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date: 11 July 2020

Ziehn, Bernhard locked

  • Siegmund Levarie


(b Erfurt, Germany, Jan 20, 1845; d Chicago, Sept 8, 1912). German-American music theorist . After settling in 1868 in Chicago, he taught mathematics, German and music at the German Lutheran School (1868–71) before establishing himself as a private music teacher. His independent and original views were greatly admired by Hans von Bülow, Hugo Kaun, Leopold Godowsky, Ferruccio Busoni, George P. Upton and others. Ziehn’s critical essays are mostly polemic, whether championing (Theodore Thomas, Anton Bruckner) or condemning (Hugo Riemann, Eduard Hanslick, Philipp Spitta). His system of exercises for pianists led him to the realization that passages beginning on D or A♭ yield upward and downward an exact symmetry of tones and of fingering – a principle of ‘symmetric inversion’ he subsequently applied to music theory. His textbooks on harmony and composition are distinguished by a minimum of rules and explanations and a wealth of music examples (from Schütz and Rameau to Bruckner and Boito). While still structuring chords by 3rds, he strongly rejected Riemann’s functional harmony and proceeded from accepting and interpreting literally the equally tempered division of the octave. The result is a chromatic and enharmonic system, occasionally complicated in its terminology, but pointing to the later language of Skryabin and Schoenberg. His ‘enharmonic law’ affirms that ‘every chord tone may become the fundamental’....

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Musical Quarterly