Evidence that clears Heinrich Schenker of alleged racism

Evidence that clears Heinrich Schenker of alleged racism


norman lebrecht

December 13, 2021

Professor Timothy Jackson of the University of North Texas was cancelled by The Journal of Schenkerian Studies that he had founded after a New York associate professor, Philip Ewell, attacked Schenker for being racist. When Jackson responded, he faced a student mob baying for his head.

The university took an equivocal position and the legal battle is far from over.

Jackson has now published a paper showing how Ewell misread, mistranslated or misquoted German documents to arrive at his contentious supposition about the patriarch of music theory.

He writes:

‘Schenker wasn’t perfect—like almost everyone else during those fearful and confusing years, he was human, all too human. My intention is not to canonize him, nor to make him a subject of hagiography. He is a subject of history, and an ability to appreciate nuance, context, and complexity is what makes for truly sophisticated historical inquiry. This idea is being trampled by crude interventions that seek only to condemn and denounce. People outside of music and music theory may wonder why this debate concerning Schenker is of such tremendous importance. At stake is not simply the narrow matter of Schenker’s reputation, but the integrity of scholarly inquiry itself—the pursuit of truth and historical accuracy.’

Read the full paper here.




  • marcus says:

    I suppose it might be possible that Ewell is, in fact, a racist?

  • Y says:

    It doesn’t matter. It’s not about guilt or innocence with Leftists, but the seriousness of the charge. Schenker has been accused of racism, the worst evil imaginable in our oh-so enlightened society, and therefore he must be un-personed. Sorry.

  • Scott Fruehwald says:

    I posted a paper that refutes Ewell’s theories using cognitive science. Philip Ewell’s White Racial Framework in Music Theory and Cognitive Science https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3816979

    It is amazing that a scholarly society (the Society for Music Theory) has been gaslighted by a Kendi adherent like Ewell. I suspect that few in SMT have actually read Kendi or DiAngelo. If they did they would discover that the authors Ewell relies on are anti-science. There is no scientific basis to the authors Ewell relies upon.

    In short, Ewell is arguing is that Schenker was racist. He is also arguing that a person’s prejudices are like music theory. So, if an individual is prejudiced, his music theory is also prejudiced. However, has Ewell established that an individual’s prejudices are like a musical theory? No, he just assumes this. He has produced no evidence that this is true. He can’t because music, unlike language, is not a direct method of communication. Hierarchy in human races does not equal hierarchy in music. This is literally comparing apples and oranges. Stated this way, one can see the fault in Ewell’s analogy. In addition, scientific articles I cited in the paper I mentioned above concluded that Schenker’s theories reflect how the brain processes music.

    Now Professor Jackson has shown that Schenker was not the raging racist Ewell claimed.

    I call for SMT to depublish Professor Ewell’s paper on the ground it has been refuted.

    • This comment is an example of the fevered polemical absolutism that keeps this academic tempest in a tea cup going. Mr. Fruehwald writes, “Hierarchy in human races does not equal hierarchy in music.” In actual practice, the assignation of musical hierarchies based on race, even if arbitrarily assigned, are obvious in many cultures. Blackface parodies of African-American music that were meant to ridicule for comic effect while smugly implying white superiority, are an obvious example. The Nazi concepts of “degenerate music” are another well-known example as applied not only to jazz, but also to Roma and klezmer music, among others.

      Whether or not one agrees with Ewell, these social hierarchies expressed through music, music theory, musicology, and ethnomusicology are worth considering. There is much to be learned through a better understanding of how music is classicized.

      • John Borstlap says:

        “……….. these social hierarchies expressed through music, music theory, musicology, and ethnomusicology are worth considering.”

        Such social hierarchies are NOT expressed through music; they are labels carelessly glued onto music but aren’t a part of it. When the nazis used Beethoven symphonies to express their idea of ‘aryan superiority’, they simply took a label and put it onto a corpus of works which have nothing to do with nazi theories, and are, in fact, the opposite of them.

        This is exactly the point of Fruehwald’s comment.

        • That’s largely Ewell’s point as well, but then almost no one here has actually read his article.

        • David B says:

          That is not what Mr.Osborne is saying. He, among many others, are simply pointing to the universal phenomenon of social value-making determined by external cultural and historical factors. This is not distinct to music.

          Why do Americans and Shichuan Chinese people have markedly different tastes in food? It is not because of different tongues, it’s because of how the tongue has been trained throughout the course of life. Diamonds are not inherently valuable, especially for its use. Standards of beauty have shifted tremendously over the course of history, etc.

          The things we value, the things we take for granted as “preference” and things we even view as absolute, such as the greatness of Beethoven, are all most definitely affected by how our culture and history have shaped their value.

          Yes, it is a stretch to conclude that Schenker was a racist and therefore his theory was racist. However, we can still critically question why Schenker’s theories have been prioritized over other theories, and why Beethoven and Western classical music over other types of music?

          Everybody here claims to love music. If they do, then they should welcome any approach that tries to diversify the scope of great music and to help us get over our preconceptions so we can appreciate better.

