If you’re interested in music theory, you may have come across the name Schenker. Heinrich Schenker was an Austrian music theorist who lived from 1868 to 1935. He is best known for his work in the field of tonal analysis, which seeks to understand how pieces of music are structured around a central tonal center.

Early Life and Education

Schenker was born in Wisniowczyk, Galicia (now part of Ukraine) in 1868. He showed an early interest in music and began studying piano at a young age. He went on to study music theory and composition at the Vienna Conservatory, where he was deeply influenced by the work of composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven.


Schenker’s central idea was that all tonal music is based on a fundamental structure called the “Urlinie,” or “basic line.” This line represents the underlying harmonic structure of a piece of music, and can be thought of as a kind of musical DNA.

Three Levels of Analysis

Schenker’s approach involves three levels of analysis: foreground, middleground, and background. The foreground level involves analyzing individual notes and chords, while the middleground level looks at larger-scale harmonic progressions. The background level is concerned with the overall structure of the piece, including its form and tonality.

Graphic Notation

To help illustrate his ideas about tonal structure, Schenker developed a system of graphic notation known as “Schenkerian analysis.” This system uses lines and symbols to represent different levels of harmonic structure within a piece of music.


Schenker’s ideas have had a profound influence on the field of music theory, particularly in the study of tonal music. His approach has been used to analyze works by composers such as Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart, as well as many others.

In addition to his work in music theory, Schenker was also an accomplished composer. He wrote several works for piano, voice, and orchestra, but his music is not as well-known as his theoretical writings.


In conclusion, Heinrich Schenker was a pioneering figure in the field of tonal analysis. His ideas about the fundamental structure of tonal music have had a lasting impact on music theory and continue to be studied and debated by scholars today. If you’re interested in learning more about Schenker’s work, there are many resources available online and in print that can help you explore this fascinating area of study.