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Theory of Harmony [Paperback]

Arnold Schoenberg , Walter Frisch , Roy E. Carter
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Oct. 13 2010
A new critical foreword by Walter Frisch, H. Harold Gumm/Harry and Albert von Tilzer Professor of Music at Columbia University, expands this centennial edition. Frisch puts Schoenberg's masterpiece into historical and ideological context, delineating the connections between music, theory, art, science, and architecture in turn-of-the century Austro-German culture.

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About the Author

Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951), renowned Austrian and American composer, musical theorist, painter, and teacher of composition, pioneered compositional and critical approaches to atonality that were landmarks in twentieth century musical thought.

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5.0 out of 5 stars The master has spoken! March 29 2013
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Common are you kidding me? It's not a review I should write but a praise!

Without going into all the details, this is to me much more than just a simple harmony book. It goes way deep into the meaning or art as well.

Only a master such as Schoenberg could have written such a thing.

Freaking brilliant! Highly recommended for serious musicians.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars First and foremost about Schoenberg April 8 2011
By Halvor Hosar - Published on Amazon.com
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Walter Frisch writes in the new foreword to Schoenberg's Theory of Harmony that it "should be required reading for everyone interested in Schoenberg, in the history of harmonic theory and practice, or in the Austro-German culture of the first decades of the twentieth century". It is hard to disagree with such a statement, but it also delineates clearly who such a book should be relevant for.

I have to agree with the many writers who have already pointed out that this book, while not entirely unsuitable as a harmony textbook even today, is eclipsed by newer textbooks. I used Piston's Harmony book for learning purposes, but even that one is to be considered almost as old as Schoenberg's book these days; I don't know how the newer books are, but judging from the number of releases during the last decades there has probably been quite a bit of innovation even in such a field. The harmonic language described may not have changed much, but pedagogy definitely have. I therefore cannot wholeheartedly recommend this as a theory book for novices.

What is left, then, is an enormous amount of philosophising about the nature of the rules of tonality, and how they came to rise. Schoenberg himself says that he is a composer, not a scholar, and many of his ideas do, indeed, seem to be taken out of thin air. His thoughts on parallelisms seems particularly pitiable today, but historical benevolence must be granted: In the hundred years since the release of this book an enormous amount of information regarding medieval and renaissance composition and performance practice has been uncovered, things Schoenberg could not have known. For a mere mortal it is of course consoling to see that even a giant like Schoenberg could be so wrong when he acted on his intuition. The book is therefore somewhat flawed when it comes to explaining the philosophy behind common practice harmony, which is the field where this book seems to get the most respect.

In the end, the book's value comes from the fact that it is written by one of the pivotal composers in music history, and gives us a window into his thoughts. I realize that many reviewers state that the book had ignited their interest in harmony, or even composition, an interest previously dulled by more succinct and to-the-point textbooks. I can definitely sympathise with this view, as the book gives a lot more food for thought than your average harmony book does. On the other hand, it has always been my opinion that people who are easily bored by textbooks are so because they are unable to think of it's larger implications and possibilities. Unused is probably a better word that unable, because it certainly is possible to learn. And while one should not scoff at this book in that respect, there are many roads to Rome, after all, it is in a way dangerous due to the fact that Schoenberg's opinions may be taken as fact. Of course, it is a good and thought provoking read, but it must be read as a hundred year old book, that is, with the benefit of hindsight.

In that respect I would have wanted (and sceptically hoped for) a new edition where we were explained, in linear notes, where Schoenberg goes wrong in his musings on the history of theory, and, to the degree it is possible, which contemporary sources (in the broadest sense of the term) made him do so. Alas, such a thing was not to come for the 100th anniversary, and one is therefore left wondering whether it will ever come. Frisch's foreword is interesting, but not exciting enough to warrant buying the new edition, and I can't find any noticeable differences in content between this edition and the earlier one from my university library, save the introduction by Frisch. So while the book is primarily for those interested in Schoenberg it could have been made more useful by a thorough questioning of Schoenberg's claims, but unfortunately it doesn't look like anything like it is in the horizon.

I feel a bit bad about giving three stars, especially since the new binding, though paperback, is very nice, and the print is as good as anything out there. But the bottom line is that this book is useful, but for fewer people than one might presume. For the present day reader I find it first and foremost about Schoenberg, like Frisch.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Harmony Book For Everyone Sept. 28 2011
By Peter L. Alexander - Published on Amazon.com
I studied out of this book and I've taught out of this book. What separates this work from other harmony works is that you have to "do" the book. Schoenberg gives precise guidelines that make this an excellent work for self-study too.

The book has three benefits.

First, you develop a serious harmonic language that you can apply to any genre.

Second, by doing the book, the student develops his or her hearing as they develop chord pairings first, followed next by longer chord progressions.

Third, it's skill based. What you learn you apply immediately and as a result, you develop skills quickly. What some classroom teachers don't like about the book is that it's creative and lacks the workbook and fast homework grading approach other titles offer.

Schoenberg has a meticulous approach that may frustrate students who want quick answers. But the end result of following through and being meticulous in your work is the harmonic vocabulary you develop, and the confident knowledge that you can apply this harmonic skill to any genre you want to move into.

Don't hesitate to get it.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Sept. 29 2011
By A customer - Published on Amazon.com
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This is a brilliant and fascinating book. It shouldn't be anyone's first "theory" textbook, nor could it be the only one, but it is the one that brought the study of "music theory" alive for me. It was exciting to find because it was the first book that put the study of harmony into the context of making music for me. I love the examples, and found the progression of material very logical and satisfying. Now he does go on at length on certain very philosophical topics, but if you take the time to read them, they are interesting, instructional, and often very witty. This is the book that made all the dry exercises come alive for me, and made things click. Suddenly I could start to see the connection between this formal study of "theory" and the great music that I had studied and played all my life. It's probably not for everyone, but if you know the rudiments of music theory and want to understand how all those chords are used to make music, I recommend it highly as I found it to be an important and very helpful tool.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A treasure Dec 8 2012
By Badotz - Published on Amazon.com
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For the past five years, I have listened to Glenn Gould's recordings of Schoenberg's piano music. I find it stunning; mind-blowing; possibly the most beautiful music I have ever heard.

I decided to refresh my (somewhat rusty) theory chops, and this book fit the bill. If you were subjected to Music Theory in high school (as I was) and you fell in love with it, then you will be right at home with this tome.

If, however, you ran screaming from the classroom, or simply sat with a "Huh?" look on your face while your teacher droned on about voice leading, passing tones, augmented fourths and the like, well, you still won't grok the enjoyment this book brings.

Which is too bad, for Schoenberg has a sense of the absurd, and does not take himself too seriously. His presentation is free of objective clutter, and he makes what could be dry reading evocative.

After reading Schoenberg, Piston et.al. seem thorough, but boring, even stiff. Study this book and find out why.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rivals Bach in it's scientific and methodical approach Jan. 30 2013
By Jeff Tucker - Published on Amazon.com
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This is the best music theory book ever written....It is a little dry but it contains everything you will ever need to know about harmony
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