          • John Borstlap says:

            This comment is, probably unintentionally, a form of wokism.

            Music theory is a Western thing, like most of science. Is there any other musical tradition with a comparable complexity both structurally and psychologically, and with a comparable variety in style and individual treatment and still based upon the same dynamics? So, that Western music theory concerns itself mainly with the Western classical tradition is merely normal and does not mean that other musical traditions are deemed inferior. There is a lot of theory concerning itself with other cultures: ethnomusicology. And that is a very rich field. I don’t know of any ethnomusicologist who only works on other cultures because he deems them superior to the Western tradition. Ethnomusicologists simply find the field very interesting and rewarding to study. Must they be considered blind to Western classical music and treating it with contempt?

            The increasing popularity of Western classical music in countries with a quite different history and musical tradition demonstrates the universality and inherent qualities of the art form, which the locals mostly find more interesting, more engaging, richer and more diverse, than their own musical tradition. For instance, it is regrettable that Chinese musical traditions are not so much cultivated as Western classical music in China, it seems they are getting neglected, but that is not due to the ‘domination of Western music’. The people embrace it becasue they love it and it signifies modernization and development.

          • Simon says:

            “Chinese musical traditions are not so much cultivated as Western classical music in China, it seems they are getting neglected“

            Chinese musical traditions are very much NOT neglected in China and are actually encouraged and highly supported by the government. Western classical music is somewhat popular (or, because it is in such a decline in the West, comparatively ‘it’s VEEERY popular!’) but nowhere near as their own many different forms of classical Chinese art forms and they are becoming more popular. Kids wearing old style clothes and learning how to make them, reading ancient poetry and making anime series based on it, learning traditional painting, learning how to sing in all the different styles of opera, taking pride in parts of history that was almost forgotten during the ‘century of humiliation’ as they refer to the 20th century.
            Anyway, a lot more people will listen to a Peking opera today rather than a Verdi. More will hear an erhu or a pipa solo than a violin, piano or cello one. More will learn how to dance Chinese folk dances than go hear Swan Lake or send their kid to learn ballet. This idea that China is so enamoured with western art reeks of exceptionalism. Like ‘our society has lost it’s way but our art is so universal and these people which we colonized until recently are totally seeing the deep value in our art and they love it and prefer it to theirs even, because ours is just so good…’ Ew.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Well, I just hope you are right. I read and heard different stories. But then, it is such a big country.

          • Gerry Feinsteen says:

            You clearly are just quoting some Leftist comment board hiding in a dark corner of Reddit.

            First, China is not the only country to exist in Asia, so your points are directly referring to communist China, not Taiwan, the Republic of China (indeed, you will find more performances, more music majors, and more young students learning piano and or violin than erhu or any of the countless Chinese forms of opera).
            In mainland (communist), there has been a strong push by the government to reinvigorate an interest in Chinese art forms precisely because Western art forms caught on rapidly. Walk the streets of any major Chinese city, open a streaming app, or a TikTok style app and you will find predominately more Western instruments and art forms (like ballet, not to mention sports) show a strong interest. The CCP government is promoting Chinese art forms precisely to save them. They are beautiful, indeed, but no, not nearly as prominent. Consider the national pride Chinese gather around an international competition winner on piano or violin. This has a strong effect on the thinking; that China is dominating in Western music overseas. Rap, hiphop dance, and the tv show Friends are also very popular. Read about the sorry decline of Cantonese opera in Hong Kong. The ratio of Chinese instruments to Western instruments must be 1:12 or greater.
            Japan? South Korea? Taiwan?
            They have already normalized Western classical into the education.
            I watched it happen in the 1980s and 1990s while living there. Music has been the best export of Western culture. The East has plenty to offer the world as well, in terms of food , medicine, and design. It is one planet we share.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Voilà, that’s what I thought.

          • David B says:

            Thank you for your response. First, what I mentioned is not “wokism”, it is a standard sociological and philosophical methodology that has a long history, starting with Hegel, then Nietzche and Freud who explored the unconscious. The field of value-theory is incredibly rich and established with multi-disciplinary approach (sociology, philosophy, neuroscience, anthropology, history etc.).

            Secondly, I never said that it is strange that western music theory should only examine western music. That is not at all the point of debate here. The question is the predominance of western music, and therefore, western theory.

            You demonstrate hasty conclusion when you say that Chinese people appreciating western music more than their own music shows the universality of western music. This statement needs qualifying and critical analysis, both to your claim that Western music is more popular in China, and more importantly to our discussion, it demonstrates universality. What is universality? Did you read my analogy of Sichuan taste vs American taste?

            The cultural dominance of the West we see now is a historical phenomenon that did not always exist. It is not an inevitable universal truth that this should be the case, but rather simply the consequence of many different factors, and music is not left unscathed by these factors either, insofar as they are productions of human beings bound to history.

