As a comparative reading informed by recent work in integration theory and metaphor theory shows, Heinrich Schenker's and Arnold Schoenberg's Harmonielehren adumbrate broader theories of composition based in part on a conception of the tone as a partly unconsciously perceived, living idea, which the artist imitates in a piece of music as a manifestation or development of one particular tone by means of the motive and the key. Schenker and Schoenberg further conceive of a piece as a picture of the tone and a statement about the tone. This analysis reveals that Schenker's and Schoenberg's peculiar clashes, such as in their starkly opposed attitudes toward tonality, are the result of a mere difference in emphasis—attributable to temperament—on the absoluteness of the tone as an idea of nature versus the contingency of the artist's response to the tone in the formation of music, a contradiction inherent in both of their remarkably parallel theories. This deep unity in Schenker's and Schoenberg's musical thought invites a reassessment of the opposed historical categories of tonal and post-tonal music, which have informed our perception of a fundamental conflict between their theories and limited our perception of commonality between their theories.
Skip Nav Destination
Matthew Arndt; Schenker and Schoenberg on the Will of the Tone. Journal of Music Theory 1 April 2011; 55 (1): 89–146. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00222909-1219205
Download citation file: