Prof. Eytan Agmon

Music Building (1005), room 10
תחומי עניין

Prof. Eytan Agmon joined the faculty of the Department of Music in 1983. He specializes in the theory and analysis of Western music, including its tone-systemic, harmonic, and rhythmic foundations.


שעות קבלה
By appointment
    קורות חיים

    Prof. Eytan Agmon has a double BMus in piano and theory 1975 from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, and PhD in music theory (with en route MPhil, 1983) 1986 from City University of New York. His Dissertation, “Diatonicism, Chromaticism and Enharmonicism: A Study in Cognition and Perception,” was supervised by Prof. Carl Schachter. Prof. Agmon taught at the Mannes College of Music in New York, 1981–1983, and the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, 1983–1989. He was a visiting professor at the University of Chicago, 1997–1998, and SUNY Buffalo, 2003–2004. 

    Prof. Agmon is a founding member of ESCOM—European Society for the Cognitive Science of Music, 1991.


    I try not to confine myself to a single area of research and allow my interests to spread over a wide variety of topics under the general rubric of “music theory and analysis.”

    Every music theorist has roots. Mine go back to piano studies as a young child in Jerusalem with Dalia Cohen and later Benjamin Oren, and the encounter in the United States as a young adult with the hierarchical thinking of Heinrich Schenker through studies with the eminent theorists Ernst Oster and Carl Schachter. The Schenkerian approach is since inseparable from my musical being, regardless of whether I criticize it, for example, in the article “The Bridges that Never Were: Schenker on the Contrapuntal Origin of the Triad and Seventh Chord (1997), or give it renewed interpretation as in the article “The Webern in Mozart: Systems of Chromatic Harmony and Their Twelve-Tone Content” (2020).

    One cannot mention Schenker today without mentioning his supposed “racism,” an issue that came to the forefront especially following the 2020 article of Philip Ewell, “Music Theory and the White Racial Frame.” In August 2022, I organized a symposium in Jerusalem entitled “Schenker and Schenkerian Analysis: New Directions” with the participation of Barry Wiener, a researcher who responded comprehensively to Ewell’s accusations in “Race, Nation, and Jewish Identity in the Thought of Heinrich Schenker,” an article published by G. Olms (2022) in the collection New Horizons in Schenkerian Research, edited by Allen Cadwallader and Ulrike Böhmer. Haaretz covered the event: Why is Heinrich Schenker Admired and Why is He Slandered as a Racist?

    One area to which I devoted years of research exemplifies how chance sometimes rules our lives. From early age I found the phenomenon of “enharmonicism” fascinating, for example, the finding that we experience intervals such as “major third” and “diminished fourth” as so fundamentally different—in fact, one is consonant while the other is dissonant—even though they are virtually identical acoustically. As a topic for my doctoral dissertation my initial choice was therefore enharmonicism, in the context of word-music relationships in Schubert Lieder. One morning, while trying to clarify to myself that nature of enharmonicism, I found myself experimenting with pairs of integers. The need to understand the mathematical model on which I accidentally stumbled made me give up my original topic (not completely—a few ideas were published in the article “Music and Text in Schubert Songs: The Role of Enharmonic Equivalence” from 1987), and thus my 1986 dissertation became a point of departure for a series of publications that explore connections between music, mathematics, and cognition (1989–1996), a connection that is also central to the 2013 book The Languages of Western Tonality. A 2008 article intended for the general public offers a glimpse of the questions pursued, as does this interview that appeared on the Ynet website in the column “Research Question.” A permanent exhibit, “Tone Top,” in the “Math Adventure Land” in Dresden, is based on my ideas and those of other researchers in the field.

    All along, I pursued my interest in the connections between music and the spiritual worlds that surround it. Here is a 1996 report in Haaretz on an article I have published in the same year on Beethoven’s “Farewell” Piano Sonata Op. 81a, and another report from 2019 on a lecture on hidden meanings of the enharmonic C-sharp/D-flat in Bach, Sarabande from the English Suite No. 3 in G minor.

    Lately my interests took a somewhat “musicological” turn in connection with another fascinating topic, the influences of one composer on another. I published two articles on Chopin in this connection, one as influenced by Mozart (2015) and the other, by Beethoven (2016). The influence of Mozart on Beethoven is at the heart of the 2023 article "’Aus Mozart gestohlen’: Beethoven and Die Entführung aus dem Serail". This article was featured in Haaretz, August 2023, "Why Beethoven Wrote About his Death Already at Age 31" (in Hebrew). Another musicological article, Their Taste, His Structure: Sound, Texture, Voice Leading, and Form in the Slow Movement of Bach’s ‘Italian Concerto’” is forthcoming in the new series International Forum for Schenkerian Research (Georg Olms, 2023).

    One of my favorite interpretations of the Bach Sarabande mentioned earlier is by the American pianist and theorist Edward Aldwell. I am a member of the Advising Committee of the International Aldwell Institute that “endorses informed musical performance: an approach that complements intuition, expression and temperament, and a general sense of style, with a broad analytical vista that brings to the fore the inner-workings of the musical masterpiece.” I believe that theoretical knowledge can be very helpful to the performing artist. But music theory, like any branch of the “Tree of Knowledge” in general and the Humanities in particular, exists also for its own sake. I believe that music theory, the most important and advanced tool in our possession for the understanding of music (with roots that go back to ancient Greece and even earlier), makes an invaluable and unique contribution to our understanding of Mind, as a reflection of the unique status of music as a non-verbal system of human communication.

