Structurally Sound: Seven Musical Masterworks Deconstructed

Structurally Sound: Seven Musical Masterworks Deconstructed

by Eric Wen


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"A well-written textbook by a learned musician practicing his craft. The analyses are clearly argued, and Wen projects a reassuring sense of authenticity in his approach to tonal music analysis. The book will be of interest to many musicians, especially those focused on Schenkerian theory and analysis. I believe the book will be a welcome addition to the range of teaching manuals on the subject." — Music Theory Online
Music theorist Eric Wen presents in-depth analyses of seven masterworks from the common-practice period of Western art music:
Bach: Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D, BWV 1068
Mendelssohn: Andante con moto tranquillo from Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49
Schubert: Nacht und Traüme, D. 827
Haydn: Adagio — Vivace assai from Symphony No. 94 in G, Hob. I:94
Mozart: Molto Allegro from Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550
Beethoven: Marcia funebre: Adagio assai from Symphony No. 3 in E-flat, Op. 55
Brahms: Un poco presto e con sentimento from Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108
Wen employs the analytic approach developed by Heinrich Schenker, a method that uses musical notation to clarify and illuminate a work's structural hierarchies. Copiously illustrated with analytic musical examples that elucidate the tonal organization of each of the seven works, this study also explores aspects of form, rhythmic organization, and programmatic meaning.
This volume will be of particular interest to musicologists and professional musicians, and it will also appeal to listeners keen to probe the rich complexities of these masterpieces.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486806778
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 05/17/2017
Series: Dover Books on Music Series
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 8.25(w) x 11.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Eric Wen teaches at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he served for seven years as Chair of the Musical Studies Department, as well as The Juilliard School of Music and The Graduate Center (CUNY).

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Structurally Sound

Seven Musical Masterworks Deconstructed

By Eric Wen

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2017 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-82145-0


BACHAirfrom Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D, BWV 1068

J. S. Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D was composed in 1730 during the composer's employment as cantor at St Thomas's Church in Leipzig. The second movement, entitled Air, is especially beloved, and remains one of the Leipzig master's best-known works. Popularly known as the "Air on the G String," it has gained the status of a cult classic. Not only has the piece has been used in numerous commercials, but it also formed the basis of Procol Harum's 1967 hit song "A Whiter Shade of Pale." Its popular title is, of course, not by Bach, but derives from an arrangement made by the German violinist August Wilhelmj (1845–1908) for violin and piano. In this arrangement the key of the original is transposed down a whole step to C, and the original melodic top line is played by the solo violin entirely on the G string, the lowest and most sumptuous of the four violin strings. As a result of exploiting the sonorous bottom string of the violin, the original top-voice melody is transposed a further octave lower than the other parts.

Donald Francis Tovey, the most important British writer on music in the early twentieth century, castigated Wilhelmj's transposition of the melody down a ninth, noting the resultant voice-leading errors in the counterpoint against the second violin and viola parts. He asserts: "At my concerts [the Air] will be heard as Bach wrote it, in its original D major as an angelic soprano strain, not in C major as a display of contralto depths." Despite his reputation as a brilliant virtuoso, Wilhelmj made several other arrangements in questionable taste. In his violin and piano arrangement of Schubert's "Ave Maria," he overloads the song's simple melody with excessive double stops in thirds, sixths, and fingered octaves. And in his edition of the same composer's Fantasy in C, the A-flat variation movement on the song Sei mir gegrüßt is transposed up to the more violinistically playable key of A major.

Wilhelmj's arrangement did nevertheless popularize the work in the late-nineteenth century, but the first person to champion it was Felix Mendelssohn. According to a letter written by Mendelssohn to his teacher Carl Friedrich Zelter on June 22, 1830, the young composer had chosen to play the complete Suite — along with the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony — on the piano for the great literary figure Goethe. Mendelssohn also performed the work publicly on a number of other occasions. Most significantly, in 1844 he conducted the London Philharmonic Society in a performance of the suite; this marked the very first public performance of a Bach orchestral work in Britain. A score and complete set of parts in Mendelssohn's hand are preserved in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, and in 1866 Ferdinand David (1810–1873), Mendelssohn's concertmaster at the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, published an edition based on the composer's performing version.

