Submitted by jsdubois015 on Thu, 04/08/2010 - 15:14
Studying C.P.E Bach's Essay has turned out to be far more interesting and exciting than I had anticipated. I am completely changing the way I think about music and its theory. One thing is overwhelmingly obvious: music theory can't be divorced from practical application. What I mean by this is that music theory can never become a dry academic study without any immediate, palpable influence on composition or performance. In the Baroque period, and even into the Classical period as well, figured bass was music theory. Figured bass was used by both performers and composers alike. It was impossible for a keyboardist to realize the continuo of a composition without the same knowledge of harmony that the composer used to write it. There was no division of theory, composition and performance as there is today. There were all connected. In my opinion, this is the ideal: to be able to make no distinction between theory, composition and performance.
Observe the trend since the Baroque. It has been predominantly away from this ideal. First, Fux introduced species counterpoint which took counterpoint out of the ideal and relegated it to exercises on paper. Next, figured bass was replaced with Roman numerals which took harmony out of the ideal and, like counterpoint, made it nothing more than exercises to be worked out on paper. Today, harmonic theories like neo-Riemannian and Schenker have no conceivable relation back to performance. Furthermore, musical form, which I have yet to see a reference to in any text predating the Romantic period, has succumbed to rigid "textbook" standards. One of the many downfalls of the Romantic period was the change to teaching composition by textbooks and in classrooms instead of by the master-apprentice approach. It only takes a moment’s thought to know this was a major reason for the decline of music towards the end of the 19th century. Brahms, himself, lamented the deplorable state of music textbooks of his own time which Oswald Jonas ironically used to justify the theories of Heinrich Schenker.
Today, the intellectual environment of music is nearly the polar opposite of that which existed in the Baroque and Classical periods. Instead of performers and composers (for to be a theorist then, was to be one of the other two) working from the same knowledge, today, performers perform, composers compose and theorist theorize, and it is very possible that none of the three are working from the same premises. A composer may compose with Roman numerals, the theorist understands it with Schenker, and the performer just plays the notes on the page. As for me, I much prefer the older writers, like C.P.E. Bach, not necessarily for their specific ideas, but for the intellectual environment they lived in that is evident if you dig deep into their writings.
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