Graphic Music Analysis: An Introduction to Schenkerian Theory and Practice

PDF Graphic Music Analysis: An Introduction to Schenkerian Theory and Practice 2022-06-16

Book author
  1. Eric Wen


Graphic Music Analysis presents Schenkerian analysis in a practical and engaging manner that will resonate with musicology, theory, and composition students, as well as performing musicians. With over 650 musical examples, Eric Wen guides students through the step-by-step process of creating graphic representations of music and reveals how Schenkerian ideas evolve out of analytical issues in the works encountered. Rather than promoting an analytic method for its own sake, Wen derives structural techniques from their particular musical situations to help students engage directly with the music. The textbook has an online companion website ( featuring: oFull scores and recordings of the works discussed in the book oDownloadable workbook of additional pieces to analyze oDetailed commentary on Schenker's own analysis of J. S. Bach's Prelude in C from Book 1 of The Well-Tempered Clavier An instructor's manual with a step-by-step guide to analyzing the supplementary workbook examples is also available. Please email for more information.


John where James had had had had had had had had had had had the examiners approval On first encountering the succession of words above, one might be tempted to regard them as utter nonsense. Or at the very least, an error caused by a mishandling of the copy and paste commands on the word “had.” Yet by punctuating the string of words to distinguish its grammatical constituents from one another, we reveal its true and perfectly logical meaning: John, where James had had “had had,” had had “had.” “Had had” had had the examiner’s approval.

The difficulty we face in making sense of the original succession highlights the importance of punctuation. Punctuation is not intrinsic to language, and was initially adopted only as a didactic aid for children and non-native speakers. In fact, Classical Greek and Latin were not only written without punctuation, but were originally notated in scriptio continua, without spaces between individual words or any distinction between upper- and lower-case letters. Thus in Classical Antiquity, one might find a phrase like this: SEMPERIDEMSEDNONEODEMMODO

Eventually, the Classical languages adopted the interpunct to separate words. We can see how much easier it was to make sense of the same phrase, when written instead as follows: SEMPER·IDEM·SED·NON·EODEM·MODO

By the Middle Ages, spacing was used between words and, with the adoption of lower case letters, punctuation came to be used more frequently, especially after the invention of the printing press. The Latin phrase could now be rendered in its more familiar form, as: Semper idem, sed non eodem modo.

What does all this have to do with music, especially a book on music analysis? To begin with, music is a language. Like letters that make up words, musical pitches can be made up into conglomerations of sounds. But words represent specific items or concepts, whereas combinations of individual pitches such as F-sharp and A-flat do not have an intrinsic meaning on their own. Furthermore, unlike the language of words that strings them together successively in one direction, music can combine pitches in either the horizontal or vertical dimension. In the vertical direction, we make up chords, and in the horizontal direction, we create melodies. The language of words and that of music would thus seem to operate on very different premises, but the two are intrinsically the same in one regard: they both communicate meaning and ideas, and these have been preserved through a system of written notation. A written text is a representation of the spoken word, and this is reflected in the origin of the word “language” itself, which derives from lingua, the Latin word for “tongue.” Although the notational conventions for verbal languages were developed over several millennia, the standard one for music, which employs staves, or parallel lines, was devised in only the early eleventh century, by Guido d’Arezzo.

This brings us back to the concept of punctuation in language, and its relevance to music. In the same way that punctuation helps clarify the structure and meaning of potentially confusing text, written music can also be illuminated by additional annotations that identify its component parts and help clarify its meaning.

About one hundred years ago, an Austrian musician named Heinrich Schenker (1868–1935) made an invaluable contribution to our ability to understand how the events in a piece of tonal music make up a unified structure. Retaining the time-honored system of Roman numeral analysis, derived from Jean-Philippe Rameau’s concept of la basse fondamentale (“the fundamental bass”), Schenker developed an entirely new method to explain how music is put together. Showing how counterpoint and harmony interact, he created an analytical approach that clarified the true meaning of the horizontal and vertical dimensions of tonal music. Furthermore, he devised a system of analytical notation that enabled him to highlight the different hierarchical meaning of these two forces. Using elliptical noteheads on their own, Schenker devised a method of employing traditional symbols of musical notation, like slurs, stems, and beams, to serve as analytical annotations, thereby showing the relative structural importance of the pitches. These graphic representations—described by Schenker as Bilder (“pictures”)—present a schematic representation of the music, using the musical equivalent of “punctuation” to reveal its inner structural hierarchies.

But is analysis really necessary? After all, one can play the notes from a score without concerning oneself with its deep structure. Isn’t natural musical intuition all one needs to give a successful performance? Certainly, there is no substitute for sound musical instincts. Nevertheless, in many cases the best interpretative choice is not immediately obvious. In such passages, merely performing the notes can be like reciting words that one doesn’t understand. It is therefore necessary to have resource to tools that can help guide us to make sense out of them. For the great conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, Schenker’s analytical approach was not only useful, but enabled Fernhören, “hearing over distant spans.”1 According to Felix Salzer, “Heinrich Schenker once said that his approach could be characterized as the Sicherstellung of the musical instinct,” noting that the German word Sicherstellung “cannot be translated literally; it implies a combination of several characteristics such as fortifying, securing, guiding, protecting.”2 While no analytical system can truly penetrate to the heart of a piece of music, or provide a comprehensive guide to performance, Schenkerian analysis offers us the tools to make sense of the inner workings and large-scale coherence of tonal works, giving performers the understanding they need to make well-founded interpretative choices.


Numerous people have contributed indirectly in the creation of this book. These include my professional colleagues Kevin Korsyn, Wayne Petty, and William Rothstein, all of whom have made invaluable original contributions to the field of music theory, Allen Cadwallader, an expert pedagogue and co-author of an important textbook in Schenkerian Analysis, and especially Carl Schachter, who guided me in the study of Schenker when I was his student many years ago; Ian Bent and William Drabkin, whose tireless research in the Schenker Documents Online project offers new insights, not only into the development of Schenker’s ideas, but also into the remarkable cultural milieu in which he lived; Matthias Witt, who generously took time to explain the many subtle shadings of meaning in the German language; Murray Perahia and András Schiff, two extraordinary pianists, who consistently express the innermost workings of the masterworks they perform; and my supportive friends outside musical academia, many of whom are themselves outstanding musicians: Nancy Green, Mark Holland, Ken Jean, Ward Marston, Marius May, Eric Shumsky, Jonathan Summers, Channan Willner, and Gary Zabel.

I would also like to express my wholehearted gratitude to Natalie Mandziuk, my commissioning editor at Rowman & Littlefield, and managing editor Michael Tan for their abiding faith, support, and unremitting efforts in producing Graphic Music Analysis. Savitha Jayakumar and Andrew Yoder of the production department also deserve special praise for their splendid design and layout of the book. My heartfelt thanks go to G. Henle Verlag in Munich for their extraordinary generosity; the majority of printed scores on the accompanying website were drawn, with permission, from their extensive catalogue of urtext editions. Generous support for the setting of the musical examples was provided by the Curtis Institute of Music, and I am especially grateful to Paul Bryan for arranging this funding. Last but not least, I must thank my family—Rachel, Lily, Florence, and Tovi—who have continually supported me throughout the writing of this book, enduring the countless irregular hours I have spent doing so.
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