Schenker, Heinrich

views updated May 21 2018

Schenker, Heinrich

Schenker, Heinrich, outstanding Austrian music theorist; b. Wisniowczyki, Galicia, June 19, 1868; d. Vienna, Jan. 13, 1935. He studied jurisprudence at the Univ. of Vienna (Dr.Jur., 1890), and concurrently took courses with Bruckner at the Vienna Cons. He composed some songs and piano pieces; Brahms liked them sufficiently to recommend Schenker to his publisher Simrock. For a while Schenker served as accompanist of the baritone Johannes Messchaert. He then returned to Vienna and devoted himself entirely to the development of his theoretical research. Schenker gathered around himself a group of enthusiastic disciples who accepted his novel theories, among them Otto Vrieslander, Hermann Roth, Hans Weisse, Anthony van Hoboken, Oswald Jonas, Felix Salzer, and John Pétrie Dunn. He endeavored to derive the basic laws of musical composition from a thoroughgoing analysis of the standard masterworks. The result was the contention that each composition represents a horizontal integration, through various stages, of differential triadic units derived from the overtone series. By a dialectical manipulation of the thematic elements and linear progressions of a given work, Schenker succeeded in preparing a formidable system in which the melody is the “Urlinie” (basic line), the bass is “Grundbrechung” (broken ground), and the ultimate formation is the “Ursatz” (background). The result seems as self- consistent as the Ptolemaic planetary theory of epicycles. Arbitrary as the Schenker system is, it proved remarkably durable in academia; some theorists even attempted to apply it to modern works lacking in the triadic content essential to Schenker’s theories.


Ein Beitrag zur Ornamentik als Einfuhrung zu Ph.E. Bachs Klavierwerke (Vienna, 1904; second ed., rev., 1908; Eng. tr. in Music Forum, IV, 1976); Neue musikalische Theorien und Fantasien: I. Harmonierlehre (Stuttgart, 1906; Eng. tr., ed. by O. Jonas, Chicago, 1954); II. Kontrapunkt in 2 vols., Cantus Firmus und zweistimmiger Satz (Vienna, 1910), and Drei- und mehrstimmiger Satz, Übergänge zum freien Satz (Vienna, 1922); Eng. tr. of both vols, by J. Thymn, N.Y., 1987; III. Der freie Satz (Vienna, 1935; new ed. by O. Jonas, 1956; Eng. tr. by E. Oster, 1979); Beethovens Neunte Sinfonie (Vienna, 1912; Eng. tr., ed. by J. Rothgeb, New Haven, 1992); Der Tonwille (a periodical, 1921–24); Beethovens Fünfte Sinfonie (Vienna, 1925); Das Meisterwerk in der Musik (3 vols., Vienna, 1925, 1926, 1930); Fünf Urlinie-Tafeln (Vienna, 1932; second ed., rev., 1969 as Five Graphic Music Analyses by F. Salzer); Johannes Brahms: Oktaven und Quinten (Vienna, 1933;).


O. Jonas, Das Wesen des musikalischen Künstwerks(Vienna, 1934; second ed., rev., 1973 as Einführung in die Lehre H. S.s; Eng. tr., 1982); A. Katz, Challenge to Musical Tradition (N.Y., 1945); F. Salzer, Structural Hearing (N.Y., 1952; second ed., 1962); F. Salzer and C. Schachter, Counterpoint in Composition: The Study of Voice Leading (N.Y., 1969): L. Laskowski, ed., H. S.: An Annotated Index to His Analyses of Musical Works (N.Y., 1978); A. Forte and S. Gilbert, An Introduction to S.ian Analysis (London, 1982); F.-E. von Cube, The Book of the Musical Artwork: An Interpretation of the Musical Theories of H. S. (Lewiston, N.Y., 1988); H. Siegel, ed., S. Studies (Cambridge, 1989); A. Cadwallader, ed., Trends in S.ian Research (N.Y., 1990); H. Federhofer, ed., H. S. als Essayist und Kritiker: Gesammelte Aufsätze, Rezensionen und kleinere Berichte aus den Jahren 1891–1901 (Hildesheim, 1990); D. Neumeyer and S. Tepping, A Guide to S.ian Analysis (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1992); M. Eybl, Ideologie und Methode: Zum ideengeschichtlichen Kontext von S.s Musiktheorie (Tutzing, 1995); L. Balsius, S.’s Argument and the Claims of Music Theory (Cambridge, 1996); R. Snarrenberg, S.’s Interpretive Practice (N.Y., 1997); C. Schachter and H. Siegel, eds., S. Studies 2 (Cambridge, 1999).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

Schenker, Heinrich

views updated May 18 2018


SCHENKER, HEINRICH (1868–1935), music theorist; the most important 20th century theorist of tonal music. Born in Wisniowczyki, Galicia. Schenker studied law as well as harmony with Bruckner in Vienna. After an early career as a composer, accompanist, editor, and critic (especially for the Wiener Wochenblatt), Schenker undertook more serious analytical and theoretical engagement. He developed new analytical procedures for the perception of musical structures. His most important achievements came to fruition in his last book, Der freie Satz (1935; Free Composition, 1979), the last book in the trilogy Neue musikalische Theorien und Phantasien. According to his theory, structural harmonies, which are ultimately derived from the background structure (Ursatz) of an upper descending voice (Urlinie) against bass arpeggiation of the tonic, are prolonged or composed out (auskomponiert) by techniques based on strict counterpoint, such as linear progressions and neighbor motion. Schenker appreciated and analyzed mainly the works of a few great composers from Bach to Brahms. Though originally based only on the works of the 18th and 19th centuries, Schenker's concepts have been applied to earlier and later music as well (cf. F. Salzer, Structural Hearing, 1952). Schenker's writings include the trilogy, the first two volumes being Harmonielehre (1906; Harmony, 1954) and Kontrapunkt (2 vols., 1910 and 1922; Counterpoint, 1987), and more analytical books, among them Das Meisterwerk in der Musik (3 vols., 1925, 1926, 1930; The Masterwork in Music, 1994, 1996, 1997) and Der Tonwille (1921–24).

Schenker wrote Ḥasidic Dances, ultimately published as Syrian Dances; his books and diaries include occasional reference to Jewish matters.


O. Jonas, Das Wesen des musikalischen Kunstwerks (1934; trans. as An Introduction to the Theory of Heinrich Schenker, 1982)). add. bibliography: Grove online; H. Federhofer, Heinrich Schenker nach Tagebuecher und Briefen (1985); W. Pastille, Ursatz: The Philosophical Background of Heinrich Schenker (1986); C. Schachter, Unfoldings: Essays in Schenkerian Theory and Analysis (1999).

[Roger Kamien /

Yossi Goldenberg (2nd ed.)]

Schenker, Heinrich

views updated May 18 2018

Schenker, Heinrich (b Wisniowczyki, Galicia, 1868; d Vienna, 1935). Austrian pianist, writer, and teacher. Wrote songs and was for a time accomp. to bar. Johannes Messchaert. Thereafter devoted himself to theoretical research. Ed. Beethoven's pf. sonatas, Handel's org. works, and C. P. E. Bach's kbd. music. Wrote several theoretical books. Inventor of famous system of analysis based on theory that one type of mus. structure was basis of all masterpieces from Bach to Brahms.