Theory Thursday

I wanted to finally post on Michael Cherlin’s Schoenberg’s Musical Imagination (Cambridge University Press, 2007). Without delving too much into the technical aspects, I will say that it is refreshing to read a work that gives a high-quality, cogent analysis of Schoenberg’s work that doesn’t devolve into mere row-chasing or structuralist pronouncements. (Mike Berry, I know you agree with this idea.)

Cherlin draws upon Bloom and Bergson to explore aspects of Schoenberg’s composition – specifically, Bergson’s theories on time and memory and Bloom’s thoughts on Freud (a companion of Schoenberg in the Zeitgeist, thought they were nothing more than passing acquaintances and Schoenberg considered Freud “too scientific,” according to David Schiff). From these intellectual underpinnings, Cherlin examines row selection and partitioning in Moses und Aron, memory in the String Trio, and the idea of “time shards” (bits of music that “maintain or revert to a regular pulse stream” against ideas that are amorphous rhythmically), and from this examination draws fascinating conclusions about how Schoenberg’s philosophy affected his music.

As I said before, it is refreshing to read analyses that do more than just create matrices and point out row forms. We do students a disservice when we distill Schoenberg’s music to math and leave out the incredible musical and philosophical underpinnings.



  1. Oh, wow. THAT was unexpected. I’m just glad I didn’t sound like some kind of moron (I didn’t have the book in front of me when writing the review and had to rely on my chicken-scratch notes and the Internet for the finer points).

    For the uninitiated, I’ve been a fan of Dr. Cherlin for some time – the article that became the final chapter of the above book was a big influence on my dissertation and my work on Bernstein.

    Thanks for stopping by!


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