The Piece as a Whole: Studies in Holistic Musical Analysis

The Piece as a Whole: Studies in Holistic Musical Analysis

The Piece as a Whole: Studies in Holistic Musical Analysis

The Piece as a Whole: Studies in Holistic Musical Analysis


Designed to serve music students at the college level, this informal approach to music theory relates the technical aspects of music with the expressive character of the art. The approach is holistic in the sense that it focuses on the interrelationships between the piece as heard by a socially conditioned listener and the notated, performed score. The composers addressed are: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, Wagner, Debussy, and Schoenberg. There are separate chapters on the problems of meaning in music and on the interdependence of aesthetic and ethical value-judgments. This novel and exciting approach to music theory will be a welcome addition to the musical analysis literature.


The true is the whole.


A question rarely asked in textbooks on musical analysis is this: What precisely are we analyzing when we analyze a piece of music? I do not mean the grand abstraction "a piece of music," but some specific piece. Let's begin with the fifth symphony of Beethoven since it is so widely known. We will be taking a closer look at it later on too.

The question may seem odd at first: What, precisely, is the fifth symphony? If I hold the score in my hand, am I holding the symphony? (Let's be very literal-minded here.) The score consists of ink and paper. Can ink and paper be tragically defiant, as many people find the first movement to be? Hardly. Well, of course, the ink is the medium for the notation which, when properly interpreted and executed by performers, leads to the production of sounds. Are the sounds the symphony? The sounds, in themselves, are complex pressure waves in the air, which can be thoroughly described and analyzed by the mathematical vocabulary of acoustics. Is analyzing the wave forms the same as analyzing the symphony? Can jostling molecules be nobly serene, like the opening of the second movement? No. The notation and the sounds, in themselves, might be called necessary moments in the emergence of the symphony or parts of the protosymphony, the symphony to be. Until the sounds are heard, we don't even have a piece to talk about. But then we have to ask, "Heard by whom?"

It's at this point that many theorists reason more or less as follows: "Whose hearing are we to talk about, mine or yours, Elliott Carter's or my four-year-old son's? No, no; we cannot get into subjective reactions, there would be no end to it. We must be objective, or we do not learn about the piece, but about merely personal reactions to the piece. That's psychology, not musical analysis." So they back away from the heard piece in the name of what they believe to be scientific objectivity. At first this seems reasonable enough, even necessary, but now the theorists are back where they started from, with the score or the disturbances in the air, neither of which is The Piece in the full sense of the word. The symphony has escaped them or, rather, they have unwittingly refused to deal with it. Ink marks on paper or . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.