The scholarly study of theory at Mannes has been significant to the tradition and reputation of the school from its beginnings, particularly in its looking at the main developments of the past 400-500 years through Schenkerian analysis as an integrating force for musical performance. Since Heinrich Schenker began teaching Schenkerian analysis at Mannes in
1931, Mannes faculty continue to infuse Schenkerian theory into their intellectual approach.
From the unfolding of motivic design to the array of harmonies that lead toward cadences, Mannes students are taught to observe and go deeply into the form of the music they play. For example, if studying a piece, students learn to ask: "What is important? What is core? What is the moment of illumination?" This emphasis on directionality and the attempt to reach "musical goals" in music speak to a larger insight into the role of the musician as an expert storyteller, a conveyor of ideas and emotions to an audience built on deep understanding of every aspect of a piece. Every Mannes student works at this dimensional awareness to approach musical events as an attempt to reveal the art and meaning of a composition in the moment. This requires thorough preparation.
Robert Cuckson, department chair of the Techniques of Music, says, "This is empowerment." "The approach has a narrative element to it. We want to develop the ‘imagination of the ear’ so that students can take ‘aural flight,' with the innermost ear having a sense of flying across the music, traveling both forwards and backwards in a piece, not being tied to the detail one is confronted with." Though Schenker is one of the pillars of the Techniques of Music courses, Cuckson stresses that the main overall objective of the program is to simply bring life to the study of music, to be fresh and invigorating, fully alive and meaningful at a moment of performance, which requires a mindful engagement with music.
Interaction and relationship are strong aspects of the coursework, as is support for serious intellectual study. Mannes faculty regularly give papers in major conferences, and many graduates go on to doctoral studies and jobs both in the field and academia. Professor Lynne Rogers, former president of the Society of Music Theory and an expert on Stravinsky, is bringing a public face to the department. Mannes hosted the Fifth International Schenkerian Symposium in 2013, an event it organizes every seven years.
"Music is an intuitive art, experiential," Cuckson says. "The Techniques courses build the necessary focus, rigor, and common sense to deliver that experience."
Within a close-knit community of theorists and performers, Mannes’ MM program in Theory offers a thorough grounding in theory; analysis, including Schenkerian analysis, for which Mannes is internationally known; pedagogy; and musicianship, which incorporates advanced dictation, keyboard skills, score
reading, and reading in all clefs. Beyond this standard curriculum, students in the program in theory have ample opportunity to develop their own interests in the field, through a combination of graduate seminars and independent study with faculty mentors, and to prepare for doctoral work.
The vibrancy of music theory study at Mannes is enhanced through extracurricular events, including the Techniques of Music Distinguished Scholars Lecture Series, the biennial Graduate Student Conference, the septennial Mannes International Schenker Symposium, and other, more informal scholarly activities. Experience in
tutoring is available through a limited number of graduate assistantships to the Techniques of Music Department and other means.
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