Analysis of compositions has long been one of the mainstays of Western musicology. What, in turn, are the mainstays of analysis? We recently checked RILM’s database to see which works have inspired the largest numbers of analytical studies.
The hands-down winner is Bach’s Das wohltemperierte Klavier, BWV 846–93, with 112 analyses—perhaps not terribly surprising since the work comprises 48 preludes and fugues, some of which are fiendishly complex. The rest of the top ten are:
2. Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde (75 analytical studies)
3. Debussy’s Préludes (45)
4. Bach’s Die Kunst der Fugue, BWV 1080 (31)
5. Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (29)
6. Beethoven’s symphony no. 9, op. 125 (29)
7. Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire, op. 21 (27)
8. Mozart’s symphony no. 40, K.550 (26)
9. Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps (23)
10. Schubert’s Die Winterreise, D. 911 (22)
Above, part of the manuscript for Das wohltemperierte Klavier.
Founded in response to the excitement generated by the First International Conference on Analytical Approaches to World Music in 2010, Analytical approaches to world music (ISSN 2158-5296) brings together disciplines including music theory, ethnomusicology, musicology, cognitive psychology, computer science, and mathematics for a cross-cultural dialogue that aims to promote and enhance understanding of the diverse collection of traditions that is commonly referred to as world music.
Edited by Lawrence Shuster and Rob Schultz, the inaugural issue of this peer-reviewed online journal includes articles by Robert Morris, Sarah Weiss, David Locke, Richard Widdess, Jay Rahn, and Michael Tenzer.
When he coined the term sonorystyka in the 1950s, Józef Michał Chomiński (1906–94) considered sonoristics a new branch of study centered on the sound technique of a composition. Discernible as early as certain works by Debussy, sonoristics involves a whole new layer of a musical work that emphasizes its actual sound, transcending older approaches in which structural elements were considered independently of their sonorous realization.
Among his expositions of his sonoristic theories, Chomiński showed how the first six measures of Webern’s Die Sonne (op. 14, no. 1) present no traces of melody or harmony in the traditional sense; rather, they embody a full transformation of both concepts into a sonic universe regulated by timbre, rhythm, and register contrasts.
This according to “Rediscovering sonoristics: A groundbreaking theory from the margins of musicology” by Zbigniew Granat, an essay included in our recently published Music’s intellectual history. Below, a performance of Webern’s op. 14; Chomiński’s example begins the set.