Alfred Cramer

Associate Professor of Music; Music Theory; On leave Spring 2024
  • Expertise


    Alfred Cramer is a scholar of music theory whose multi-disciplinary work connects to fields as diverse as psychology, linguistics, and history while drawing on his own considerable experience as a musical performer. As a researcher, he is interested in the mechanisms (both cultural and cognitive) through which music communicates its meanings. This has led him to study and teach about sound as a cultural artifact and a medium of communication.

    He is at work on a book about music composed in the years before World War I by Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, and Alban Berg, drawing on early twentieth-century psychological ideas to explain how these highly influential modernist composers, often regarded as mathematical and unemotional, actually worked to make their music as directly expressive as possible.

    In his most recent work, Cramer studies the ways sound is used to structure information in spoken language and in music; to state it technically, he is attempting to unify the Implication-Realization model of musical melody with the Autosegmental-Metrical approach to linguistic intonation.  The project incorporates music ranging from Telemann to “This Land is Your Land.” In an earlier study, he investigated 19th-century music in relation to 19th-century handwriting and stenography, exploring ways in which sound was conceptualized before the phonograph.

    Research Interests

    • The interface between cognition and culture
    • The relationship between music and language
    • The music of Schoenberg, Webern and Berg
    • How sound is used to structure meaning in language and music
    • The Implication-Realization model of musical melody
    • The Autosegmental-Metrical approach to linguistic intonation

    Areas of Expertise


    • Music theory
    • Music and language
    • Music perception and cognition
    • Psychology of music
    • Linguistic intonation and prosody
    • Atonality
    • Schoenberg
    • Webern
    • Wagner
    • Stenography
    • Shorthand
    • Melody
  • Work


    “Moments of Attention: Function, Coherence, and Unusual Sounds in Works by Anton Webern and Richard Rodgers.” In Musical Implications: Essays in Honor of Eugene Narmour, edited by Lawrence F. Bernstein and Alexander Rozin, 99–129. Festschrift Series, no. 25. Stuyvesant, NY: Pendragon Press, 2013

    Editor, Musicians and Composers of the 20th Century (5 volumes, Salem Press, 2009)

    “Of Serpentina and Stenography: Shapes of Handwriting in Romantic Melody.” 19th-Century Music 30, no. 2 (Fall 2006): 133–65.

    "The Harmonic Function of the Altered Octave in Early Atonal Music of Schoenberg and Webern: Demonstrations Using Auditory Streaming," Music Theory Online 9/2, July 2003

    "Schoenberg's Klangfarbenmelodie: A Harmonic Principle of Early Atonality," Music Theory Spectrum 24: 1-34, 2002

  • Education


    University of Pennsylvania

    Bachelor of Arts
    Yale University

    Professional Experience

    Cramer is an accomplished violinist with particular enthusiasm for orchestral playing and historically informed performance. While still in high school he was a member of the Colorado Springs Symphony Orchestra. He has also played in the New Haven Symphony, the National Repertory Orchestra, and in several regional orchestras in the Philadelphia area, and as soloist with the National Repertory Orchestra. As a period-instrument violinist he has performed with the University of Pennsylvania Baroque Ensemble, Brandywine Baroque, the Bach Festival of Philadelphia, Con Gioia, and Cornucopia Baroque Ensemble, among others. In addition, he is a skilled pianist.

    Recent Courses Taught

    • Music Theory I
    • Music Theory II
    • Music Theory III
    • Perception and Cognition of Sound in the Modern World
    • Can We Be Reasonable? What Music Tells Us About Emotion and Communication
  • Awards & Honors

    Awards & Honors

    Society for Music Theory, Outstanding Publication Award, for the article "Schoenberg's Klangfarbenmelodie: A Harmonic Principle of Early Atonality," 2004