"Schenkerian Analysis" is a method of musical analysis developed by the Austrian music theorist Heinrich Schenker (1868–1935). It is a structural approach to understanding and interpreting the underlying harmony and form of a piece of music.
Schenkerian Analysis focuses on the hierarchical relationships between musical elements, emphasizing the fundamental structure and the voice leading within a composition. It aims to uncover the deeper levels of musical organization by reducing complex musical passages to their essential harmonic and melodic components.
At the core of Schenkerian Analysis is the concept of the "Ursatz", which refers to the fundamental structure or background structure of a piece of music. The Ursatz represents the underlying harmonic progression that supports the surface-level melodies and chords. By identifying the Ursatz, analysts can reveal the essential harmonic relationships that shape the music's overall structure.
Schenkerian Analysis also incorporates the concept of "voice leading", which refers to the smooth and logical movement of individual musical lines within a composition. By tracing the voice leading patterns, analysts can uncover the linear connections between chords and show how they contribute to the overarching harmonic structure.
In practice, Schenkerian Analysis involves the use of graphical representations called Schenker graphs, which illustrate the hierarchical relationships between musical elements. These graphs depict the layers of musical structure, from the foreground level (surface-level melodies and chords) to the middleground level (elaborations and contrapuntal lines) and finally to the background level (the Ursatz).
Schenkerian Analysis is widely used in the field of music theory and is particularly associated with the analysis of tonal music from the Common Practice Period. It provides a detailed and comprehensive framework for understanding the harmonic and structural aspects of a composition, shedding light on the composer's intentions and the inherent logic of the music.