In the final chapter of his Harmonielehre, Arnold Schoenberg analyzes a brief passage from his own compositional output. (You can find it here, on written page 418 [page 432 of the PDF].)

I'm looking for the earliest instance of a composer publishing an analysis of his/her own music.

Ideally the answer(s) will involve a relatively specific analysis. I can imagine, for instance, that a composer in 1100 may have included one of his compositions in a tonary, indicating his own "analysis" of the mode of the piece. This is great to know, but I'm looking for analyses that are a bit more in-depth than this. Think of Hindemith's own analyses, etc. Obviously there's some bit of opinion inherent in my question, but I think it's still clear enough for an acceptable question.

I have a few hypotheses--Descartes, for instance--but I'm curious what the collective knowledge has to share.

  • I'd argue that anyone who composes analyses their own work in some fashion, even if it is not in a traditional matter. There typically is a reason behind every note placed and a lot about being a composer is not only understanding this, but taking advantage of it. So I'd say the first composer.
    – Dom
    Jul 6, 2016 at 17:44
  • Fair enough; I've edited the question to show that I'm specifically looking for a publication.
    – Richard
    Jul 6, 2016 at 17:46
  • 1
    @Dom I have to disagree with you here. Most composers "analyze" their work to the extent of solving problems in the moment. Composers that use set processes (such as Serialism or Set Theory) do have a more intimate knowledge of their creations than other modes of composition, but composition and analysis themselves are two entirely separate enterprises. Dec 31, 2016 at 16:18
  • Hmmmm. I wonder if any of Tinctoris's treatises covered his own compositions. Jan 3, 2017 at 8:52

3 Answers 3


The origin of Western music theory starts with Guido de Arezzo, so that would probably be your best answer, 1028 AD


However, other indigenous/non-western music could very well be early as 1500 BC Mesopotamia or 400 BC China



The earliest example I can think of a composer specifically analysing a pieces of their own music is Nicola Vicentino in his 1555 treatise L'antica musica ridotta alla moderna prattica. He is actually very detailed. As another answer states this began with Guido d'Arezzo so there is probably an earlier example. Very interesting question!


Well, it seems a hard answer but I will try to do it. I can speak for my own compositions, and my own experiences in harmony devices and scales. I want to split this answer in two: 1) Melody: I have many ways to make a composition. a) Based in a scale: I usually try several scales from differents sources (western traditional scales, Lydian Chromatic Concepts scales, and another ones that I created and I categorized based in the spirit of Lydian Chromatic Concept of George Russell, these are more than 50). b) Randomly: I´m a tenor saxophone player and an amateur guitar and piano player (I use these two harmonic instruments to harmonize my compositions), and I take advantage of not playing in a achademic way the guitar i.e. to play tones in the instrument to make a good melodic line. Then, I analyze the resolutions of the phrases of the melody to achieve the root that leads it and this path guides me to do a better harmonization. 2) Harmony: Well, in this subject I try to write in a paper the possible targets to harmonize a melody, once I have indentify it. If it´s a scale from my own I have a list of chords for all the more than 50 scales that I created. I have an obsession to be the most original than I can and with this in mind I try the usually western chordal approach (II-V-I, II-bII-I, plagal cadence and so) with my own experimentations, but with my mind open to an horizontal traditional way to an vertical non so traditional one (these two concepts arises from Russell´s book also). Well, I can talk about this for hours but I don´t want to bore you and I don´t know if this is the answer that you need. To summarize, freedom it´s my goal and originality.

  • 3
    Very interesting, but I fail to see how this can be considered an answer to the question.
    – Old John
    Jul 8, 2016 at 18:03
  • @Fernando Carranza: probably you misunderstood the question. Obviously OP means by the earliest instance not the personal instance of any composer. If you read the question again and read the other answers: OP asks about the earliest instance in history ... I'm neither of English mother language and if I translate instance it gives me Instanz and it doesn't make sense to me :) Oct 22, 2019 at 19:13

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