Curiously, a connection exists between Mendelssohn and Wilhelmj. With a recommendation from Franz Liszt, Wilhelmj became a student of David in 1861. Wilhelmj no doubt became familiar with Bach's Third Suite through his teacher, bringing out his "Air on the G String" in 1871, ten years after beginning his studies with David.

Although hardly anyone performs Wilhelmj's violin transcriptions anymore, his title "Air on the G String" is still used to refer to the second movement of Bach's Suite No. 3. The retention of this name is indicative of the work's popularity; musical compositions often acquire titles after they gain widespread public affection (e.g., "Jupiter" Symphony and "Revolutionary" Etude). Some names, such as the "Spring" Sonata and "Emperor" Concerto, are intended to convey something of the expressive content of a piece, while others, such as the "Black Key" Etude and "Minute" Waltz, describe some performance attribute. But other titles, such as the "Moonlight" Sonata and "Elvira Madigan" Concerto are less relevant or appropriate to the music. As with most such names, the title "Air on the G String" has nothing to do with the composer's intentions or a proper rendition of the work itself. Furthermore, being synonymous with the word for thong, the word "G-string" has acquired a somewhat sordid connotation. To apply this nickname to such a sublime movement is completely inappropriate. It's inevitable that many words change meaning over time — the word Burlesca used for the fourth movement of Bach's Partita No. 3 in A minor originally meant something very different from what it does today — but it's rarely beneficial to apply a contrived sobriquet to an abstract piece of music.

* * *

The Air from Bach's Third Orchestral Suite is cast in binary form, characteristic of the individual movements in a Baroque dance suite. The two repeated parts are usually designated in form analysis by the letters A and B. The A part of a binary movement usually closes with a cadence in the dominant. The B part ends back in the tonic, but often contains a strong motion to a key other than the tonic as well. The standard use of different letters to designate this form is, however, misleading. Although the second section does not specifically recall any of the musical ideas introduced in the A part, both sections are actually very similar in their melodic contours, motivic parallelisms, and rhythmic patterns. Most of all, they are governed by a pervasive overriding mood. This last similarity is due, of course, to the governing Baroque aesthetic principle known as Affektenlehre, the doctrine that music should express a unity of affections. Thus, rather than presenting two contrasting sections as implied by A B, the two parts in a binary movement represent a complementary pairing.

The Air is the only movement in Bach's festive suite that omits the oboe, trumpet, and timpani parts. Scored for strings alone, it is cast as one long cantabile melody in the first violins over a steady eighth-note motion in the bass. Between these outer voices are elaborate countermelodies stated by the second violins and violas. These intricate inner voices led Christoph Wolff to remark that Bach's "affinities for polyphonic complexities enticed him to apply contrapuntal designs even where they had no natural home." Donald Francis Tovey expressed the same idea when he recalled a performance by Felix Weingartner that "allows a full string orchestra to play this Air in C major on the G string, but avoids all grammatical blunders by leaving out the inner parts altogether! The result demonstrates, as nothing else could, the amazing power of Bach's harmony as tested by Brahms's method of criticism. Brahms, when asked of his opinion of a new composition, was accustomed to place his hand over everything except the top and bottom of the score, saying: 'Now let's see what your melody and bass come to: all the rest is trimmings.'"

The A section (bars 1–6)

The opening of the Air is instantly recognizable: its long, sustained F5 being perhaps the most elementary melody ever written. But what makes this "melody" so distinctive is the accompanying bass line, which moves down by step with octave skips alternating in the opposite direction. These octave leaps are also echoed in the viola with its expressive skip from B4 down to B3 at the beginning of bar 2. Against a long held note in the melody, as shown in Example 1.1, they create an expressive, underlying pulse beneath a feeling of stillness.