            I believe we have discussed before the history of aesthetics. Have you looked into it? Universalism was all the rage with Plato and the Ancient philosophers, but we have moved well beyond that. What is beautiful, is not simply contained within the object. The object only exists as an object if a subject that perceives them exist, and therefore if we ascribe value to art as an object, the subject is part of the process of that value making. Huge amount of theoretical and observational studies have been made in this area of aesthetics. I really recommend you look into it.

          • “The question is the predominance of western music, and therefore, western theory.”
            The fact is that Western theory is predominant, not as a result of the predominance of Western music, but of some very specific of its characteristics.
            Western music mainly is written.
            (The objection that many other cultures also know musical notation does not hold: these cultures nevertheless produce a lot of music that is not written, while Western learned music so to say always is written.)
            One result is that Western music is “differred,” it is played and heard in the absence of the composer, often after her or his death.
            In order to ensure the “felicity of communication” in such a situation of “differance” (Derrida), Western music is constrained to build complex structures (such as sonata form). Complexity of structure of course does not mean superiority – other musics are superior in other aspects.
            But this structural complexity may be the main reason why Western culture produced such a mass or theoretical writings and of musical analyses to describe and discuss it.
            Ewell wrote that music theory should be “reframed,” but he never said how this could be achieved: Ewell probably knows very little about non Western music theory.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Don’t patronize with 20C relativism, which is so wrong on many accounts. It stems from the idea that man is fundamentally separated from nature. While the obvious reality is that man is part of nature and a product of natural evolution, including his mind and culture.

            Value in a work of art is not ‘made’ in the exchange between work and viewer/listener, it is understood and interpreted. When I read a book, I am not creating its meaning, I am understanding (or not) its meaning.

            In aesthetics, it is puffickly legitimate to claim that qualities and properties are part of the object. Also, the object exists entirely independent from any presence of a subject, complete with all of its qualities and properties. Properties of the object are perceived by the subject through its perception framework, which is influenced by acculturation, conditioning, etc. but that does not mean that properties are merely existing in the subject. Properties are understood by the subject, according to his/her capacities. That whole territory of relativism stems from the postkantian idea that we can never know reality as it ‘really is’ because we only have our interpretation. (From whence the craziness of ‘Il n’y existe un hors-texte’, i.e. there is no truth or reality, only interpretation and its discourses). Lots of that is the mire of French deconstruction and postmodernism, not worth serious contemplation.

            When someone listens to a musical work, the properties and qualities he/she experiences, are inherent in the work. With good music, its dynamics are based upon natural fluid mathematics (the inrerrelatedness of tones, creating a Schenkerian inner space), and the human mind – ANY human mind – is capable of picking-up these dynamics simply because all human brains work basically in the same way – notwhithstanding different levels of conditioning an development.

            To metaphorically compare art music with food is suggesting a false relationship, given the very different agents involved in the experience.

          • Fafner says:

            “why Beethoven and Western classical music over other types of music?”

            Umm, because we like it?

      • Nicolas Meeùs says:

        I know of no music in the world (excepting perhaps dodecaphonic serial music) that does rest on musical hierarchies. But what do you mean by “musical hierarchies based on race”? Where? How?

        • La plus belle voix says:

          Quite. Just non seq.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Let me give an example from a simple music lover. Playing on the black keys on the piano is black music, right? And on the white, well, that’s excluding the black keys. Pianos are racist instruments I think, they’re intimidating, and instruments of the bourgeoisie. I thought everybody knew this!


          • Herbie G says:

            Yes indeed John – and isn’t it time that we looked into why the black keys are black and why there are not as many black keys as white keys on the keyboard? I have, though, seen some harpsichords that reverse this obviously racist tendency.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Harpsichords are woke cannons.

        • I meant “I know of no music in the world that does NOT rest on musical hierarchies,” or course, sorry for that; but it seems that many understood.

      • Scott says:

        You have misstated my position. I am talking about hierarchy of the notes.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Tonal (normal, actually REAL) music is saturated with hierarchy. All possible relationships between notes are hierarchical in nature, with only a few exceptions. But that is a good thing because due to these hierarchies, music can move in time from one point to another, from one harmonic combination to another one, creating the experience of movement. Even the most ‘floating’ music makes use of these hierarchies in one way or another. It is in serial music or sound art where there are no hierarchies between the elements you hear, because there, it is the patterns which are hoped to be interesting as such, but nothing moves from one point to another internally. Hence the static nature of Boulex, Xenakis etc. in spite of the changes in patterns.

          The very lively experiences of music like that of ‘the classics’ are due to its play with hierarchies. That such theoretical observations of technical hierarchy are then associated with racism and ‘white supremacy’ is nonsensical paranoia, like claiming that the regularity of columns in a Greek temple reflect the warrior nature of Greek society where soldiers were trained in the form of straight rows of soldiers. Such neo-medieval ‘thinking’ stems from Foucault who in his book about prisons compares military training with the training children undergo when they learn to write between two horizontal lines – to be able to develop a regular handwriting.

    • Kyle says:

      “Hierarchy in human races does not equal hierarchy in music. This is literally comparing apples and oranges.”

