Leonard Cohen alludes to the importance of musical structure in the lyrics of his song Hallelujah:
“It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift.”
Cohen calls it a secret David used to please the Lord. It’s no secret
that structure informs the performance of a piece. The Austrian Heinrich
Schenker developed a much more detailed theory for delving below the surface of
music to understand how it works. As the primary theory used to discuss tonal
composition, it is used by scholars and performers alike.
Western University’s Peter Franck studies Schenkerian analysis and his article “‘A Fallacious Concept’: Invertible Counterpoint at the Twelfth within the Ursatz” was awarded the Outstanding Publication award by the Society for Music Theory at its annual conference in November 2012. It was published in the Society’s journal, Music Theory Spectrum.
It is a significant award, given to a scholar of any age or career stage.
“I feel honoured I’m now acquainted with these people (previous award recipients) in that regard,” said Franck. “It is quite an honour.” Three other awards were issued at the conference for research published by Oxford University Press.
Franck said Schenkerian analysis “breaks music down into hierarchical levels of structure, based on the principles of harmony and counterpoint. My article deals with how it interacts with invertible counterpoint or the process in which you can have two melodies that switch positions with other such that the upper melody becomes the lower and vice versa. It was a ubiquitous aspect of Baroque music, which I focus on. Schenker (1868-1935) was a huge fan of Bach and did a lot of analyses of J.S. Bach’s music.”
However, Franck said when he examined Schenker’s writing more closely, he discovered it didn’t really fit the theory. “When you dig deeper into Schenker’s writings, he was quite resistant to the concept of invertible counterpoint and calls it fallacious – hence the title of my article. I wanted to reconcile these two things. Although he said he was against it, you can adapt his theory to incorporate it.”
Franck teaches Schenkerian theory to both undergraduate and
graduate classes at the Don Wright Faculty of Music. The article is part of his
dissertation on the same topic, the role of invertible counterpoint within
Schenkerian theory. He discovered his topic by analyzing Bach’s solo violin
works and making sketches of them, with the aim of creating structural
frameworks. With his advisor from the Eastman School of Music, he challenged
the general understanding that invertible counterpoint was just a technique
that gives a piece a particular character; instead, he proposed that it is a
structural aspect that situates itself within a deeply imbedded organizational
structure. “So invertible counterpoint does not just occur at the level of the
score, it also resides at deeper levels of structure.”
Franck’s quest is not unlike Noam Chomsky’s approach to the hierarchy of formal language and whether it is possible to find key properties of language through the structure. Franck caught the attention of other scholars through the publication of this article.
“This was my first publication, so the award took me by surprise,” he said. “It was printed in a really good journal.”
For it to be published in Music Theory Spectrum his article was peer reviewed. Once accepted, Franck said work on the graphics to illustrate the structural patterns, and other production aspects, including several rewrites, were quite time-consuming.