Example 1.1

Although the bass line expresses a descending scale that moves down a fifth, the harmonic progression moves down in thirds from D through B to G with intervening passing tones. This bass motion down in thirds articulates one of the most common chordal progressions in tonal music: I arpeggiating down through VI to IV. What's unusual is that the initial F#5 in the melody is suspended into the second bar, resulting in a dissonant seventh over the IV chord. Example 1.2 presents the progression without the octave leaps, showing the chordal succession leading from I through VI to the IV7 at the beginning of bar 2, connected by passing tones.

Example 1.2

Immediately following the suspended F#4 at the beginning of measure 2, instead of resolving the dissonant seventh, a leap up to B4 appears. Since one normally expects a dissonant sonority to resolve to a consonance, it would be tempting to regard the F#5 to continue to the G5 on the last sixteenth note of the first beat in bar 2. This would constitute an upward rising resolution of the dissonant seventh, with the high B5 as an interpolation between the suspended F#5 and its resolution G5. But although non-chord tones can sometimes be suspended over a change of harmony and continue upwards instead of downwards, dissonant suspensions usually resolve down by step. Furthermore, the G5 on the last sixteenth note of the first beat is much too fleeting to be perceived as the resolution of an upward rising suspension. Instead, the G5 is better understood as an incomplete upper neighbor that decorates the suspended F#5 before it resolves to E5 on the second beat. This decoration of the suspension is, in fact, what one would find in the decoration of a 7–6 suspension in fifthspecies counterpoint (Example 1.3)

Example 1.3

However, this 7–6 suspension doesn't resolve to a consonance; it leads to yet another dissonant chord. Furthermore, the chord that occurs at the resolution of the F#5 down to E5 on the second beat can be understood as an applied — or secondary — dominant of the A-major chord that follows. Understood in this way, it would be designated as a V 6 5 in A major, with the seventh D5 brought in as a passing tone from E5 in the top voice en route to its resolution to C#5. But rather than regarding this harmony as an applied dominant of A major, it is preferable to understand it as a chord with a chromatic inflection of G to G-sharp in the bass. Although it functions locally as an applied V 6 5 of the A-major dominant harmony and temporarily tonicizes it, in the global tonality of D major, it represents a chord with a chromatically raised 4 in the bass. The two chords at the beginning of bar 2 therefore articulate the harmonic succession IV7 leading to II 6 5.

Level a in Example 1.4 presents the diatonic form of II 6 5. In level b this harmony is chromatically altered through the inflection of G2 to G#2 in the bass. In level c the dissonant seventh D5 in the alto voice is decorated by its lower neighbor C#5. Finally, level d shows how the sixteenth-note motion in the top voice above the altered II 6 5 chord simulates two voices, with E5 carried over and implied over the V chord.

Example 1.4

The two seventh chords, IV7 and II 6 5, preceding the dominant in the middle of bar 2 are related to each other, and their succession results from voice-leading considerations. An inherent problem in the diatonic progression from IV7 to V is that of parallel fifths in the upper parts. As shown in Example 1.5, the motion from F#5 to E5 in the top voice results in the forbidden parallels with the descent from B4 to A4 in the tenor voice.

Example 1.5

The voice-leading of this harmonic progression is problematic. The B4 cannot lead up to C#5, as that would result in a doubled leading tone. Furthermore, if the D5 in the alto part moves up to E5, doubling the fifth instead of the leading tone, parallel fifths with the bass would result. Usually in this case, the tenor part needs to leap down a fifth, as shown in Example 1.6.

Example 1.6

An alternative to making this big skip in the tenor voice would be to insert a suspension in one of the voices. A 9–8 suspension, for example, would delay the arrival of the A4, and thus avoid the direct motion of parallel fifths as presented in Example 1.7.

Example 1.7

Another possibility would be to suspend the top-voice F#5 as in Example 1.8.

Example 1.8

Of these two possibilities, suspending the B5 is preferable, since there is no mistaking of the V harmony with the dissonant suspension of a ninth above the A2 in the bass. Suspending the F#5, on the other hand, creates the temporary sonority of a consonant F-sharp minor chord, weakening the tonal meaning of the dissonant suspension.

