Sunday midday, November 15, 12–12:50 CST

Add this to your calendar

Reconsidering Schenker and Hierarchy

Jason Hooper (University of Massachusetts Amherst), Chair

Emergent Hierarchies: Harmonic Reduction from the Bottom Up

David R. W. Sears (Texas Tech University)

David Sears is Assistant Professor in Interdisciplinary Arts at Texas Tech University. He directs the Performing Arts Research Lab (PeARL) with Dr. Peter Martens. His research interests include music perception and cognition, computational approaches to music theory and analysis, emotion and psychophysiology, and sensorimotor synchronization.

Recent publications have appeared in the Journal of Mathematics and Music, Music Perception, Psychology of Music, the Journal of New Music Research, the International Journal of Psychophysiology, the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, and Eighteenth-Century Music, as well as in edited volumes devoted to corpus musicology and theories of classical form. He also continues to present research at conferences related to music perception and cognition (ICMPC, SMPC, ESCOM), music information retrieval (ISMIR, CMMR, MML), and music theory and analysis (SMT, EuroMAC).

Email: david[dot]sears[at]ttu[dot]edu

Lab Website:

Google Scholar Profile:


Using tree diagrams to visualize reductions of the musical surface, Lerdahl and Jackendoff (1983) argued that (1) temporal successions of (primarily tertian) sonorities follow a logical order (or syntax); and (2) the stability relations characterizing this syntax apply recursively to produce complex, emergent hierarchies, such that a triad at one level—say, for example, the tonic—nests (or subsumes) sonorities at lower levels—the dominant or predominant. Despite recent strides by the corpus linguistics community to discover potentially analogous organizational principles in natural languages using data-driven methods (e.g., Evert 2009), applications of statistical modeling procedures in music research have yet to gain sufficient traction. Thus, this study considers whether corpus-driven methods can discover (1) the syntactic progressions that characterize a given idiom; and (2) the recursive hierarchy by which certain harmonies are more stable than others.

Redrawing Analytical Lines

Vivian Luong (University of Saskatchewan)

Vivian Luong is a lecturer in music theory at the University of Saskatchewan. Her research interests include the ethics of music analysis, feminist and queer theory, Schenkerian analysis, and affective autoethnography. Vivian is currently developing a project that brings together the queer animacies of the nonhuman and theories of musical agency. Her work on analytical ethics has been published in Music Theory Online. Vivian has previously taught at the University of Virginia and the University of Michigan, where she received her PhD in music theory.


This paper contemplates the lines that animate our work—from music-analytical systems that shape sound into knowledge to the disciplinary divisions that distinguish us. To begin, I theorize these lines with Karen Barad’s concept of agential cuts. For Barad, making agential cuts at once produces knowledge (epistemology), constitutes its objects (ontology), and fosters particular attitudes toward them (ethics)—which she expresses with the term “ethico-onto-epistem-ology.” Bringing this perspective to music theory, I frame analysis as not only a form of knowing, but also of relating and world-making.

The second half of my paper turns to affective autoethnography in order to account for these latent aspects of analysis. Here, I draw on the collaborative work of Lauren Berlant and Kathleen Stewart to define affective autoethnography as self-reflexive writing on experience, feeling, and space. With their writings as models, I offer five vignettes on the worlds that formed around my Schenkerian analysis of J. S. Bach’s Prelude in B-flat minor, BWV 891. These examples depict analysis as a practice shaped by both good and bad agential cuts across a network of bodies.

To conclude, I place my vignettes in dialogue with past feminist and queer interventions in opening our field to diverse identities and perspectives. Through sharing my experiment with autoethnography, this paper asks us to reimagine how to we can write about our acquired disciplinary habits and their effects. In doing so, I hope that we can work toward redrawing lines to construct better worlds.

Schenker’s Nodal Points and “the Higher Requirement of Tonality”

Alan Dodson (Mount Allison University)

Alan Dodson is Assistant Professor of Music Theory at Mount Allison University. Previously he taught at the University of British Columbia, where he was a founding member of the UBC Rhythm Research Cluster. His research interests include the analysis of recorded music, theories of rhythm and temporality, and the studio teaching of Heinrich Schenker. His articles on rhythm and timing in recorded music have appeared in Music Analysis, the Journal of Music Theory, and Music Theory Online, among other journals. He recently completed a chapter on visual representations of expressive timing for the Cambridge Companion to Rhythm and is now working on an annotated translation of Schenker’s lesson books from the 1920s for Schenker Documents Online. He serves on the advisory panel for Oxford Music Online and on the editorial boards of Music Theory Spectrum, Intégral, and Intersections: Canadian Journal of Music.



Nodal points (Knotenpunkte) are mentioned in three of Schenker’s analytical writings from 1921 to 1923, all on works by Beethoven: the monograph on op. 101 and the articles in Der Tonwille on op. 2/1 and the Fifth Symphony. In these texts, nodal points play an important but rather mysterious role. The concept is purported to clarify certain refractory prolongational boundaries and, in one case, equated with “the higher requirement of tonality,” but it is used in several different ways and never clearly defined. I explore this enigmatic and short-lived Schenkerian concept by examining passages from the three Beethoven analyses alongside theoretical accounts of nodal points from Kontrapunkt 2 (1922) and “Freier Satz” (1918–20), an early version of Der freie Satz preserved in the Oster Collection.

In Kontrapunkt, Schenker mentions nodal points in conjunction with the dissonant passing tone and its relationship to the surrounding consonant intervals. He explains that passing motion gives rise to both end-beginning overlaps and the mental retention of the Stufe, thus to both additive and hierarchical means of generating content, both of which are reflected in the Beethoven graphs. Schenker discusses the hierarchical aspect further in “Freier Satz,” where he claims the melody’s “striding from space to space within a certain chord” guarantees the unity of both the melody and the Stufe―a metaphor he would revisit in “Elucidations” (1924) and later writings, now in relation to the global tonic.