Über den Niedergang der Kompositionskunst: eine Technisch-Kritische Untersuchung
Music Analysis, 24, (1-2), . (doi:10.1111/j.1468-2249.2005.00218.x).
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Towards the end of 1905, while putting the finishing touches to his Harmonielehre, Schenker conceived an essay that would show how the course of music after Beethoven moved essentially in two directions: the first in which the 'aristocratic' genius of the classical masters (Schubert, Chopin, Schumann and – in the realm of cyclic composition – Mendelssohn and Brahms) continued to develop according to autonomous musical principles, and a second whereby the emphasis on external associations, or the primacy of the word, gave rise to programmatic music (Berlioz, Liszt) and music drama (Wagner), genres that aimed at a lower musical level and thus appealed more to the uninitiated listener.
Originally entitled Beethoven or Wagner?, and planned as an 'afterword' to Harmonielehre, the study eventually took shape as an independent piece; it was typed out in 1906 and revised over the next couple of years. Although it never appeared in print in Schenker's lifetime, the fact that it is referred to periodically throughout his published writings is a sign that it remained dear to his heart, and an important expression of the cause he espoused as a theorist. While the definitive title suggests a pessimistic attitude to the music of his own time (in the critiques of Bruckner, Wolf and Strauss, specific passages from well-known works are discussed), many valuable insights are also offered into a range of compositions from the Classical-Romantic era. A large section of the essay is dedicated to close readings of three numbers from Mozart's Don Giovanni; these present a dimension of Schenker's activity - opera criticism -not found elsewhere in the published canon.
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