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University of Iowa

Was ist Satz?

Much like speech, a great deal of music both within and beyond the common practice is comprised entirely of Sätze, or clauses, which William E. Caplin calls “thematic units,” yet the basic question of what constitutes a Satz remains as vexing as when it was first asked centuries ago by theorists such as Heinrich C. Koch. Drawing on comparative analysis of Western art music and chant from the Republic of Georgia (which is emically understood as being comprised of mukhlebi, literally Sätze), I argue that both Sätze and their component phrases are differentiated in the same way with respect to the eight structural functions described by Matthew Arndt. This clarification of phrase types and Satz types cuts through the inconsistent and needlessly multiplied terminology currently applied to Sätze with different designs and functions. With this clarification, it is relatively easy to analyze any of the countless Sätze in speech-like music, regardless of their style, proximity to convention, or formal position, and regardless of truncation, interpolation, elision, compounding, and Satz-like construction of phrases, complications that have previously hindered analysis. This elucidation of Sätze reaches beyond the common practice while actually enhancing analytical precision. In addition, the correlation of structural function with hue in accordance with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s theory of color makes the analysis intuitive and accessible.


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Matthew Arndt, Associate Professor of Music Theory at the University of Iowa, holds a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He studies the application of insights from the history of music theory to music theory pedagogy, analysis, and criticism. He also studies structural aspects of three-voiced chant from the Republic of Georgia and other instances of spirituality in music. He is the author of The Musical Thought and Spiritual Lives of Heinrich Schenker and Arnold Schoenberg (Routledge, 2018). His articles appear in the Journal of Music Theory, the Journal of Schenkerian Studies, Music Theory and Analysis, Music Theory Spectrum, the Proceedings of the Eighth International Symposium on Traditional Polyphony, Theoria, Theory and Practice, and Zeitschrift der Gesellschaft für Musiktheorie.

Matthew Arndt

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