      Yikes! Perhaps it would be better to stick with “the false analogy between personal racism and hierarchy in music” as in your scholarly presentation.

  • D** says:

    Wow! Kudos to Professor Timothy Jackson for a very impressive paper!

  • John Borstlap says:

    An excellent paper, and throroughly researched. I did not know Schenker was such a strongly self-confirmed Jew. The absolutisms of his theories have something Mosaic about them, as also can be found in the orthodoxies of Roman Catholicism and Freudian psychology.

    Mr Ewell should be cancelled, not for ethnic reasons but for academic ones.

    Schenker clearly thought that a culture can be absorbed by anyone, if talented and intelligent enough (‘like me!’). This simple lesson is still inaccessible to many people in music life and among the woke mongers. Leon Botstein has explained that many Jews in the Germany of the 19th century embraced German high culture and rejected their ‘Jewishness’ as a sign of complete integration. Hence the many ‘ex-Jews’ who were Wagner fanatics – ‘his antisemitism does not concern ME’. Wagner was baffled by this unexpected kind of reactions.

    Schenker was, by the way, strangely arrogant, and his obsession with the Urlinie I always found totally nonsensical. Music is more diverse and many-sided than that.

    His claims about the superiority of classical German music as something national is nonsensical as well – these handful of brilliant composers just happened to be German/Austrian but they were brilliant because of their individuality, not because of the culture they were born into. The best of German classical music is so because it is European and was happily developed in musically ideal circumstances. It could have happened in France, if there had been comparable circumstances in Paris (Mozart was not accepted in Paris when he was an adult, only as a child).

    The misconceptions, rewriting and misquoting of sources, the fanaticism and appropriation of musical works as ‘instruments of white suprematism’, as many wokists suffer from, look eerily like the paranoid notions of antisemitism.

  • Richard Sparks says:

    Professor Jackson teaches at the University of North Texas, not U North Carolina.

  • Scott Fruehwald says:

    The most damning thing about Ewell in Jackson’s paper is this:

    “Ewell writes approvingly of Schenker’s Austrian biographer, Martin Eybl, because “[Eybl] acknowledges Schenker’s racism forthrightly.” He specifies that “in a section entitled ‘Hierarchie der Völker’ (‘Hierarchy of Peoples’), Eybl builds a case for Schenker’s racism,” and quotes his own translation of a paragraph from Eybl’s monograph on Schenker:

    The term “Menschenhumus” is based on the idea that Germanism unequivocally constitutes the best natural conditions for the development of geniuses: in “Menschenhumus of the highest category” the “German genius” is manifest. … Anyone who considers the term “Menschenhumus” as a simple translation of the burdened conceptual pair of blood and soil is ignoring the pseudo-scientific bases of national-socialist racism and its predecessors.

    This quotation from Eybl is a central plank of Ewell’s argument. But Ewell’s ellipsis replaces a key sentence in the German original that categorically refutes and undercuts his own argument. It reads: “Again, Schenker does not argue on the basis of race, but of German national [culture].” [„Wieder argumentiert Schenker nicht rassistisch, sondern Deutschnational.”]

    Also omitted are the important two sentences that immediately follow this quotation, and which reinforce the same thought: ‘At no point does Schenker attempt to explain the superiority of Germanness genetically. The fact that the German people can be defined by language and culture forms the open and nebulous prerequisite for Schenker’s German nationalism.'”

    If Jackson is correct, Ewell has changed Schenker’s meaning from culture to race. If this is true, Ewell has committed academic fraud.

    • La plus belle voix says:

      Ewell quotes a questionable translation by William Drabkin of a letter dated 14 May 1933 from Schenker to his student Felix-Eberhard von Cube.

      One key passage relating to music as an art form that is “in sich versponnen” is rendered by Drabkin as an art form that is “intrinsically eccentric”.

      The rhetorical meaning of (lit.) “spun in itself” is “sich zu tief in eine Idee hinein versenken, sich ständig mit einer Idee befassen” and may be glossed as an “introverted, blinkered, obsessive and self-referential” art form, and only by association “eccentric”, even if “intrinsically” works well as one word where several might do.

      Does Ewell have a good command of German? Nothing in his CV that would point to that.

    • The undeniable correlations and intersections of German nationalism and racism, especially during Schenker’s lifetime, are well-documented by the horrors of history. Concepts of nationalism were closely linked to concepts of race. To overlook this is ridiculous.

      In fact, in was only about 20 years ago that Germany finally changed its Jus sanguinis citizenship laws so that they no longer considered one’s blood heritage.

      • Gerry Feinsteen says:

        If this jus sanguinis stuff is so important, consider also the countries that only grant citizenship to those with blood linkage. The major Western nations are far more progressive in this regard.

        When will Mr Osborne protest the lyrics of past and present rappers? There’s plenty there for him to keyboard-warrior against

      • John Borstlap says:

        “The undeniable correlations and intersections of German nationalism and racism, especially during Schenker’s lifetime, are well-documented by the horrors of history. Concepts of nationalism were closely linked to concepts of race.”

