Dissertation Index

Author: Utne-Reitan, Bjørnar

Title: Harmony in Conservatoire Education: A Study in the History of Music Theory in Norway

Institution: Norwegian Academy of Music

Begun: September 2019

Completed: November 2022


The point of departure for this dissertation is one of the most fundamental questions in music theory education: Why do music performance students need to study music-theoretical disciplines such as harmony and counterpoint? The dissertation addresses this question through a historical study of music theory education in Norway in general, and Oslo in particular, and concentrates on the role of these disciplines in the mandatory portion of the conservatoire training of professional musicians in the tradition of Western classical music. The focus is on the Oslo Conservatoire, which opened in 1883 and became the Norwegian Academy of Music in 1973, but this case is also related to wider national and international contexts. More broadly, the dissertation investigates how the music theory discourse in Norway has been constructed and transformed from the late 19th century to the early 21st century.

The aim of the study is to develop a wide-ranging historical understanding of how music-theoretical disciplines such as harmony and counterpoint have been constructed and justified as part of higher music education. This understanding can challenge and inform current practices, as well as future developments, in conservatoire music theory. Theoretically, it is inspired by Michel Foucault’s studies of historical discourse. The source material encompasses a wide range of historical documents, primarily formal curricula, textbooks and periodicals.

After presenting a survey and close readings of the source material, the dissertation discusses how the construction of the music theory discourse in Norway transformed during the long 20th century. It is argued that several important ruptures and transformations occurred c. 1945–1975. What until then had almost exclusively been a craft-oriented discourse was transformed into a broader discourse that constructed music theory as, among other things, being about ‘understanding music’. Connected to this, Roman numerals were replaced by function symbols in harmonic analysis and the theory training was renamed satslære. The dissertation highlights the complexity of these changes, showing how the idea of theory as craft, coupled with an aversion to theoretical complexity, nonetheless remained strong throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century.

Keywords: History of music theory, Music theory in Norway, Higher music education, Discourse of music theory, Music theory pedagogy, Music theory education, Satslære, Harmony and counterpoint.


Chapter 1. Introduction
Chapter 2. Theoretical framework
Chapter 3. Methodological considerations

Chapter 4. Looking outward: Theory books and international contexts
Chapter 5. The conservatoire: Theory curricula and institutional contexts
Chapter 6. What’s at stake? Theory debates in periodicals

Chapter 7. The music theory discourse
Chapter 8. Learning from history
Chapter 9. Concluding remarks



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