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The Schillinger System of Musical Composition.
By Joseph Schillinger.
2 vols., pp. 1,640. (Carl Fischer, New York, 1946.) $30.00.
Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns. By Nicolas Slonimsky.
pp. 243.
(Coleman Ross, New York, 1947.)
From the time of Pythagoras music and mathematics have been loosely
spoken of as twin-arts, yet not very much vital evidence has been forthcoming to prove the proposition. Noting this lack, the late Joseph
Schillinger subjected music to such a detailed scientific and mathematical
scrutiny that he rationalized it out of existence and substituted two
volumes of analysis incomprehensible to those who are not mathematicians.
To what purpose ? The answer is given in the introduction to Mr.
Slonimsky's volume: " The scales and melodic patterns . . . are
systematized in a manner convenient to composers in search of new materials "
(reviewer's italics). But creation is emphatically not the picking and
choosing of formulae derived from analysis, and it seems to me that the
whole art of composition is undermined if, as is suggested in these volumes,
anything is approved provided evidence can be given that it is mathematically logical. Music is extensible, but only through the acceptances
of the creative mind. Analysis can show logic after the event, but can
point to no certain course in the future and say: " This and not that is
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The vigorous honesty which lies behind this exaggerated philosophy is
both stimulating and engaging. So much of it wanted saying. Not all
of it wanted writing. The written word carries implications which are
far deeper than the charming provocations and fervent exaggerations of
friendly discussions in the artists' room, the studio or the club. And yet,
for all its inconsistencies and its illogicalities, this is a vastly entertaining
book. The host of Mr. Baker's friends and admirers—and I count
myseif among the latter—will thoroughly enjoy its characteristic boldness
and candid pungency, while not agreeing with all its tenets.
But to the young singing-student its doctrines are dangerous. He
who reads: " The Englishman steadfastly refuses to associate singing or
acting with too much functioning of the intellect" (p. 6) will set a
lazy limit to his own intellectual development. And the subsequent
dictum (p. 48): " Treat the audience with respect, and so preserve your
own self-respect, and your own soul as an artist and performer " may
seem, in consequence, to be little more than a convenient equivocation.
Over-simplification, such as " A singer who has to be taught how to
sing recitative has no sense of acting " (p. 37), is as dangerous as is petulant
scholarship in the matter; and it may well encourage some curious
" histrionics ". Mr. Baker's honest dislike of highbrows and doubts
about music critics will be transmuted all too easily by the singing tyro
into a sheer indifference towards musical values and a contempt for
sincere musical judgments.
In all sincerity I would say to Mr. Baker that he is inclined to
" shout " in this book. From the success and versatility of his long and
honourable experience he can draw a quieter strength than this—which,
shorn of invective and personal prejudice, could give to the young singer
that studied counsel and sober wisdom he so sorely needs. But in that
case Mr. Baker should consult his musical rather than his novelist friends.
S. N.
Challenge to Musical Tradition:
a new Approach to the Analysis and Under-
standing of Musical Structure. By Adele T. Katz. pp. 408. (Putnam,
London, 1947.) 25s.
The reader who survives Miss Katz's monumental work with faculties
unimpaired is to be congratulated. We dispute neither the author's
sincerity nor her industry—this latter, indeed, is prodigious—but we
must deplore a formidable combination of pedantry and stylistic
infelicity. We suffer, too frequently, verbal bombardment after this
Thus, when we speak of a motion within a chord, the reader will understand:
(1) that the chord has been horizontalized; (2) that the arpeggiated interval forms
a space-outlining motion; (3) that the passing chords within this space are of a
contrapuntal and prolonging nature; and (4) that the motion as a whole constitutes
a prolongation of a single horizontalized chord.
The reader will, in fact, be fortunate if he understands anything at all.
We pass sadly by the murky waters of American musical terminology:
" horizontalization ", " chord-arpeggiation " (the key-words of trie
thesis), " structural top voice ", " prolonging techniques in structural
organism", "space-outlining", "space-filling", "embellishing motion",
and so on. We reflect that while Prout challenged no traditions he
made the incipient composer to understand what, we are sure, may
now be termed " primordial structuralization ".
There is no denying Miss Katz's ingenuity. She proposes a conclusion
and proceeds to discipline facts to the conclusion, which is, in brief, that
the influence of one chord may be extensive. We apply the lesson we
have learned to familiar things and reason thus: ' God save the King ' is
a horizontalization of the tonal centre of G; the first inversion of the
supertonic on the third quarter (from the German, for crotchet) of the
first measure provides not a harmonic but a contrapuntal, maybe a
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the more fruitful way ". There is a wonderful appendix in the ' Thesaurus ' giving a synopsis of chords: the " Pandiatonic Tone-Cluster "
which looks more like a weighted ear of corn than anything else, the
" Pentatonic Tone-Cluster " with its sharps looking like a swarm of
bees, the " Chord of the minor 23rd " containing all twelve chromatic
notes and four mutually exclusive triads, the " Grandmother Chord "
(solemnly declared to have been invented by the author on February
13th 1938) containing all twelve chromatic notes and eleven symmetrically
invertible intervals. But aurally these chords are horrible, and it seems
completely purposeless to give them in vacuo without any justifying
One cannot recommend these volumes for serious study (except perhaps
that the pianist will find some interesting technical patterns in the
' Thesaurus '), but rather for hilarious entertainment and for the optimism of the statement: " There are 479,001,600 possible combinations
of the 12 tones [sic, what is wrong with " notes " ?] of the chromatic
scale. With rhythmic variety added to the unbounded universe of
melodic patterns, there is no likelihood that new music will die of internal
starvation in the next 1,000 years ! " No, it is more likely to die of the
external starvation induced by the pseudo-vitamins of Messrs. Scbillinger
and Slonimsky.
E. R.

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