In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Schenkerian Analysis

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Introductions to Schenker’s Analytical Approach
  • Bibliographies and Research Guides
  • Journals and Serials
  • Commentaries on Schenker’s Theoretical Development
  • Commentaries on Schenker’s Analytical Practice
  • Schenkerian Analysis and Performance

Music Schenkerian Analysis
Boyd Pomeroy
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0195


Schenkerian analysis is an approach to the analysis of tonal musical works after the theoretical and analytical writings of Viennese music theorist Heinrich Schenker (b. 1868–d. 1935). Schenker’s mature theory and analytical practice evolved and gradually solidified in a prolific series of publications from 1906 to 1935, remarkable for its integrated, synthetic conception, despite evolving over such an extended period and covering an immense transformative distance in theoretical thought. Schenker aimed to explain musical content from the point of view of the technical means employed and the effects thereby produced—not of all tonal composers, but a selective canon of twelve from Johann Sebastian Bach to Johannes Brahms whom Schenker considered the highest manifestation of a specifically Germanic musical genius (though the group included two non-Germans, Domenico Scarlatti and Frédéric Chopin). His analyses (though Schenker notably avoided the word, preferring the term “synthesis”) seek to demonstrate this music’s ultimate origin in, and process of derivation from, the consonant tonic triad, through techniques of contrapuntal voice leading deriving from the principles of strict counterpoint (after Johann Joseph Fux). Contrapuntal voice leading relates to harmonic progression through the concept of prolonged harmonic “scale steps” (Stufen), themselves contrapuntally mediated through figured bass (after C. P. E. Bach). These features are replicated at different structural levels from the deepest—the tonic triad itself, unfolding in time through the contrapuntal background (Ursatz), consisting of the stepwise descent of the upper-voice Urlinie in counterpoint with the disjunct bass arpeggiation (Bassbrechung)—through a flexible number of middleground levels to the foreground (the direction is important; while Schenkerian analysis is often thought of as a reductive process, Schenker’s own conception was much more generative in nature). Large-scale musical coherence derives from the controlling presence of linear progressions (Züge) through a consonant interval (from third to octave). The small number of possible background configurations and the limited repertoire of voice-leading transformations constitute a common technical basis for the repertoire, subject to an infinite variety of elaborated realizations, well expressed in Schenker’s motto “Always the same, but in a different way.” Although frequently criticized for excessive abstraction, this too is a misconception; his analyses are always deeply rooted in audibility, exemplified in his ideal of apprehending large-scale musical structure through the development of “long-range hearing” (Fernhören). Schenker’s writings range widely in scope, beyond traditional notions of theory and analysis to matters of textual authenticity and performance practice, and are (more controversially) permeated with ideological preoccupations—philosophical, spiritual, and nationalistic—along with much polemic, both musical and extramusical. His analytical approach became enormously influential in the second half of the 20th century, especially in the United States (somewhat later in the United Kingdom, and paradoxically much less so in the German-speaking countries, where the taint of his reactionary Germanic nationalism has weighed much more heavily to this day).

Reference Works

These fall into two categories: first, introductions to or overviews of Schenker’s analytical work and the analytical approach generally; second, works providing context on Schenker’s life and variety of professional activities (since Schenker, of all theorists, regarded his theoretical and analytical work as an integral part of a larger project to completely transform all aspects of modern musical life).

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