Phenomenon and Abstraction: Coordinating Concepts in Music Theory and Analysis

Benjamin Konrad Hansberry

Phenomenon and Abstraction: Coordinating Concepts in Music Theory and Analysis
Hansberry, Benjamin Konrad
Thesis Advisor(s):
Dubiel, Joseph P.
Ph.D., Columbia University
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This dissertation explores the habits of thought that inform how music analysts conceptualize the music they study and how this conceptualization affects the kinds of claims they make and the discursive practices adopted to express them. I aim to clarify these issues in music-theoretical conceptualization with an eye toward mediating analytical disagreements by tracing the influence of two types of concepts used in contemporary music analysis. I differentiate what I call theoretical concepts, which refer to abstract, theoretical objects, from phenomenal concepts, which refer to elements of felt, musical experience. Drawing on theories of concepts from philosophy of mind, I argue that these concepts have a complex structure, featuring both a reference and mode of presentation. The musical concept Dominant, for instance, might be used as a phenomenal concept, referring to the conscious experience of hearing a dominant, or it might be used as a theoretical concept, referring to a kind of abstract object, presented as either the triad the leads to the tonic or the triad built on scale degree five. In analysis, the kinds of concepts that analysts use will determine the scope of their analyses as well as define what sorts of critiques are best deployed against them. I explore four different ways that these conceptual types are used. These case studies include conceptually simple theories that attempt to foreground one type of concept or another (from the formalized model proffered by Eugene Narmour, to the drawing-analyses of Elaine Barkin) as well as more common analytical strategies that rely on both kinds of concept in concert, such as Schenkerian analysis and transformational and neo-Riemannian theory. I enrich my study of analytical approaches with insights drawn from my own analytical practice, including a wide range of styles and composers (though foregrounding the complexity of tonal analysis especially) and close readings of various authors in different analytical traditions. In general, I am concerned less with testing the soundness of any given approach than with understanding what ways of conceptualizing music underlie them and how analysts coordinate these concepts in practice. I find that while most approaches rely on both types of concept in some combination, their differences come in the roles these concepts play in analytical methodology and the degree to which each type of engagement is foregrounded in practice.
Music theory
Musical analysis
Philosophy of mind
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Suggested Citation:
Benjamin Konrad Hansberry, , Phenomenon and Abstraction: Coordinating Concepts in Music Theory and Analysis, Columbia University Academic Commons, .

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