Dissertation Index

Author: Prosser, Simon KS

Title: A Schema-Theoretic Approach to Hierarchy in Eighteenth-Century Tonality

Institution: The Graduate Center, The City University of New York

Begun: March 2015

Completed: May 2021


Prevalent modern-day theories of tonal hierarchy for eighteenth-century music, especially those influenced by the ideas of Heinrich Schenker, have been called into question by schema theorists such as Robert Gjerdingen and Vasili Byros, who argue from both cognitive and historical evidence that eighteenth-century tonal cognition was sequential or “windowed” rather than hierarchical. This dissertation seeks to recuperate the concept of tonal hierarchy in eighteenth-century music, drawing on research that reconstructs the implicit tonal theories of the partimento and thoroughbass traditions, as well as concepts of hierarchy from schema theory itself, to formulate a historically and cognitively grounded theory of tonal hierarchy for eighteenth-century music from a schema-theoretic perspective. It also theorizes a set of “middleground” schemata that structure the larger tonal discourse of eighteenth-century compositions.

Keywords: hierarchy, schema, cognition, tonality, partimento, thoroughbass


Chapter 1: Tonality as Situated Cognition, and Schema Theory’s Critique of Tonal Hierarchy
Chapter 2: Towards a Schematic Theory of Tonal Hierarchy
Chapter 3: Musical Punctuation, Schemata, and Tonal Hierarchy in Riepel’s Anfangsgründe zur Musicalischen Setzkunst
Chapter 4: Tonal Dispositions
Chapter 5: Three Tonal Dispositions in Eighteenth-Century Music



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