Atonality, analysis, and the intentional fallacy

Ethan Haimo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Despite criticisms, Allen Forte's theory of atonal music remains a widely used basis for analyzing atonal music, particularly that of Schoenberg. A re-examination of Forte's premises questions whether his method is suitable for the analysis of Schoenberg's music. Schoenberg's manuscripts and writings lack any evidence that Schoenberg intentionally composed with pitch-class sets. In the past, the practice of justifying analytical observations by recourse to the composer's intentions has led some to reject the findings, invoking the intentional fallacy. However, the intentional fallacy has been hotly disputed and should not be used to reject all uses of the composer's intentions. Indeed, certain kinds of statements not only permit but mandate consideration of the composer's intentions. A close examination of Forte's analysis of Schoenberg's op. 11 no. 1 reveals that his analysis fails the criterion of testability. An alternative analytical approach is proposed, one which is more in conformity with what is known of Schoenberg's compositional thought from the period.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-199
Number of pages33
JournalMusic Theory Spectrum
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1996


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