Surface Motives in Tonal Music and Their Influence on Our Readings of Background Structures

Emily Ahrens Yates, Texas Tech University/University of Texas at Arlington

Early in his theoretical writings, Heinrich Schenker emphasizes an importance of motive and fundamental structure to provide unity in tonal compositions. By his later writings, fundamental structure gains greater importance as the Ursatz is seen as the sole source of unity and motive a secondary feature. In the last several decades, several theorists have challenged Schenker's limited background structures. David Neumeyer proposes additional background structures that could be added to these in cases where Schenker's background structures do not seem to fit the character of the music in question, while Charles Smith uses form to inform background decisions. Charles Burkhart makes an important distinction between motivic parallelisms and "Ursatz parallelisms," a term he uses for replications of the Ursatz in a series of nesting levels, which are superior to motivic parallelisms. While each of these proposals features its own unique arguments, this paper will examine Neumeyer's ascending background structure in regard to motive. It will show how ascending surface motives of 5̂ to 8̂ are composed out, are evident in the middleground and foreground levels, and are replications of an ascending Urlinie background structure resolving the conflict in readings between motivic parallelisms of rising motives and "Ursatz parallelisms". In addition, this paper will revive the Schenker's earlier concepts of motive as a unifying feature.