Explorations in Schenkerian Analysis.
My first exposure to the person and work of Edward Laufer was probably not much different from many other budding Schenkerians. I was attending the Fourth International Schenker Symposium at the Mannes School of Music in 2006. There were several familiar scholars presenting, with a constant stream of new insights. But during nearly every pause between papers and during the breaks between the early sessions on that first day, I repeatedly heard other attendees speaking a name unknown to me. This man was to deliver a paper with a rather unassuming title: "On Chopin's Ballades (Opp. 23, 47, 52)." As I eavesdropped, the question "I wonder what the handout will look like" became a constant refrain. My curiosity piqued, I sat in anticipation as the elderly man rose to the stage and the handout was distributed. It was immense and tangled, full of ideas but, at the time for me, nearly impossible to parse. (The published version of these graphs [in the chapter "On Chopin's Fourth Ballade," in Keys to the Drama: Nine Perspectives on Sonata Form, ed. Gordon Sly (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009), 157-75] hardly do the originals justice insofar as part of the impact of that handout derived from the sheer onslaught of information.) His scattered presentation touched on hidden motivic connections that he tapped out on the piano, but referred to only a mere fraction of the graphic analyses on his handout. I will admit I was utterly bemused.
Over the course of the following weeks, months, and years, I found myself returning to that handout, working my way through its insights and learning to appreciate its author's perspicacity and the clarity of the graphing technique--finally apparent to me once I had become adept at seeing it in the right way. My improved understanding of the graphs led to hearing Chopin in new and compelling ways. It was through the careful perusal of that handout that I came to be enamored with the possibilities that Schenkerian analysis seemed to offer.
Laufer passed away in 2014, leaving a void in Schenker studies. The recent collection of essays, Explorations in Schenkerian Analysis, edited by David Beach and Su Yin Mak, pays homage to him through fifteen chapters contributed by Schenkerians, concluding with an interview that Stephen Slottow conducted with Laufer in 2003. The essays, arranged roughly chronologically according to the pieces examined, are divided into three large groupings by time period (eighteenth, early nineteenth, and late nineteenth centuries). But more importantly, these writings employ Schenkerian techniques to explore many different analytical concerns; prominent among them are issues of sonata form, motivic expansion and linkage, the hermeneutic implications of voice-leading analysis, and the application of a Schenkerian lens to little-studied repertoire or works that fall outside of the typical "Schenkerian canon." This book is a major contribution to Schenker studies and a touching tribute to Laufer.
Part one opens with "A Letter about the C-Major Fugue from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I" by Charles Burkhart, sent to Laufer shortly before his death. The conversational tone and willingness to question his own readings of certain difficult passages belie the acuity of analytical insight Burkhart brings to this familiar piece. Most intriguing is Burkhart's handling of two difficult passages: m. 11 and mm. 17-19. The part of the discussion that relays a lack of complete satisfaction with his treatment of m. 11 is particularly helpful. Too often in Schenkerian studies (including other essays in this collection), theorists present problematic or complex readings without frank acknowledgments of the difficulties involved; the fact that Burkhart finds a hidden motivic connection in mm. 1719 reinforces his clever reading of this passage. Mark Anson-Cartwright then examines the opening tonal complex of Johann Sebastian Bach's Matthauspassion (St. Matthew Passion) in an attempt to reveal motivic linkages and an overall harmonic plan to the group of successive numbers. There are some wonderful analyses on a local level here but some of the author's main points concerning the connections seem a bit forced. For instance, Anson-Cartwright suggests that the initiating B-minor tonality that opens the fifth number is really an "unstable passing chord within a prolongation of the E-minor chord from the end of the preceding recitative" (p. 20). But surely initiating sonorities take on a kind of weight that would make such a hearing less likely. The problem here is that the criteria for structural weight when looking at multiple successive numbers is not really discussed; therefore the rules of the game, so to speak, remain somewhat obscure.