        Of course, we know that. And this shows Schenker as an independly-thinking man. Not everybody is a mere product of his time and environment. Here, Mr Osborne makes the same mistake as the wokists who claim guilt by association of the composers of the past who found themselves in circumstances not of their making.

      • “The undeniable correlations and intersections of German nationalism and racism, especially during Schenker’s lifetime,” (even if they really were undeniable) do not entail that Schenker himself made such a correlation – as a matter of fact, everything shows that he did not.
        (Let me add, just in case, that I read both Schenker’s writings in German, and Ewell’s in English.)

    • John Borstlap says:

      Indeed, Ewell is caught with his trousers down: intellectually dishonest. This is enough to disqualify him as an academic.

    • The attempt here to render the term Menschenhumus harmless is misguided. I’ve lived in Germany for 41 years and know the language well. After so much time, one learns not only the vocabulary, but also its shadings and implications. A current use of the term Menschenhumus would raise eyebrows, at least outside of far-right parties like the AfD and FPÖ. It has obvious implications of biological growth and of some sort of human seed. Especially in the context of the historical vocabulary of German racism, the word cannot be easily whitewashed and that is why a term like that is seldom used these days.

      There many many ways in German to express the idea that art grows out of cultural contexts such as kulturelles Umfeld, Bildung, and Tradition, or even historisches Fundament, etc. It is considered gauche and unnecessary by many in Germany and Austria to use words like Menschenhumus that subtly or not so subtly imply a biological basis to culture and hearken back to darker times. Ewell is quite justified in considering the implications of the term.

      • John Borstlap says:

        My suspicion is that using the term long before WW II has different associations than after.

        Words have fluid meanings and we cannot project current meanings into the past use of words. ‘The meaning of a word is its use’, Ludwig Wittgenstein.

        Think of a word like ‘negro’ and all the associations and meanings it had and has in America and Europe in different times an different places. It’s anaspeptic, all of it.

        • John Borstlap says:


          But it is definitely true that the word ‘Menschenhumus’ is a disgusting one, in whatever context or time.

  • Pablo Casals says:

    Ok Schenker was no racist but he must have been a dick?

    • John Borstlap says:

      The great achievement of Schenker is that he has theoretically formulated an important aspect of the listening experience of classical music: its two- or threedimensional nature, with a foreground, middleground and background structure. He has described the ‘inner space’ of music, which can be considered a virtual space, in which tonal forces move at different speeds. Composers like Bach, Mozart, etc. etc. never took lessons with Schenker but did exacly what he described. When music theory developed in the 18th and 19th century (beginning with Rameau, 1st half 18C), this was a materialist, vertical approach like looking into a dish and naming the ingredients. This explains nothing of the workings of music. The Schenker approach reveals, for the analytic mind, so much more: its structural properties in time.

      Why is such theory interesting or important? Because it explains something about the human mind.

  • One of the problems with the discussions on SD is that the views toward various beliefs and people are often misleadingly caricatured in ways that turn the readers against them. We thus get a lot of ranting about authors and artists completely out of the context of what they have actually said. I suspect that only a tiny fraction of the commenters here have even read Ewell’s article, and yet they are fully prepared to demonize him.

    Below is a link for Ewells article about racialized frameworks in music theory. Even if you might not agree with his thoughts, I think reasonable people who read his article would recognize that he is a serious thinker who addresses some relevant and complex issues that need consideration. Actually reading his article gives a very different picture of the man than what appears on SD. If only those who had actually read his article commented here, the discussion would inevitable be much more nuanced and intelligent.

    I realize that people seldom let a lack of knowledge get in the way of hateful bluster, but here’s Ewell’s article for those want to actually read it:


    • John Borstlap says:

      Would I need to read Ewell’s article to discover his academic credentials if he has been shown to be intellectually dishonest when he tried to make a point?

      The subject of embedded, systemic racism in any academic field is definitely one to be researched, but only in an academically spotless way, ESPECIALLY in an academically spotless way given the sensitivity of the subject. Mr Ewell has shown to be the worst enemy of himself and of the subject.

      • Anon says:

        Mr Osborne is quite right. If you have not read Philip Ewell’s article, you should, on academically spotless grounds, disqualify yourself from commenting on his academic integrity.

      • La plus belle voix says:

        Quite. Ewell’s arguments relating to a white racial framework in music have long since been debunked by Fruewald et al.

        Furthermore, Critical Race Theory focuses strongly on group identity over universal traits, or shared ones, and “successfully” divides the population into oppressed and oppressor groups. The result is intolerance.

        As a term, CRT has demonstrably become conflated with anti-racism and social justice. Today, it is lazily cited as the point of departure for diversity and inclusion programs, whether or not these are informed by CRT; take Black Lives Matter, to name but one.

        So we now have parent groups who blame the Promise Program for inciting the Parkland school shootings. Musicology should not be part of this. Period.

