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Schenker, Heinrich


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.)]

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