Frank Samarotto's "Recurrence and Fantasy in C. P. E. Bach's Rondo in G Major" presents a fascinating study of a piece that Samarotto wittily suggests was meant to appeal to both Kenner and Liebhaber but in differing ways depending on their level of musical understanding. His analysis traces the mixture of rondo and fantasy elements that give rise to moments of "fantasy recurrence" (a melodic recurrence within the space of fantasy) and "recurrence fantasy," a seemingly normative recurrence that participates within the trajectory of fantasy on a deeper level (p. 27). L. Poundie Burstein's essay is a welcome consideration of the limitations in voice-leading analysis--particularly for works written in the third quarter of the eighteenth century--in sonata theory espoused by James Hepokoski and William Darcy (see Elements of Sonata Theory: Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late-Eighteenth-Century Sonata [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006]). By following Heinrich Christoph Koch's description of expositional models through Satze (complete passages leading to a standardized resting point), Burstein presents various voice-leading paradigms that offer a more thorough-going approach to these expositions than the sonata theory model affords; this model often reduces these expositions to the somewhat fuzzy category of continuous exposition. Timothy L. Jackson's examination of two first movements by Anton Eberl (the now nearly forgotten rival to Ludwig van Beethoven) also offers a welcome reconsideration of elements of sonata theory. Eberl creates sonata expositions that do not simply prolong the dominant through the second half (the Sand C-zones) but rather allow tonic prolongation to "cut through" (p. 66) the presence of the dominant in the S-zone, preserving the actual structural arrival on V for the C-zone. Furthermore, Jackson shows that Eberl's approach had a sizable impact on Beethoven's Third Symphony.
David Beach's "Analytical Observations" on Franz Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony begins the second part of the collection. In some ways, this is the most straightforward of all the essays insofar as it merely provides an analysis of the symphony while revealing some provocative connections between the seemingly disparate movements. However, Beach's careful justification of both his reading and his manner of presentation in the graphs makes this an exemplary foray into a familiar work. In a similar vein, Su Yin Mak presents a sensitive analysis of the first movement of Schubert's Octet in F Major, D. 803, which navigates the intricacies of mapping voice-leading paradigms in non-paradigmatic sonata form structures, particularly those that arise from Schubert's three-key expositions. In the following essay, Roger Kamien delivers an equally revealing analysis of Frederic Chopin's Prelude in B-flat Major, op. 28, no. 21. William Rothstein offers a virtuoso reading of the overture to Robert Schumann's Manfred that suggests that tonics and dominants in this piece (normally the pillars of stability) are continually undermined to create a "phantasmagoria of the soul" (p. 175). Another compelling Schumann analysis, this time of two movements from the Second Symphony, is authorized by Lauri Suurpaa, who combines Schenkerian analysis with narratology to reveal, like Rothstein, that Schumann strategically thwarts structural closure to produce poetic meaning.
The final section of the collection focuses on works from the late nineteenth century, including pieces that are not usually the focus of Schenkerian analysis. Ryan McClelland examines the use of the half-diminished seventh chord as an opening sonority in Johannes Brahms's lieder, while Leslie Kinton addresses motivic enlargement in Antonin Dvorak's Symphony no. 7 in D Minor, op. 70. Don McLean sifts motivic connections as they manifest in the "Libera me" portion of Giuseppe Verdi's Messa da Requiem and produces a reading that depends on the enharmonic ambiguity between C[flat] and B[natural] as embodying a conflict between death and deliverance. The last two essays pay homage to an area of interest that Laufer himself long entertained: the application of Schenkerian analysis to music of the so-called "post-tonal" era. Matthew Brown confronts the music of one of Schenker's favorite punching bags, Richard Strauss, by analyzing "Salomes Tanz" ("Dance of the Seven Veils") from Salome. Brown endeavors to show that Schenker was incorrect in his accusation that Strauss's motives were purely local effects by demonstrating that they operate on deeper levels of the middleground. One might suggest, however, that the middleground structures Brown excavates, which are rather banal and certainly far less interesting than those discussed elsewhere in the collection, support Schenker's dismissal of Strauss as a composer of mere surface-level effect embroidering a rather staid tonal structure. Boyd Pomeroy's essay, in a manner that echoes Rothstein's, traces dominants in Claude Debussy's music that are ghostly remainders of their usual selves, in this case because they are chromatically displaced. Like several other essays in Explorations, this one employs Schenkerian techniques to get at something that is rather slippery in our understanding of a composer's work. The strength of this analysis, as in several others, is the care with which Pomeroy ascertains the conditions required for our perception of these displaced dominants.
Explorations in Schenkerian Analysis expands the literature on Schenker studies in important and fascinating ways. It belongs on the bookshelf of any Schenkerian but would also be a wonderful resource for intermediate and advanced classes in Schenkerian analysis. The various essays intersect nicely with studies in sonata theory and hermeneutics and demonstrate the continuing vitality of the field while paying a fitting tribute to one of its great and storied members, Edward Laufer.
City College of New York
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2018|
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