Analysis of compositions has long been one of the mainstays of Western musicology. What, in turn, are the mainstays of analysis? We recently checked RILM’s database to see which works have inspired the largest numbers of analytical studies.
The hands-down winner is Bach’s Das wohltemperierte Klavier, BWV 846–93, with 112 analyses—perhaps not terribly surprising since the work comprises 48 preludes and fugues, some of which are fiendishly complex. The rest of the top ten are:
2. Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde (75 analytical studies)
3. Debussy’s Préludes (45)
4. Bach’s Die Kunst der Fugue, BWV 1080 (31)
5. Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (29)
6. Beethoven’s symphony no. 9, op. 125 (29)
7. Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire, op. 21 (27)
8. Mozart’s symphony no. 40, K.550 (26)
9. Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps (23)
10. Schubert’s Die Winterreise, D. 911 (22)
Above, part of the manuscript for Das wohltemperierte Klavier.
Routledge inaugurated the series Routledge studies in music theory on 3 April 2012 with Music and twentieth-century tonality: Harmonic progression based on modality and the interval cycles by Paolo Susanni and Elliott Antokoletz.
The book explores the web of pitch relations that generates the musical language of non-serialized 12-tone music, and supplies the analytical materials and methods necessary for analyses of a vast proportion of the 20th-century musical repertoire.
The Western tonal system is founded on specific procedures for modulating from one key to another; the harmonic relationships involved have parallels in Western architecture’s classic proportional relationships, suggesting the idea of architectural modulation.
In the above examples, the floor plan on the left shows the width-to-length ratios of the principal spaces in a project from I Quattro libri dell’architettura by Andrea Palladio (1508–1580). The unexpected and somewhat disturbing angled wall of the rear courtyard space could function like a pivot chord, leading to the hypothetical addition shown on the right.
This according to “Modulation in music and architecture” by Radoslav Zuk, an essay included in Systems research in the arts. IV: Music, environmental design, and the choreography of space (Windsor: International Institute for Advanced Studies in Systems Research and Cybernetics, 2003, pp. 1–8).
Although the notion of pitches being relatively high or low was well-established by the first century C.E., when Pliny used the terms summus, medius, and imus, there is no evidence that earlier Greek theorists espoused this metaphor. The terms νήτη (nētē, “down-located”) and ὑπάτη (hypatē, “up-located”) were used, but they referred to the physical placement of kithara strings, not to a spatial concept of pitch; in fact, the higher the pitch in our terms, the further down-located it was on the instrument.
The commonest adjectives for pitch in ancient Greek writings are ὀξύς (oxys, “sharp, piercing”) and βαρύς (barys, “heavy”). Ptolemy wrote that the former quality was a result of λεπτότης (leptotēs, “fineness”) and πυκνότης (pyknotēs, “close spacing [of notes]”, and that the latter was caused by μανότης (manotēs, “thickness”) and παχύτης ( pachytēs, “loose spacing”) . The idea of higher and lower sounds, and their eventual depiction as such in notation, was a later development.
This according to “The development of vertical direction in the spatial representation of sound” by Eleonora Rocconi, an essay included in Archäologie früher Klangerzeugung und Tonordnung: Musikarchäologie in der Ägäis und Anatolien (Rahden: Leidorf, 2002), pp. 389–392.
Many thanks to David Bloom for help with this post!
Related article: The perfect-pitch puzzle
Founded in response to the excitement generated by the First International Conference on Analytical Approaches to World Music in 2010, Analytical approaches to world music (ISSN 2158-5296) brings together disciplines including music theory, ethnomusicology, musicology, cognitive psychology, computer science, and mathematics for a cross-cultural dialogue that aims to promote and enhance understanding of the diverse collection of traditions that is commonly referred to as world music.
Edited by Lawrence Shuster and Rob Schultz, the inaugural issue of this peer-reviewed online journal includes articles by Robert Morris, Sarah Weiss, David Locke, Richard Widdess, Jay Rahn, and Michael Tenzer.
