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Society for Music Theory

Into the Foothills: New Directions in Nineteenth-Century Analysis


Author(s): Christopher Lewis
Source: Music Theory Spectrum, Vol. 11, No. 1, Special Issue: The Society for Music Theory:
The First Decade (Spring, 1989), pp. 15-23
Published by: on behalf of the Society for Music Theory
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Into

the

Foothills:

New

Directions

in

Nineteenth-Century
Analysis
Lewis
Christopher
The music of the nineteenth century, subsumingas it does
the last effusions of mature Classicism,the full growth of Romanticism and post-Romanticism, and the beginnings of the
radicaltwentiethcentury,presentsan immenselyvariedtopographyto the theoreticalexplorer. Curiously,it is a topography
that bearssome resemblanceto that of centralAlberta:the city
of Edmontonis situatedon the edge of the greatwesternplains,
but as one leaves the buffalo flats and travels westward, the
land subtly changes. Eventually, without quite knowing how,
the travelerfinds himself in the foothills. Although there is no
precise boundary, nonetheless the terrain is somehow different. Then, as our travelercontinueswest, he soon realizesthat
he is no longer in the foothills, but actuallyin the true mountains, althoughagain there is no single point at whichhe leaves
the one for the other. Each of these topographieshas its own
peculiarcharacteristics,but it is also true that each sharessome
of the characteristicsof the others; so a mountainclimberin a
small valley may, by concentratinghis gaze only on the flat
patch of groundunder his own feet, imaginehimselfstill down
in the flatlands.He needs a widervision to place his little valley
in its propercontext amidthe surroundingpeaks. In effect, our
metaphoricalwestwardtravelerhas passed from the commonpractice plains, through the foothills of Romantic and postRomantic chromatictonality, only to be faced with the formidable ice-cladprecipicesof the twentieth century.
One of the most intriguingand most provocativeaspects of

the work of the Society's members over the last decade or so


has been the growingawarenessthat post-Romanticmusic (by
which I mean essentiallypost-Tristanmusic) does indeed constitute a distinctmusicalstyle. In spite of many foregroundresemblances to earlier practice and many foreshadowingsof
later events, just as the foothills are neither merely bumpy
plains nor flat mountains, so, we are discovering, postRomanticmusic is neither merely degeneratetonalitynor embryonicatonality.
William Mitchell's 1962 paper, "The Study of Chromaticism," is a seminal work in the analysisof chromaticismat the
foregroundand an essential startingplace for discussionof the
syntaxof chromaticmusic.1Mitchelltakes the still provocative
view that chromaticismdoes not derive from a system of seven
tones plus five tones but ratheris based ultimatelyupon a scale
of twelve tones, which as a whole may for a time supplantthe
diatonic scale. While he notes the symmetryof the chromatic
scale and therefore its power for tonal diffusion,Mitchelldoes
not find in chromaticmusic a new language that distinguishes
the post-Romanticfromearlierstyles. For him, chromaticismis
a means of enriching the diatonic base by "interpolation"or
'In addition to the work of William Benjamin and Gregory Proctor, see
bibliographicentries for Roger Beeson, Benjamin Boretz, Matthew Brown
("Diatonic and Chromatic"),LawrenceKramer,James Marra,Robert Morgan ("Dissonant Prolongation"),CharlesJ. Smith, and Hans Tischler.

