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.


This might end up being a weekly feature as well, at least during the summer months.

Now that the diss is in the can, I find myself able to read for my own edification/amusement much more. I thought I’d take this opportunity to share what’s been on my bookshelf in the past few weeks.

Scholarly: Schoenberg’s Musical Imagination by Michael Cherlin. I’ll have more on this in an upcoming Theory Thursday.

Nonfiction: Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter 1860-1861 by Harold Holzer. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a big antebellum history and Civil War buff. (I joke that I should be a Whig, as I’m in favor of the tariff and internal improvements.) This book examines in more detail the Cabinet-building that Doris Kearns Goodwin explored in Team of Rivals, and also explores how he had to balance what people were expecting him to do versus the fact that he had no real power until March 4. It’s a solid tome, and if you enjoy this period in history I’d say it’s indispensable.

Fiction: Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis. It’s frightening how relevant this book still is. At least it ends with a quiet rebellion against the forces of conformity and small-mindedness.

So…whatcha reading?