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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
First and foremost about SchoenbergApril 8 2011
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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.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HardcoreApril 27 2014
My Pen Name
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This book is the Teach Yourself Person's music theory bible. No joke. If you take the time to study it properly and reread any sections that seem a bit hazy, it will take you a while to get through it, but your understanding of music and harmony will be incredibly profound. I would like to stress that this is NOT a simple book, with simple explanations for music voicing and harmonic instruction. On the contrary, there are very complex concepts and systems that he explains here that are fairly deep, and will require quite a bit of study and definitely some rereading. The book itself is written by a teacher, for teachers AND students. I have not completed this study yet for lack of free time, as I am taking it slow as to understand everything fully, but the more I study this, the more I want to continue studying it. The knowledge he presents builds on itself, and everything is explained in a logical and very thorough fashion. Also, it is not just theory he teaches. He aims to have the pupil well-versed in 4-part voice composition, chord progressions, modulation, transposing, etc, so you will be writing music, and you will be flying through pages and pages of it in your practice exercises.
If you want a hardcore study, and want to come to understand things about sound and harmony you would never even guess at; if you want to learn to write music (and not just throw chords together because they sound great) with purpose; if you yearn to understand WHY that one song sounds so incredible, and to learn how to evoke emotions through similar progressions and melody, this is the book for you, and it is worth many times the amount of money requested here. However, if you want a quick study of harmony with easy-to-understand, simplified concepts, countless pictures of hands shaped to play chords, and large illustrated diagrams of the grand staff, you will not be satisfied.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
A Harmony Book For EveryoneSept. 28 2011
Peter L. Alexander
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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.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
BrilliantSept. 29 2011
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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.
Useful and powerful knowledge, bad textbookJan. 6 2015
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I was searching for textbooks in Harmony, and I found a translated version of this book. That book was a very fine book except it has a note saying "some parts are not translated". This in turn moves me to look into the "more original" version, and thus I found this book of this particular version. However this book very bitter to read when compared to that translated version of mine.
About this book.... Cons: (1) Philosophy always pops up unexpectedly in the context. Very often, when I read using the graphs (i.e. the scores), I encounter a few pages of head-scratching philosophy, then it resumes back to the graphs. I find this frustrating that very often I don't know if I am reading theory or philosophy.
(2) Ideas (both theory and philosophy) are not systematically organized. No matter Schoenberg's philosophy is absolutely objective or not, his ideas are (mostly) given in paragraphs rather than in point forms or tables which would have made things much more simple. Readers have to dig through the novel-like paragraphs to find out main points. This is annoying since I don't have an overall layout of his theory and philosophy; and I can't skip any (boring) content, otherwise I will miss out some points.
(3) In my opinion, Schoenberg did not have a scholarly touch in writing. Sometimes his philosophy sounds like his personal opinion or experience rather than a piece of solid information or knowledge.
However... Pros: (1) The Theory of Harmony inside is sufficiently explained. And since the theory itself is a part of universal truth, the Theory has power in it. In fact I couldn't find any "sound doctrine" in pop-music which forces me to go back to Classical Music; that's why I found this book in first place. In my opinion, if you understand first 40% of all graphs in this book, you are already above the level of some self-taught pop-song players and even writers.
(2) The Theory is absolutely useful in terms of application. If you read this book while sitting by a piano or keyboard and just ignore the philosophy, you will immediately know what Schoenberg means in his Theory.
Conclusion: I love this book, and I hate this book also. This book is a modern study of 300-year-old Classical Music, but this is not a textbook-grade book as of today's standard.
Recommendation: If you are a music school student, this book is a must-read. If you are a music teacher, try to read this book; this book is very informative despite its philosophy. If you make music as a career, PLEASE read this book, or at least other books interpreting this Schoenberg's theory. If you play music just for fun, it is entirely up to you. If you are an enthusiastic fan of Schoenberg just like those of Star Wars and LotR, you don't have to read this review then.