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The Fundamental Structure (cont.)

Three Blind Mice (Part II)
The example below shows how "Three Blind Mice" might be understood in terms of the fundamental structure. The first note of the descent from (Schenker calls this the Kopfton which means 'head tone' but is usually translated as primary tone) is prolonged by an ascending arpeggiation followed by a consonant skip. finally gives way to after the cadential six-four at the beginning of the final bar.

It is usual for most of the piece to occur between the primary tone and the final descent to .

The bar lines have been left in this example for clarity but they are not usually used in a Schenkerian analysis (see Notation Guide)

This long prolongation of demonstrates an important theoretical concept connected with the fundamental structure which Schenker calls 'mental retention'.

He proposed that once we have heard a structural note, we hold it in our minds until the establishment of the next one. In "Three Blind Mice", the first note of the fundamental structure is held in our minds until the final . In this case, no note of equivalent structural importance contradicts it - there is no large-scale prolongation of a note from a harmony other than the tonic.

Even if there were, for example, an F neighbour note prolonged over several bars, the principle of mental retention suggests that we would hear the next E over the tonic as a return to the original - this scale degree being held in our minds for the whole of the neighbour note diminution.

As with many of Schenker's most important concepts, mental retention occurs both on the smallest level (e.g. the B neighbour note in bar five) and the largest. In "Three Blind Mice", the effect is easily perceptible but the mental retention of the primary tone across the first movement of a Beethoven symphony, for example, is arguably more conceptual than perceptual. Schenker, however, argues that not hearing music in such large spans merely shows an inablity to hear it properly (for more on this see the Why? section of SchenkerGUIDE).

One other controversial theoretical principle is worth mentioning at this stage. The descent from in "Three Blind Mice" occurs within one octave and Schenker insisted that this had to be the case in all tonal music.

He argued that a piece of music was not satisfactorily closed until the tension introduced by had been resolved in the same octave - he called this principle 'obligatory register'. In practice, this is rarely problematic, as pieces do seem generally to conform to this pattern. The problem is one that crops up repeatedly with Schenker: an implication that if music does not follow his model it is therefore bad. Schenker's critics accuse him of finding devious solutions when acknowledged masterpieces contradict part of his theory - in the end you have to make up your own mind whether his analytical model is a useful one with some anomalies, or fatally flawed.