Are there equivalents to literary theories for music ? I'm trying to find extensive music review "theories" which would be arguably philosophical ( similar to for example structuralism/psychoanalysis/deconstruction etc..) and involves analyzing the music it self rather than the lyrics. Who are some canonical thinkers/philosopers like Roland Barthes/Freud/Jacques Derrida etc.. for music?
I'm finding it difficult to get a starting point for googling.

  • 1
    I think Schenkerian analysis might be an example of what you’re looking for, but there’s a problem which is that Schenker developed his analytic method in order to advance his white supremacist views and “prove” that white European music was the best music made in the world. Jun 24 at 21:14
  • "Philosophy of Music"
    – Aaron
    Jun 24 at 21:19
  • @ToddWilcox thank you for introducing Schenkerian analysis! excited to explore more..
    – DinushanM
    Jun 24 at 21:49
  • @ToddWilcox - I'm as anti-white supremacist as the next person, but we still listen to, and play (or sing) Wagner. Do you have a link that will convince me that the Schenker analytical approach should be thrown out like the baby with the bathwater? At some point, I started a master's at Ann Arbor (a hotbed of radical leftism) and when I took a class that introduced me to the Schenker approach, there was no political propaganda in the class, whatsoever. cf. Freud was sexist, but his contribution was still important, no? Jun 24 at 23:48
  • @aparente001 I have no desire to convince you of anything (you could have easily googled and found several sources on your own by now) and I didn’t say anything about throwing anything out. Just putting an asterisk next to Schenker. And I feel like Freud and Wagner might not be totally analogous because their work was not solely intended to further white (or male, or whatever) supremacy. Schenker developed his theories to be deliberately biased. The fact that US universities heavily rely on Schenker is not validation, it’s a big systemic problem. Jun 25 at 1:26

2 Answers 2


German philosopher Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969) wrote extensively about music. He was a member of the Frankfurt School, and heavily influenced by Sigmund Freud, Marxism, and Hegel's dialectic. He was also a pianist, and he studied composition with Alban Berg.

His most important writing on music has been compiled in the book "Essays on Music". As the publisher puts it:

Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969), one of the principal figures associated with the Frankfurt School, wrote extensively on culture, modernity, aesthetics, literature, and—more than any other subject—music. To this day, Adorno remains the single most influential contributor to the development of qualitative musical sociology which, together with his nuanced intertextual readings of musical works, gives him broad claim as a continuing force in the study of music.

  • thank you! I'm so excited to explore his works..
    – DinushanM
    Jun 24 at 21:49


Over the centuries of European music theory there were many theorists and treatises that could be named.

Probably one of the biggest names to look into, especially in terms of linking ancient music theory with modern theory, is Jean Philippe Rameau and his Treatise on Harmony, where he introduced the theory of root progression.

Questions asking for sources are supposed to be off topic, so your question may get closed soon.

  • Would you mind proofreading? I could dive in but I might misinterpret some part of what you wrote. Jun 26 at 3:23
  • @aparente001, proofread what? Dive into what? Do you see a mistake in my answer? Jun 27 at 12:41
  • Do you mean "over the centuries of theory there are many people and treatises that could be named" for example? I'm just not sure enough about what you are trying to express to try to fix your first sentence myself. Jun 29 at 2:19
  • 1
    Yes I meant it, but the grammar was pretty mangled. I edited it. Jun 29 at 12:36

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