Percy Goetschius

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Percy Goetschius (August 30, 1853 – October 29, 1943) won international fame in the teaching of the theory of composition.


Born in Paterson, New Jersey, Goetschius was the piano pupil of Robert E. H. Gehring, a prominent teacher of that era. Goetschius was the organist of the Second Presbyterian Church from 1868–1870 and of the First Presbyterian from 1870–1873, and pianist of Mr. Benson's Paterson Choral Society. He went to Stuttgart, Württemberg, in 1873 to study theory in the Royal Conservatory with Immanuel Faisst, and soon advanced to become a professor. In 1885, King Karl Friedrich Alexander of Wurttemberg conferred upon him the title of royal professor. He composed much, and reviewed performances for the press. In 1892 he took a position in the New England Conservatory, Boston, and four years later opened a studio in that city. In 1905 he went to the staff of the Institute of Musical Art (Juilliard School) in New York City, headed by Dr. Frank Damrosch.

Goetschius's notable pupils include Henry Cowell, Lillian Fuchs, Howard Hanson, Wallingford Riegger, Bernard Rogers, and Arthur Shepherd. In 1917, he was elected an honorary member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity, the national fraternity for men in music, by the Fraternity's Alpha Chapter at the New England Conservatory.

Goetschius published nine textbooks on theory. The most important are:

  • The Theory and Practice of Tone-Relations (Boston: New England Conservatory, 1892)
  • The Material Used in Musical Composition (New York: G. Schirmer, 1882)
  • Lessons in Musical Form (Boston: Oliver Ditson, 1904)
  • The Homophonic Forms of Musical Composition (New York: G. Schirmer, 1921)
  • Counterpoint (New York: G. Schirmer, 1930)

While Goetschius’ books are rarely used today as texts, they do contain many original theoretical ideas which have been passed from teacher to student and are widely accepted today.

Goetschius died in Manchester, New Hampshire, where he had retired to in 1925.

Asked how to say his name, he told The Literary Digest "My family name is (or should be) pronounced get'she-us. The family hails from Switzerland (1714), where the name was Götschi. One of my ancestors, middle of the 18th century, an earnest Latin scholar, affixed the Latin terminal us." (Charles Earle Funk, What's the Name, Please?, Funk & Wagnalls, 1936.)

Goetschius' theory of harmonic progression[edit]

Perhaps the most important theory put forth by Goetschius is that of natural harmonic progression, which first appeared in The Theory and Practice of Tone-Relations. According to Goetschius' theory, the triad V in a key resolves to the tonic triad I because of the acoustically perfect interval of the fifth between the root of V and that of I:


Goetschius believed that, since the upper tone of the fifth is a harmonic of the lower, a chord rooted on the upper tone demands to be "resolved" by progressing to the chord rooted on the lower tone. Moreover, this theory is extended to other chords in a key, so that the normal tendency of a chord (triad or seventh chord) in a key is to progress to the chord rooted a fifth lower.


The sole weakness of this theory is its failure to account for the importance of the subdominant triad IV, a chord frequently used in musical practice. Although Goetschius acknowledges the importance of the IV harmony elsewhere in his writings, it does not appear to have a place in his theory of harmonic progression.


  • Mother Catherine Agnes Carroll (1957). "Percy Goetschius, Theorist and Teacher." Ph. D. dissertation. Rochester, New York: University of Rochester.
  • Thompson, David M. (1980). A History of Harmonic Theory in the United States. Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press.

External links[edit]