An American Precursor of Non-tonal Theory: Ernst Bacon (1898-1990)

Neff, Severine

Ernst Bacon was one of the very first American theorists to investigate aspects of extended tonality and atonality. At the age of nineteen, Bacon made his sole contribution to music theory: a long article, "Our Musical Idiom," which appeared in the Chicago journal The Monist! His intention was to -classify non-tonal scales and harmonies "in a logical order" and "to develop a system of nomenclature describing any possible combination of tones". "Our Musical Idiom" is one of the earliest American contributions to the non-tonal theoretical literature. It places American music theory in a unique historical perspective. Five years before the debut of twelvetone music and over thirty years before the proliferation of mathematically based theories of non-tonal music, Bacon was working on order permutation, invariance, and symmetrical inversion of non-tonal collections. Moreover, "Our Musical Idiom" is the only work using theoretical principles and methodologies of a radical nineteenth-century work, Ziehn's Harmonieund Modulationslehre. Ziehn and Bacon's works are thus among the first to wed the progressive sides of the German and American music-theoretical traditions.



  • thumnail for current.musicology.48.neff.5-26.pdf current.musicology.48.neff.5-26.pdf application/x-pdf 726 KB Download File

Also Published In

Current Musicology

More About This Work

Academic Units
Columbia University
Published Here
February 3, 2015