        For those of you who have not read Ewell, do consider an early premise by the author, who states that because the membership of the Society for Music Theory is largely white, music theory is therefore white, adding that he self-identifies as black. And so it goes.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Apt observations.

          “Furthermore, Critical Race Theory focuses strongly on group identity over universal traits, or shared ones, and “successfully” divides the population into oppressed and oppressor groups. The result is intolerance.”

          Indeed. What an irony. It is exatcly the shared and universal traits which bind humanity and makes us aware of the fact that we belong to one race, the human species. According to scientific theory, ‘race’ does not factually exist among humans. What is apparent, is adaptations to climate, circumstances, in short: the infinite creativity of Nature in terms of variations. Imagine that everybody would look the same, like sheep, pinguins, elephants, ants, dolphins – awful. Racism should be fought with education and awareness programs not by defining groups.

        • False, empty claims in the vein of Fox News and Breitbart without any documentation to support them. And of course, anonymous.

    • Scott Fruehwald says:

      Actually, you misstated my argument above, as John noted.

      • La plus belle voix says:

        I’ve lost the plot, and am not sure in this complex thread who misstated what argument. Please clarify. And humble apols. for misspelling your name.

        • John Borstlap says:

          I took a new look into this discussion and I’ve no idea where it’s about. I think it’s like virus, you start-off with woke anxiety and prejudice and you end where you began in new waves all the time!


  • Jack says:

    Schenker’s work has nothing to do with any of this. One can either buy into his theories on the structure of music or not, but I don’t really give a damn about his racial views and wonder why anyone else would, since the only reason we remember him is his body of work in music theory.

  • An interesting response by Prof. Jackson, but flawed because the history of National Socialism, the Holocaust, and Jewish refugees is outside his field. His explanations about Schenker and other victims of Nazism are thus oversimplified and polemical.

    Pamela Potter has written a book about the worldviews of the Jewish refugees involved with classical music who immigrated to the USA during the Reich. It is entitled “Most German of the Arts: Musicology and Society from the Weimar Republic to the End of Hitler`s Reich.” She specifically examines German concepts of cultural superiority in classical music and how many Jewish refugees ironically brought those same attitudes to the USA. These refugees certainly saw Hitler as destroying German culture, but that did not diminish their view of the superiority of German culture.

    During the 1920s and 30s, many people in Germany and beyond held racial and nationalistic views about culture and its origins. US immigration policies, for example, were deeply influenced by concepts of racism and eugenics. In this sense, the Jewish communities in Germany and Austria were not unlike many people around the world. In numerous cases, established members of bourgeois society had their lives upturned when the same ideas they held about Germanness, race, and culture were turned around and used to persecute them. It was only after the horrors of the Third Reich that broader spectrums of society began to see how wrong those ideas were. Schenker lived in this transitional world. This should be remembered by both sides of the debate when they polemicize about what they think Schenker beliefs were.

    You can read about and order Prof. Potter’s book here:


    • John Borstlap says:

      I read her book, it is most interesting and most ironical.

      How wrong is it to think that German musical culture as such is superior to any other musical culture? Apart from the question whether you’re a Jew or not, or a German or not.

      It is flawed thinking to need to put down something else to elevate what you love most, as it is futile and silly to call every other woman ugly to be able to say that your own wife is beautiful. To use the concept of ‘superior’ however, can also mean – dependent upon context – as ‘belonging to the best’ and there is nothing wrong with this.

      That the superiority of the work of only 4 or 5 composers is due to their nationality, is another serious flaw of thinking. It is an individual thing.

  • Alviano says:

    Ewell is a superb academic tactician. He takes an extreme position designed to gain maximum attention and which many are happy to believe, with or without evidence. Further, this extreme position is difficult to attack without opening oneself to accusations of being as bad as the object of Ewell’s opprobrium. And, bingo, Ewell is famous and has a devoted band of followers.
    This tactic has been used in other disciplines.

  • Scott Fruehwald says:

    I have just sent the following letter to the Executive Board of the Society for Music theory, urging that they censure him for academic fraud:

    December14, 2021

    Executive Board
    Society for Music Theory

    Dear Board Members,

    I am writing to request that you censure SMT member Dr. Philip Jackson for academic fraud. As I am sure you are aware, Philip Ewell has accused Jewish music theorist, Heinrich Schenker, of being an “ardent racist.” A recent article by Dr. Timothy Jackson has shown that Dr. Ewell committed academic fraud when he mistranslated several quotes from German in support of his claim. The Schenker Controversy at https://quillette.com/p/48ac5054-15b2-4715-8732-3d0c3c5e7c9c/. See also Evidence that clears Heinrich Schenker of alleged racism at https://slippedisc.com/2021/12/evidence-that-clears-heinrich-schenker-of-alleged-racism/.

