Explaining Tonality

Explaining Tonality

Schenkerian Theory and Beyond

Matthew Brown


University of Rochester Press



A defense of Schenkerian analysis of tonality in music.
A wide range of music -- from Bach to Mozart and Brahms -- is marked by its use of some form of what is generally called "tonality": the tendency of music to focus melodically on some stable pitch or tonic and for its harmony to use functional triads. Yet few terms in music theory are more enigmatic than that seemingly simple word "tonality."
Matthew Brown's Explaining Tonality: Schenkerian Theory and Beyond considers a number of disparate ways in which functional tonality has been understood. In particular, it focuses on the comprehensive theory developed by Heinrich Schenker in his monumental three-part treatise Neue musikalische Theorien und Phantasien [1906-1935].
Schenker systematically investigated the ways in which lines and chords behave both locally within individual tonal phrases and globally across entire compositions. Explaining Tonality shows why Schenker was able to elucidate tonal relationships so successfully and the many advantages that his explanations have over those of his rivals. In addition, it proposes some ways in which Schenker's approach can be extended to tonal features in works from before Bach [such as Monteverdi] and after Brahms [such as Debussy, Stravinsky, and much popular music of today].
Along the way, the book explores six methodological criteria that help in building, testing, and evaluating a plausible theory of tonality or, indeed, any other musical phenomenon: accuracy, scope, fruitfulness, consistency, simplicity, and coherence. It reveals how understanding the tonality of a piece can shed light on other aspects of musical composition. And, in conclusion, it describes some ways in which Schenkerian theory might fruitfully develop in the future.

Matthew Brown is Professor of Music Theory at the Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester, and author of Debussy's "Ibéria" [Oxford University Press].

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June 2005
115 black and white illustrations
315 pages
6x9 in
Eastman Studies in Music
ISBN: 9781580461603
Format: Hardback
University of Rochester Press
BIC AVA, 1D, 2AB, 3J
BISAC MUS020000, MUS041000, MUS050000
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Related Titles

Table of Contents

Schenker and the Quest for Accuracy
Semper idem sed non eodem modo
What Price Consistency?
Schenker and 'The Myth of Scales'
"Pleasure is the Law"
Renaturalizing Schenkerian Theory


The question that Matthew Brown has set himself to answer is, basically, just how fundamental Schekerian analysis actually is. . . He seeks nothing less than a rigorous examination of the theory to see if it is logically consistent, sufficiently explanatory without being unneccessarily complex, and ultimately useful. . . . His range is enormous, and one cannot do adequate justice to what has been achieved here without detailed musical exemplification. The musical repertory ranges from early Baroque to the twentieth century. MUSIC AND LETTERS, May 2008 [William Drabkin, University of Southampton]

Explaining Tonality is a cogent, concise, and eminently readable study of one of music theory's most important subjects. Matthew Brown traces the philosophical and psychological contexts within which Schenkerian theory can be placed, and considers other relevant topics, such as strict counterpoint and nineteenth-century chromaticism, by way of a wealth of freshly observed compositional examples. Technically expert and critically evenhanded, this absorbing exploration of tonality in theory and practice sets new standards in its scope and authority. --Arnold Whittall, King's College, London

Matthew Brown's Explaining Tonality: Schenkerian Theory and Beyond carefully sets out a well-reasoned and convincing case for the scientific viability and logical foundations of Heinrich Schenker's extraordinary approach to analyzing tonal music, revealing the solidity of its foundations. His work should be read by anyone who has an interest in the epistemology of music theory. --Frank Samarotto, Indiana University

I . . . heartily recommend the book, for I know of none better in its field. It offers dozens of "ear-engaging" analyses of important musical works, including an entire chapter on the music of Debussy. These analyses alone make it a must-read for anyone seriously interested in contemporary music theory. MUSIC EDUCATORS JOURNAL [Edward Green]

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