Heinrich Schenker, 1927, photograph by F.-E. von Cube

The Austrian theorist Heinrich Schenker (1868-1935) is one of the most important thinkers in the history of Western music, and one of its most original minds: his achievements have been compared to those of Freud in psychology and Einstein in physics. His influence, modest (though not negligible) in his own lifetime, has grown steadily since the middle of the twentieth century; he had become a paradigmatic figure in the USA by the 1960s, and soon afterwards in Great Britain and elsewhere in Europe. Interest in his life's work is, in many respects, equal to that shown in the leading modernist composers of his time, and shows no signs of abating.

Schenker maintained a vigorous correspondence across nearly half a century, 1888-1935. His list of correspondents numbers around 400. We know already of over 7,000 documents, to and from him, in the four major collections and other locations; but the seeking-out of currently unknown caches of letters forms an integral part of the work of Schenker Documents Online.

His correspondence is a microcosm of Viennese and Austrian life in his time. It has an unusually wide remit, alluding to current events, the political landscape, war, the international scene, what the newspapers were saying, music education in Austria, the Viennese artistic season, personalities among Vienna's musical circles, reports of concerts, operas, first performances, and reviews. He kept up with the latest happenings, read books just published, kept his eye on the music publishers' lists of new works, and commented on them to his friends. He was extraordinarily widely read, highly informed, in touch with contemporary affairs.

He viewed all of these things, however, with a deeply conservative mind unsympathetic to democracy, social equality, and the world of contemporary art which he saw as reflecting these latter ideals. In his published writings he singled out Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Hindemith and Reger for particular criticism. In his correspondence he expressed hostility also to such 'moderns' as Richard Strauss, Ernst Krenek, and Franz Schreker, dubbing theirs an 'anti-musical music'. Such opposition was often shared by those to whom he wrote, with the result that the two sides of his correspondence together offer a fascinating view of early twentieth-century culture that complements and contrasts with the progress-orientated view much more familiar today. For the Schenker oeuvre, the correspondence opens up the development of his theoretical and analytical ideas, tracing in detail his plans for publication and showing how those plans came to fruition, were aborted or transformed. It also casts light on the forging of his analytical terminology and graphic symbols. Some of the analyses for which he later became famous took shape in the course of exchanges of letters. Another facet concerns the building up of a network of support for his theories among people based in many parts of the (Western) world, such as Edinburgh, New York, Hamburg, Leipzig, Munich, and Stuttgart. His letters also show how intimately related was his work as editor (undervalued today) to that as theorist and analyst, and show his interest in manuscript studies and his constant search for autograph sources.

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