    In his article, Professor Jackson gives three examples where Dr. Ewell misrepresented Schenker’s quotes. In particular, “Ewell writes approvingly of Schenker’s Austrian biographer, Martin Eybl, because “[Eybl] acknowledges Schenker’s racism forthrightly.” He specifies that “in a section entitled ‘Hierarchie der Völker’ (‘Hierarchy of Peoples’), Eybl builds a case for Schenker’s racism,” and quotes his own translation of a paragraph from Eybl’s monograph on Schenker:

    The term “Menschenhumus” is based on the idea that Germanism unequivocally constitutes the best natural conditions for the development of geniuses: in “Menschenhumus of the highest category” the “German genius” is manifest. … Anyone who considers the term “Menschenhumus” as a simple translation of the burdened conceptual pair of blood and soil is ignoring the pseudo-scientific bases of national-socialist racism and its predecessors.

    This quotation from Eybl is a central plank of Ewell’s argument. But Ewell’s ellipsis replaces a key sentence in the German original that categorically refutes and undercuts his own argument. It reads: “Again, Schenker does not argue on the basis of race, but of German national [culture].” [„Wieder argumentiert Schenker nicht rassistisch, sondern Deutschnational.”]

    Also omitted are the important two sentences that immediately follow this quotation, and which reinforce the same thought: “At no point does Schenker attempt to explain the superiority of Germanness genetically. The fact that the German people can be defined by language and culture forms the open and nebulous prerequisite for Schenker’s German nationalism.”

    In other words, by omitting three sentences, Ewell has changed Schenker’s meaning from culture to race. This is not a disagreement about how a text should be translated. It is a deliberate attempt to change meaning to support Ewell’s academic argument by omitting three sentences.

    Considering the above, I urge this Board to censure Dr. Ewell for academic fraud.

    Thank You,

    Dr. Scott Fruehwald
    Ph.D. in Musicology, CUNY Grad 1985
    J.D. Univ. Of Louisville, School of Law 1989

    • John Borstlap says:

      I hope you corrected the first sentence:

      “I am writing to request that you censure SMT member Dr. Philip Jackson for academic fraud.”

      I thought it was about Dr Ewell who should be censured.

    • John Borstlap says:


      Often it is a PA problem, as is my own experience. Always check the result!

    • La plus belle voix says:

      The term “Menschenhumus” may be traced to two novels by Jewish authors: “Laudin und die Seinen” (1925) by Jakob Wassermann and “Die Verzauberung” by Hermann Broch (1935/36-1950, pub. 1953 op. post.)

      As protagonist, Laudin moves from analysing the ills of society towards making a plea for a transformation of the social ideal, this in turn calling for a greater stock of “Menschenhumus”.

      The term is both awkward and vague, but patently meant to be understood as something organic, Wassermann, as ever, moving from the specifically social to the vaguely mystical.

      • La plus belle voix says:

        PS: The term occurs first in print at least in Schenker’s “Der Tonwille. Flugblätter zum Zeugnis unwandelbarer Gesetze der Tonkunst einer neuen Jugend dargebracht.” (10 vols. Vienna/Leipzig 1921–1924), thus predating both novels’ actual publication.

        Quite what Schenker meant, given that the word not only directly paraphrases both Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, but also relates to the Goethian idea of a “Keim” as relating to music per se is open to discussion.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Goethe’s idea of the ‘Urpflanz’ has nothing to do with fascistoid associations of ‘Menschenhumus’.

          Vegetative references made for classical music were correct insights into the formation of larger structures where basic ‘tropes’ are subdued to continuous variation. Schoenberg’s term ‘developing variation’ is a fruit from this thinking. It is a typical German way of thinking ‘organically’ about how music is created, based upon analyses of Beethoven, Brahms and Wagner.

          The only French reference of vegetation in connection with the structure of music which comes to mind is in a review of Debussy’s Baudelaire Songs, made by the author Willy Gauthier-Villars: ‘Mr Debussy spread the dung of his music over Baudelaire’s flowers of evil’ (the texts were from Baudelaire’s ‘Les Fleurs du Mal’).

    • Fruehwald’s post is one of the most ridiculously pretentious I’ve ever seen. Even with various readings of Ebyl’s text, the troubling nature of the term Menschenhumus remains and is very much worth Ewell’s critiques–a concept of culture as biological and stemming from some sort of human seed.

      Fruehwald is also clueless about the close historical relationships between “Deutschnationlismus” and racism, during Schenker’s lifetime. They were all but inseparable. Fruehwald’s argument that Schenker was not racist and only Deutschnational is astoundingly naïve. He would do well to learn that Deutschnational was a standard part of Nazi jargon and that it was fully intertwined with racist concepts.

  • Enquirer says:

    A small amount of time spent searching online for information about the current state of the issue of Schenker and racism, and the place of Schenkerian studies in US academia, led me to at least three discussions a thousand times more informative, open-minded and fair than almost all the quibbling comments on this thread.




    Anybody who had actually read Ewell’s article would know that it is not an attack on Schenker for being racist.

    • Quite true. The irony is that the attacks on Ewell have so strongly highlighted the race issue that instead of being overlooked as tangential, it is now a stain on Schenker’s reputation. In that sense, Prof. Jackson has inadvertently accomplished what was not even Ewell’s intention.