    I am very proud to be a faculty member of the Music Department of Bar-Ilan University. Our department is one of the few in Israel that offers a full, three-year course-cycle in music theory (counterpoint, harmony, keyboard harmony, ear-training, and analysis), a cycle that includes extensive oral and written drill of the materials covered. Students who complete the cycle successfully are ready to specialize in music theory and analysis in our graduate programs. I am very proud of my graduate students, among them my former PhD students Tal Weiss and Yair Ehrlich, who are currently employed in leading institutions in Israel. Dr. Weiss is Head of the Undergraduate Program in Music Education in Levinsky College, and Dr. Ehrlich teaches music theory in the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.


    Undergraduate Courses

    Music Theory

    Music Analysis

    Graduate Courses

    Foundation of Musical Analysis

    The Music of Chopin

    Rhythm in Tonal Music

    Chromatic Harmony


    1. 1979. “The Descending Fourth and its Symbolic Significance in Don Giovanni.” Theory and Practice 4:2, 3–11.

    2. 1987. “Music and Text in Schubert Songs: The Role of Enharmonic Equivalence.” Israel Studies in Musicology 4, 49–58.

    3. 1989. “A Mathematical Model of the Diatonic System.” Journal of Music Theory 33:1, 1–25.

    4. 1990a. “Dramatic Content in the Don-Giovanni Overture.” Israel Studies in Musicology 5, 27–41.

    5. 1990b. “Music Theory as Cognitive Science: Some Conceptual and Methodological Issues.” Music Perception 7:3, 285–308.

    6. 1990c. “Equal Division of the Octave in a Scarlatti Sonata.” In Theory Only 13:5, 1–8.

    7. 1991a. “A Moment of Suspense in the Second Finale of Don Giovanni.” Theory and Practice 16, 39–49.

    8. 1991b. “Linear Transformations Between Cyclically Generated Chords.” Musikometrika 3, 15–40.

    9. 1991c. “Rhythmic Displacement in the Fugue of Brahms’s Handel Variations: The Refashioning of a Traditional Device.” Studies in Musicology from the University of Western Ontario 13, 1–20.

    10. 1992. “Communication” (in response to Harald Krebs, “Tonal and Formal Dualism in Chopin’s Scherzo, Op. 31,” Music Theory Spectrum 13:1). Music Theory Spectrum 14:1, 114–116.

    11. 1993a. “Towards a Theory of Diatonic Intonation.” Interface 22:2, 151–63.

    12. 1993b. “Tonicity and the Tritone: Beyond the Rarity Issue.” Proceedings of the First International Conference on Cognitive Musicology (University of Jyväskylä, Finland), 74–87.

    13. 1994. “Principles of Chord Progression.” Proceedings of the Third International Conference for Music Perception and Cognition (Liège), 245–46.

    14. 1995a. “Functional Harmony Revisited: A Prototype-Theoretic Approach.” Music Theory Spectrum 17:2, 196–214.

    15. 1995b. “Diatonicism and Farey Series.” Muzica 6:1, 68–74.

    16. 1996a. “Beethoven’s Op. 81a and the Psychology of Loss.” Music Theory Online 2.4.

    17. 1996b. “Musical Durations as Mathematical Intervals: Some Implications for the Theory and Analysis of Rhythm.” Music Analysis 16, 45–75.

    18. 1996c. “Coherent Tone-Systems: A Study in the Theory of Diatonicism.” Journal of Music Theory 40:1, 39–59.

    19. 1997a. “The Bridges that Never Were: Schenker on the Contrapuntal Origin of the Triad and Seventh Chord.” Music Theory Online 3.1.

    20. 1997b. “‘Octave Equivalence’ versus ‘Octave Relatedness’: Circle versus Helix; Chord versus Melody.” Proceedings of the Third Triennial ESCOM Conference (Uppsala, Sweden), 122–126.

    21. 1998. “The First Movement of Beethoven’s Cello Sonata, Op. 69: The Opening Solo as a Structural and Motivic Source.” The Journal of Musicology 16:3, 394–409.

    22. 2002. “The Multiplicative Norm and its Implications for Set-Class Theory.” Perspectives of New Music 40:1, 216–34.

    23. 2004. Review of Erkki Huovinen, Pitch-Class Constellations: Studies in the Perception of Tonal Centricity. Music Theory Spectrum 26:1, 131–43.

    24. 2006. “Reply to Erkki Huovinen.” Music Theory Spectrum 28:1, 154–164. [A reply to Huovinen’s “Two Arguments for the Mental Reality of Diatonicism: A Reply to Eytan Agmon,” Music Theory Spectrum 28:1, 141–153.]

    25. 2009. “Pitches (Pitch Classes) and Their Intervals are (Sets of) Numbers. Music Theory Spectrum 31:1, 153– 56.

    26. 2013a. The Languages of Western Tonality. Springer.

    27. 2013b. “Proto-Tonal Theory: Tapping into 9th-Century Insights.” Music Theory Spectrum, 35:1, 103–110.

    28. 2015. “Chopin as an Interpreter of Mozart: The Variations Opus 2 and Don Giovanni.” In David Beach and Yosef Goldenberg, eds. Bach to Brahms: Essays on Musical Design and Structure. University of Rochester Press. 71–96.

    29. 2016. “Chopin and Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’.” Journal of Schenkerian Studies 9, 69–108.

    30. 2020. “The Webern in Mozart: Systems of Chromatic Harmony and Their Twelve-Tone Content.” Music Theory Spectrum 42:2, 173–92.

    31. 2023. “’Aus Mozart gestohlen’: Beethoven and Die Entführung aus dem Serail.“ Music Theory Online 29:2.

    32. Forthcoming. “Their Taste, His Structure: Sound, Texture, Voice Leading, and Form in the Slow Movement of Bach’s ‘Italian Concerto’.” In Allen Cadwallader and Oliver Schwab-Felisch, eds. International Forum for Schenkerian Research 1.

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    Last Updated Date : 15/02/2024