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16

MusicTheorySpectrum

"replacement"-even when diatonic elements are hidden in


the backgroundor are brieflyheld in abeyance.That is, while a
part of the piece may be chromatic,the essentialstructureof a
whole piece is not.
William Benjamin proposes a different source for some
chromaticisms,attributingthem to the "interlockof diatonic
collections"as a kind of generalizationof the concept of mixture. For Benjamin, not only parallelmajorand minormodes,
but any two diatonic collections, may interlock. They exhibit
musicalprocesseswhicharerelevantto a given contextbecause
they illuminate an "ordered unfolding of events within that
context."2Benjamin commentsupon contextualmeaningsexternal to the excerpt analyzed, and points out that chromatic
detailmay have a more than local significance.
Foregroundchromaticismis certainlynot uniqueto musicof
the nineteenth century. As that centuryprogressed,however,
chromatictextures became generallymore pervasive, and we
are naturallyled to ask whether the chromaticsyntax might
penetratefromthe foregroundinto the middlegroundandeven
the background.When that happens-if it happens-we really
are off the plains and into the foothills, into a new tonal topography.If the commonpracticeis founded on a diatonic Ursatz,
then the abandonmentof that fundamentalstructuresignalsa
new practice.
In his 1978 dissertation, Gregory Proctor explicitly distinguishesbetween two commonpractices,whichhe calls "classical diatonic tonality" and "nineteenth-centurychromatictonality."In the former, chromaticismis generatedaccordingto
Schenker's formulations of modal mixture and tonicization,
giving,if you like, a scale of seven tones plusfive tones. In chromatic tonality, however, Mitchell's twelve-note scale is the
source of all tonal material, and apparentlydiatonicelements
areconstruedas derivativefromit-in anachronisticterms, as a
subset of it. In turn, the underlyingchromaticismmay allow
2Benjamin,"InterlockingDiatonic Sets," 34.

specifically chromatic structuralpossibilities. These involve


"simple"or "layered"symmetricalsubdivisionsof tonal space,
asymmetricalbut non-diatonicdivisions,andwhatProctorcalls
the "transpositionoperation"-that is, exactly parallel harmonic motion, with a chromaticresult. By raising profound
questions about the ways in which structurallevels can be
linked, and about the varietyof possible backgroundsthat the
chromaticscale can generate, Proctor opens the door to the
theoreticaldiscussionof a possible "secondcommonpractice,"
foundedupon a chromaticunderlyingstructure.
PatrickMcCrelesshas discussedsimilarproblemsin several
papers. He proposes that in certainnineteenth-centurymusic,
while diatonic linear phenomena are still operative, and may
even help articulatethe largerstructure,they no longer define
it. Instead, the fundamentalshape of the piece may be created
by principlesthat are harmonicrather than linear, and chromaticratherthan diatonic.At the same time, McCrelesstraces
with precision specific levels of interrelation between
Schenker'slinear diatonicsystem and the nineteenthcentury's
harmonic,chromaticmusic. It is not, for him, a questionof all
one, or all the other, but of an interactionof the diatonic and
chromaticat many differentlevels.3
Certainpeculiarpieces from the early part of the century,
most of them songs, also make us wonderwhethertheir basisis
a diatonicbackgroundrepresentingthe prolongationof a single
consonant triad. In his 1985 paper, Harald Krebs discusses a
numberof worksthat seem to violate the rule of monotonality.
He identifies three possibilities for deviant backgrounds:(1)
two discrete, complete fundamental structures, one in the
openingkey and one in the finalkey; (2) an incompleteopening
fundamentalstructure,followed by a complete one in the final
3See also entries for Brown ("Diatonic and Chromatic"),HowardCinnamon, EdwardT. Cone, Edwin Hantz, Reed J. Hoyt, Roger Kamien, Richard
A. Kaplan,Irene M. Levenson, CherylNoden-Skinner,RichardS. Parks,Michael R. Rogers, and Felix Salzer.

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Intothe Foothills:New Directionsin Nineteenth-Century


