Heinrich Schenker and the organicism debate: UNPACKING Schenker's place in the Germanic philosophical tradition


Andrew J. Kizas, University of Western Ontario


'Was Schenker always an organicist?' This question arises, in part, due to statements made by Schenker in an early publication of 1895 titled: Der Geist der musikalischen Technik ('The Spirit of Musical Technique'). These statements have led some scholars to suggest that during the early part of his career Schenker's perspective was decidedly anti-organicist. On the other hand, there are those who argue that Schenker's perspective could never have been anything but organicist. Rather than promoting an either/or approach this paper takes a both/and stance in an effort to develop a hermeneutic that can more properly mine Schenker's writings for the meaning(s) buried therein.

Part one presents a brief overview of the opinions expressed by the dominant players in the Schenker/organicism debate and challenges the conventional interpretation of organicism that forgets its historical connection to 'spirit' or Geist, focusing instead on its biological connotations. Drawing on the work of Kevin Korsyn, part two underscores the metaphysical references present in Schenker's texts by exploring some of the parallels between Schenkerian and Kantian epistemology. While acknowledging Korsyn's important contribution, I argue against Korsyn's position that Schenker's earlier work represents an attempt to deconstruct the hierarchy privileging Geist in the nineteenth century.