In a 1992 article Richard Littlefield and David Neumeyer entertained the potential for “reinscriptions” of Schenkerian hearing which—to paraphrase liberally—would keep the rules of analytical play intact (counterpoint, harmony, thoroughbass), but radically rewrite its winning strategies (ideology, aesthetics) to bring it into line with contemporary critical thought. Sharing a similar motivation but pursuing it otherwise, in this talk I bring the arch-ethicist of music interpretation, Heinrich Schenker, into contact with a distinctly French lineage of “great misunderstanders” and rigorous textual hedonists—Bataille, Barthes, Nattiez, and Boulez, among others. In this uncanny territory, which reconfigures the nature and ownership of musical evidence, Jacques Lacan’s influential taxonomy of “Four Discourses” and his stringent criteria for “terminating the analysis” of a text inspire a comparison of different, fundamentally incommensurate predispositions towards analytical hearing, each with its own responsibilities and rewards—aesthetic, pedagogic, or systematic. Between their frictions and interstices we may discern an authentic interpretive and pedagogic space that often remains unexplored.
An offshoot of cognitive science and evolutionary psychology, Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) has attracted multidisciplinary attention as a framework for the coordination of visual, verbal, and aural modalities in instructional design. Drawing on an ongoing empirical investigation of various obstacles to Schenker’s assimilation by performers, in this talk I attempt a preliminary assessment of common music-analytical discourses in terms of cognitive load incurred, and discuss a series of CLT-based guidelines for the production of granular analytical exercises, on paper and at the instrument. Schenker’s striking rhetorical claim that his graphic notation of essentially hermeneutic reasoning “developed to the point of obviating explanatory text” is worth pondering afresh in this new light. On the one hand, it motivates a search for musical contexts and instructional conditions that satisfy cognitive constraints on the grasp of part-whole relations. On the other, the deliberate practice of prose in the Schenker classroom seems ever more important, lest the streamlined efficiency of notational shortcuts dampen the free resonance of analysis and performance.
A meditation on the potential of Roland Barthes’s critique pathétique—a term coined by the towering French philosopher in his last literary seminar at the Collège de France—to unsettle the conventions of “educated listening,” in pursuit of an authentic pleasure that is typically banished from public discourse in the discipline.