Analysis 17

key; and (3) two complete but overlappingstructures.In some


sense, he suggests, such works must ultimatelybe based on a
conglomeratecomprisedof the two fundamentaltriads. Krebs
does not suggest that the structuralsignificanceof an event is
dependenton its duration-that, for example, because a dominant is short, it cannot be the structuraldominant of a long
piece. The point at issue is not specificharmoniesbut the contexts in which those harmoniesare heard. In common-practice
music, the tonal context for the structuraldominant is established long before that harmonyitself occurs;we alreadyknow
whatit will be and are merelywaitingfor when it will happen. It
is thus the duration of a single tonal contextthat allows us to
hear the work as expressing a single tonic prolonged through
time, and it is that single tonal context that is missing in the
works Krebsdiscusses. He notes that in the songs the different
tonal contexts often reflect aspectsof the text. An extension of
this line of thought might show that there are simply different
rules for the structuresof texted and non-texted works, and it
may be profitable to examine the successive stanzas of such
songs as if they were almost independent pieces. In other
words, some of the "deviant"songs may actuallywork as continuouscycles ratherthan as single pieces.
It is precisely on the absence of a single tonal context that
Robert Bailey has predicated his theory of the double-tonic
complex, most fully describedin his essay on the TristanPrelude, whichhe considersto be the firstworkto exploit systematicallythe principlein question. Bailey proposesthat those postRomanticworks which progressfrom one tonic to another do
more than start in one key and eventually close somewhere
else-as is the case with Krebs'sdeviant works from the early
partof the century-since the actualprogressionis only one aspect of the tonal organization.The essentialfeatureis the pairing together of two tonalities a minor third apartin such a way
as to form a "double tonic complex," each tonic of which is associatedwith its own chromaticmode. The two elements of the
complex are linked so that either may serve as the local repre-

sentative of the tonic; they may actuallyco-exist, with one of


them in a primaryposition and the other subordinate.Since either triad may predominateat the beginningof the piece, and
either at the end, the tonal design may or may not be progressive. The paired tonics generate the harmonicelements of the
backgroundas well as many aspectsof the foregroundtexture.4
Deborah Stein's monographon the Liederof Hugo Wolf is
foundedupon the analyticalmethodologyof Schenkeriananalysis, but considersthe extent to which certainother techniques
may supplementthat methodologyin exploringthe "extendedtonal" techniques of late nineteenth-centurymusical structures. By means of dominant replacement at the foreground
and middleground,and expansion of the plagal domain, Wolf
sometimesunderminesthe conventionaldominant-tonicpolarity. Stein showsthat Wolf uses thirdrelationshipsin three ways:
(1) so that they are subsumed by a common-practicetonal
background,as in the music of Haydn, Beethoven, and Schubert; (2) to create more complex harmonicstructures,which
Stein calls "chainsof thirds," providing,for example, a background progression of I-III-bVI-I; and (3) as elements of a
double-tonic structure exhibiting progressive tonalitymovement from one tonal context to another. Stein observes
that in common-practicemusic which does not begin in the
tonic, the "deceptiveopening"-to use Schenker'sterm-is ultimately subsumed by the closing. In a progressively tonal
work, the opening remainsin dynamiccontrastto the closing,
and the process of transformationfrom one to the other is the
criticalauralexperience of the piece.
Thematic and motivic aspects of nineteenth-centurymusic
4See also entries for V. Kofi Agawu ("Tonal Strategy"and "Kindertotenlieder"), Bruce Archibald, L. Poundie Burstein, Robert L. Clark, Graham
George, WilliamI. Jones, WilliamKinderman,RaymondKnapp,David Lawton ("Tonal Systems"), Sigmund Levarie, David Lewin ("Amfortas's
Prayer"), ChristopherLewis, Ann K. McNamee, Sarah J. Reid, and Nadine
Sine.

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have not been ignored in the recent literature, and Schoenberg's theories are a useful startingpoint for a number of researchers.5WalterFrisch'sBrahmsand the Principleof Developing Variation investigates Schoenberg's fragmentary
theoriesof thematiccontinuityand economy, and appliesthem
to a selection of Brahms's larger instrumentalworks. Frisch
finds important models for those thematic procedures in
Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, and Liszt, but shows
Brahms's unique interpretationof thematic transformation,
metricaldisplacement,linkagetechnique, and continuousmotivic reinterpretation.
Schoenberg'stheories also inform PatriciaCarpenter'sexploration of motivic coherence and tonal relationships in
"Grundgestaltas Tonal Function." Her linking of the two,
showing that Grundgestaltcan function variously in tonal
music-in motive, in theme, in structural design, in tonal
logic-elucidates a musicalcoherencythatcomplementsthatof
the contrapuntal voice leading. The motivic-tonal crossreferencingshe finds in Beethoven seems of increasingimportance in the post-Romantic idiom, as the familiar diatonic
structuralunderpinningsbecome more diffuse.
A trilogy of papers by Allen Forte discusses the motivic
character of three post-Romantic masterworks against a
Schenkerian, rather than a Schoenbergian, background.6
Defining motives very liberally, essentially as an intervallic
boundaryratherthan a complete physiognomy,Forte demonstratesthat in these pieces motivic design and structurallevels
are intimatelyconnected, and he shows the primalsignificance
5Inadditionto the articlesby WalterFrischand PatriciaCarpenter,see the
two essays by GrahamPhipps.
6Forother discussionsof thematic, motivic, and formalprocesses, see entriesfor CarolynAbbate, Brown ("Isolde'sNarrative"),Arno Forchert,Philip
Friedheim,Hantz, Levenson, Roger Parker,Parkerand Brown, and Ruth A.
Solie.

