Friday 26 June 2009


Apologies for lack of posting recently. Oh well hopefully back with a bang...

I am engaged in the beginning of (an albeit self imposed) period of study of musical analysis in preparation for my dissertation and I thought I'd share some early thoughts on what can be a tricky subject.

Firstly I hate the idea of analysis trying to find things that aren't there. My limit is just about Schenker's fundamental line, which has enough of a theoretical basis to justify it (but then again only in certain situations). You can see it prevalently in analysis' by say Reti and other 'motivic' and above all 'psychological' analysts work where all too often insane leaps of judgement are used to justify the most tenuous of relationships. This is not to say that there is never a relationship between these sort of things. Rather I feel that a good analysis should tell you what goes on in a piece of music, what makes it tick so to speak, not tell you how there is a vague relationship (via a variation of a transformed reflection) between the first bar oboe part and 2 notes of the bass trombone part in the 56th bar (unless it was a really important note...).

However the problem with trying to avoid this is that you can end up with an analysis which tells you basically nothing. Until embarking on this voyage of discovery I hadn't really realised how inadequate the system taught in schools (or at least that I learnt) is. A 'analysis' based on Roman numerals is fine up to a point. But apart from being good shorthand for chord progressions it really tells you little about the music itself. How does the music progress over a long period of time? What about rhythm and motives? And so on and so forth. This is not to say that 'roman numerals' are still not usuful from time to time, or Schenkerian (or Neo-Schenkerian), or Schoernbergian.

The problem with analysis it seems to me (and I haven't even thought about how to try and tackle this yet) is to try and provide a thoughtful insight into a piece of music, without it either trying to justify too much or becoming a very mundane chart of chord progressions.

In fact from what I have seen so far I think the problem with analysis has been with 'systems' being invented and analysts then trying to shoehorn pieces into these systems to try and make them work. You can say this about Schenker to a point, but also Reti (again), Schoenberg, Meyer, even Tovey. Of course one has to have fundamental ideas about how to analyse music, but if music doesn't support your thinking don't work around it so it does, this isn't politics!

I still have a lot to read and find out, plus (by no real decision) everything I've read is from the 80's and before. I hope that recent trends have emphasised the music, rather then every more complicated systems to shoehorn yet another piece into. Time will tell...

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