fred Lerdahl's Tonal Pitch Space and Linear Analysis," Music Analysis 25/1-2 (2006): 201-30.


Schachter, Carl. "Rhythm and Linear Analysis: Durational Reduction." Music Forum 5 (1980): 197-232. Reprinted as "Durational Reduction" in Schachter 1999a, 54-78. (Schachter, Carl. Joseph Straus, ed. Unfoldings: Essays in Schenkerian Theory and Analysis. New York/London: Oxford University Press, 1999)

Lerdahl, Fred, and Ray Jackendoff. A Generative Theory of Tonal Music. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1983.