of the motives as a determinantof musicalgesture at the foreground and middleground.Identifyingan importantpath for
future research, Forte speculatesthat the motivic penetration
of the middlegroundmay be "a structuralaspectof widespread
significancein all musicof the laternineteenthcentury." In particular, he notes that specific pitch classes and dyads serve as
structuraldeterminants,initiatingor terminatingcrucial motions or providingstructuralcross-references.In a fourth paper, Forte applies pitch-classset theory to Liszt's later music
and finds a systematic expansion of traditionalvoice leading
and harmony that produces-at more than one levelsonoritiesthat are not partof the centralsyntaxof tonal music.
The variety of analytic positions now available is demonstratedin the papersby Kofi Agawu, Peter Bergquist,and Richard Kaplan on the Adagio of Mahler's Tenth Symphony.
They illustratenot merelythe usefulness,but indeed the necessity, of looking at post-Romanticmusicfrom as manypoints of
view as possible. None of them is wrong;each of them is rightin
ways that the others are not; and even taken together they are
far from providingthe last word on Mahler'sTenth.
One of our greatestchallengesin the next decade will surely
be to frame formal systemic reconciliationsamong Schenkerian, Schoenbergian, set-theoretical, "double tonical," and
other approachesto late tonal music. It is essentialthat we continue to find ways to regardthe various analyticalpostures as
complementaryratherthan antithetical.Meanwhilework will
continue in other areas I have not even mentioned in this report: the analysisof music with explicit or implicittext, of the
cyclic nature of sets of pieces, of multi-movementsymphonic
designs,of non-musicalanaloguesfor musicalprocesses,andso
on. The appended bibliographycontains numerousitems not
discussedin my text, but even so mustbe regardedas a selective
listing. It should be read not as an identificationof the "best"
papersproduced, but as an overview of several approachesto
the many problems posed by nineteenth-centurymusic. With

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Intothe Foothills:New Directionsin Nineteenth-Century


Analysis 19

few exceptions, the papers have been selected so they may be


grouped to form small symposiaon specifictopics. The groups
may be as small as the pairof essays by HowardCinnamonand
Edwin Hantz on Liszt's "Blume und Duft," or as large as the
set about opera: Abbate, Archibald,Bailey, Brown, Burstein,
Chusid, George, Kinderman,Knapp, Lawton, Levarie, Levarie and Marco, Lewin, McCreless, Mitchell, Parker, and
Parkerand Brown. Arthur Wenk's bibliographyis a particularlyuseful additionalresource.
Charles Rosen wrote a few years ago in the New York Reviewof Books that "good taste is a barrierto our understanding

and appreciationof the nineteenth century."7What he meant,


of course, is that eighteenth-or twentieth-centurygood taste is
not nineteenth-centurytaste. The nineteenth centurymust be
approachedon its own terms, not on those of other eras. To do
that we must recognizethe tremendousvarietyand complexity
of nineteenth-centurycompositional premises, and adopt a
correspondinganalyticflexibilityand originality.We've made a
good start.
7CharlesRosen, "New Sound of Liszt," New York Review of Books 29
(April 12, 1984); cited in Alfred Brendel, "The Noble Liszt," New York Review of Books 33 (November 20, 1986), 3.

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