University of Pittsburgh

Neil Newton on Schoenberg

Neil Newton’s recent analytical article “An Aspect of Functional Harmony in Schoenberg's Early Post-Tonal Music” appears in the Music Analysis vol. 33, 1 (sub. req.). In his analysis, which pays special attention to Schoenberg’s Op. 19/iii, Newton challenges two accepted views about Schoenberg’s post-tonal music, namely that is “…non-functional, and that there was a complete break from the tonal music that preceded it.”  With characteristic wit, Newton questions these common assumptions.

“It does not seem likely to me that functional harmony should have entirely disappeared the day Schoenberg ‘freed music from the shackles of tonality’ (Schoenberg 1975, p. 88), or that when the tonal clock struck midnight, tension and release turned into a pumpkin.”

Newton then proceeds to demonstrate how 

“… there are aspects of functional voice leading, derived from tonality, that are still present in Schoenberg's early post-tonal music. Furthermore, this functional harmony also helps to communicate the form of the piece and to supply closure.”

First identifying common “succession tendencies” in tonal harmony (such as the diminished fifth/augmented fourth), Newton then shows where these succession tendencies occur in Schoenberg’s early post-tonal works, establishing moments of tension and release in ways analogous to tonal harmony.

Newton’s work on the music of Schoenberg underscores the continuity between Schoenberg’s music and the tonal tradition. In doing so, he contributes to a deeper appreciation for a composer whose work is still too often misunderstood.

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