Libreria Musicale Italiana launched the series Musica ragionata in 2009 with Musica poetica: Retorica e musica nel periodo della Riforma by Ferruccio Civra; the book explores Reformation treatises on rhetoric and on music, illuminating the connections between them. The series is overseen by Alberto Basso.
When he coined the term sonorystyka in the 1950s, Józef Michał Chomiński (1906–94) considered sonoristics a new branch of study centered on the sound technique of a composition. Discernible as early as certain works by Debussy, sonoristics involves a whole new layer of a musical work that emphasizes its actual sound, transcending older approaches in which structural elements were considered independently of their sonorous realization.
Among his expositions of his sonoristic theories, Chomiński showed how the first six measures of Webern’s Die Sonne (op. 14, no. 1) present no traces of melody or harmony in the traditional sense; rather, they embody a full transformation of both concepts into a sonic universe regulated by timbre, rhythm, and register contrasts.
This according to “Rediscovering sonoristics: A groundbreaking theory from the margins of musicology” by Zbigniew Granat, an essay included in our recently published Music’s intellectual history. Below, a performance of Webern’s op. 14; Chomiński’s example begins the set.
In response to a heightened anxiety regarding the preservation of a pure, authentic French identity and spirit as contacts with exotic cultures increased, the collection and dissemination of French traditional songs blossomed during the 1890s and the 1900s.
With harmonizations employing modal inflections, ambiguous tonalities, and unconventional voice leading, these collections presented traditional songs as historical evidence of a clear progression from provincial folk tunes to the sophisticated musical language of the fin de siècle. These harmonizations offer unique insights into the ways in which the French consciously manipulated how they wanted to be heard and understood during this period.
This according to “Harmonizing the past” by Sindhumathi K. Revuluri, an essay included in our recently published Music’s intellectual history.
Above, a page from the original edition of d’Indy’s Chansons populaires du Vivarais, op. 52 (Paris: A. Durand & Fils, 1900) illustrates his approach to modal harmonization.
In the second quarter of the sixteenth century Nuremberg was the epicenter of the so-called German Josquin Renaissance; the music of Josquin des Prez and his contemporaries formed the core of the repertoire taught in schools, sung by amateur choral societies, and included in the published anthologies that served those markets. As a music theorist and rector of one of the city’s principal schools, Sebald Heyden was confronted, perhaps for the first time in Western music history, with urgent problems regarding historical performance practice.
Although the music was only 40 to 50 years old, its mensuration and proportion signs were already obsolete and no longer understood. Heyden approached the task of recovering their meanings from a historian’s perspective; by reading old treatises, studying old music in a local private collection, and analyzing his observations with abstract reasoning, he created a theory that enabled singers to produce what he believed to be authentic performances of music of the past. He read conflicting opinions on his topic, felt free to declare some authorities right and others wrong, and drew clear and consistent conclusions about problematic issues. His influence on later scholars was incalculable.
This according to “Sebald Heyden (1499–1561): The first historical musicologist?” by Ruth DeFord, an essay included in our recently published Music’s intellectual history.
Although the notion that the treatise was written by Nicolaus Faber has persisted for centuries, internal evidence points conclusively to the Bavarian historian and philologist Johannes Aventinus (Johann Turmair or Thurmayr, 1477–1534) as the author of Musicae rudimenta. One of the first music treatises to use German as well as Latin, it borrows heavily from other sources, usually with due citations.
The author’s unequivocal style is striking: for example, the table of contents lists Chapter 1 as “The origins of music, a subject about which the barbarians err disgracefully, not to say ignorantly”, while other entries include such observations as “I am embarrassed to report what empty, fatuous things some writers have to say on this topic” and “In this matter, the run-of-the-mill singers are like night owls in the sunlight—blind!”
Nor does he spare himself, noting of his second chapter that “Most of the things here are quoted from others and are not very important, being pedantic and technical.” His preface concludes: “Look me over and buy me, the price is so low. Believe me, you won’t regret it.”
This according to “Musicae rudimenta: Augsburg, 1556” by T. Herman Keahey in Paul A. Pisk: Essays in his honor (Austin: University of Texas, 1966); the book is covered in our recently published Liber Amicorum: Festschriften for music scholars and nonmusicians, 1840–1966.