    • The first article linked has a significant error. It says Schenker died before the Nazis came to power. Actually, he died two years after they took power.

    • La plus belle voix says:

      Fact check: A disingenuous contention, Enquirer, when one considers a comment by Ewell himself, “I’ve only scratched the surface in showing out how Schenker’s racism permeates his music theories,” who goes on to accuse generations of Schenker scholars of trying to “whitewash” the theorist in an act of “colorblind racism.”

      • John Borstlap says:


        No whitewashing please.

      • Enquirer says:

        Schenkerian scholars openly acknowledge that Schenker held racist views, but assert that they have no bearing on his musical theory; it is that assertion that Ewell takes issue with, rightly or wrongly. Merely attacking Schenker for racism would have been superfluous, and was not the point of Ewell’s scholarly article.

        • Scott says:

          Your right, Megan. People are missing Ewell’s point. Ewell’s point is to make a name for himself without saying anything significant about music.

        • Scott says:

          Megan. If Ewell wasn’t trying to show that Schenker was a racist, why did he “mistranslate” at least three quotes, inlduding one where he left out three sentences, which completely changed the quotes meaning?

        • John Borstlap says:

          It is not Schenker who should be cancelled but mr Ewell.

        • True. Music theory is a method of analysis in strictly musical terms which inherently precludes considerations of race. Music theory can, however, have ethnocentric biases such as being a system of analysis specifically focused on certain kinds of music. There are thus no racist elements in Schenker’s theory in itself, but it does have an ethnocentric bias directed toward Germanic music. In future writings, I think Ewell (and musicology in general) could make a clearer distinction between racism and ethnocentricity, while also exploring their correlations and differences. It would lead to clearer thinking that solve a number of paradoxes and conflicts.

          • Enquirer says:

            @William Osborne. “I think Ewell (and musicology in general) could make a clearer distinction between racism and ethnocentricity” – an excellent point. Schenker believed that only the German genius was capable of conceiving and developing the Urlinie, so for him German ultra-nationalism was baked into his system of musical analysis. It seems that, for him (and his followers), any form of music that did not lend itself to his theoretical approach did not count as proper music.

            The fact that Schenker was Jewish meant that he could not endorse the ‘blood’ theory if he claimed, as he did, to be thoroughly German; however, he heartily espoused all other aspects of German supremacist thought, including racially based contempt for Black and Asiatic people (and, on occasion, Jews).

          • Exactly. And this is the weakness in the argument put forth by Scott Fruewald. There is no great distinction between the terms “Menschenhumus” and “Deutschnational.”

            Ewell’s arguments lead us to ask to what extent ethnocentricity is acceptable. Some forms of ethnocentricity are racist, but there are forms that are not. Can we blame people in Chinatown or Little Italy for hanging onto and celebrating their beautiful cultural ideals? Can we blame the Curtis Institute for a focus on Western classical music theory when the school’s purpose is to train musicians for the Philadelphia Orchestra and similar institutions? Can we blame the Berklee School for focusing on analytics theories of jazz and pop?

            On the other hand, is it legitimate for the Vienna Philharmonic to exclude Asians because the orchestra feels they would destroy the ensemble’s image of Austrian authenticity? About a quarter to a third of the student’s at Vienna’s University of Music over the last half century have been Asian and have deeply learned Viennese concepts of performance.

            Does the musicological community need to develop a more differentiated understanding of ethnocentricity and racism and the role they play in defining curriculum? Would the model be racism never, but ethnocentricity as a possible aware choice in specific, justifiable circumstances?

            We need to understand that Schenker’s racism is deeply intertwined with his ethnocentricity. Can later Schenkerians plausibly leave his racism behind and in specific circumstances embrace an ethnocentric study of a specific repertoire that in some respects is indeed ethnic? In our small world, isn’t the study of Western classical music indeed a form of ethnomusicology?

            In this context, we might also consider the modern day concept of Leitkultur and its troubling political uses in Germany and Austria.


            Discussions of Leitkultur and its inherent aspects of ethnocentricity and blurred lines with racism should be an important part of the Schenker debate.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Schenker restricted his research to what he deemed the best of German music. That was his specialism and his great love. Nothing to condemn him for it, if other, crazy people used the same music to fit their paranoid racism. Later-on, other musicologists have developed his method to other music as well and it appeared to work there in the same way – as long as it was tonal, that is. They extended the use of the method.

            If Hitler had been forced, strapped on a chair, to understand Schneker’s method, he may have got so confused that he would have called-off the war.

    • Scott says:

      Megan. I actually read Ewell’s article, and it calls Schenker “an ardent racist.”

    • Scott says:

      The Lavengood blog post misunderstands what the articles in the Schenker symposium are saying. This is a better article to read. https://johnhalle.com/on-tonal-stability-and-white-fragility-music-theorys-gift-to-the-right/

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Just as an f.y.i., University of North Texas in Denton is a really good music school that has turned out many, many fine instrumentalists. There’s basically nothing to do their but practice and make music. Yet, it’s only an hour’s drive to Dallas.