Another way to avoid these parallel fifths would be to decorate the V chord with a cadential 6/4, with a double suspension of both the F#5 and D5, as in Example 1.9.

Example 1.9

Yet another possibility involves the opposite of a suspension: an anticipation. Although anticipating the A4 would sound strange against the G2 in the bass (Example 1.10), anticipating E5 would transform the IV7 chord into a V 6 5 (Example 1.11).

Examples 1.10 and 1.11

In a deep sense, the dissonant seventh F#5 in the IV7 resolves down by step to E5 over the V, but does so before the rest of the chord completes the motion to the dominant harmony. The chromatically inflected II 6 5 chord results from an elaboration of the progression from IV7 to V, as shown in Example 1.12.

Example 1.12

Now that we've established the origin of the chromaticized II 6 5 chord in the harmonic progression leading from the IV7 to V in bar 2, let's look at the top voice in closer detail. Following the fourth-species model given in Example 1.3, the G5 functions as a neighbor-note decoration of the suspended F#5, before it resolves to E5. In level a of Example 1.13, the suspended F#5 is decorated by an upper-neighbor G5. In level b, this G5 does not fall back to F#5, and thus appears as an incomplete neighbor note.

Example 1.13

The B5 interpolated between the F#5 and its incomplete upper-neighbor G5 thus represents a chordal skip that is inserted between the suspended F#5 and its upper-neighbor G5, as shown in Example 1.14.

Example 1.14

Although the opening "melody" of the Bach Air is only made up of one single sustained note, it is enhanced by the octave leaps in the bass, and the melodic top voice creates a poignant suspension that is not only embellished by an incomplete upper-neighbor G5, but is also decorated by an unexpected chordal skip to a high B5. Also worth noting is the grace note F#5 preceding the E5 on the second beat; although it appears to be merely a local embellishment of E, it makes a clear reference back to the suspended F-sharp at the beginning of the bar.

With the arrival of the A-major chord on the third beat of bar 2, we reach the dominant, and on the last beat of the bar, G[??]2 appears in the bass. As shown in level a of Example 1.15, this transforms the root-position dominant chord into a V 4 2 supporting a chordal skip in the melody from C#5 to A4. In level b, a passing note B4 connects the chord tones C#5 and A4 in the top voice. Finally, in level c, the B4 occurs above the V 4 2 chord, becoming an accented passing tone.

Example 1.15

As shown in level a of Example 1.16, the V 4 2 at the end of bar 2 would normally resolve to I6. Level b presents the same chord succession, but with the top-voice A4 transferred up an octave to A5. Often in the chordal succession from V 4 2 to I6, because of the necessity for the bass to resolve down by step, the top voice has the freedom to leap up a large interval. At level c, the inner-voice E4 in the V 4 2 chord is held over through the next bar. The resultant seventh above the bass F#2 on the downbeat of bar 3 creates the expectation of a 7–6 suspension decorating a first-inversion tonic chord.

Example 1.16

The harmonic progression up to this point is given in Example 1.17. Removing all the surface figuration (i.e., passing and neighbor notes, as well as suspensions), the initial tonic leads through VI to a IV7 chord that becomes inflected into a II 6 5 to V on the third beat of bar 2. Following the arrival on the dominant, the seventh appears in the bass leading us to expect a return of the tonic in 6/3 position at the beginning of bar 3.

Example 1.17

A graphic (i.e., Schenkerian) analytic notation of the succession of chords, presented in Example 1.18, clarifies the tonal meaning of the opening two bars. The dotted slur shows the prolongation of the top-voice F#5 into the beginning of bar 2. The solid slurs, on the other hand, connect different chord tones. In the first bar, the opening D3 in the bass becomes part of the B-minor chord on the third beat; similarly, the B2 on the third beat itself becomes part of the G-major IV7 chord on the downbeat of the second measure. The overriding slur from D3 to G2 over bars 1–2 in the bass shows the inclusion of both the D3 and B2 within an arpeggiation of the IV7 chord. This use of the solid slur also applies in the second bar where the melodic tone E5 connects to the C#5 at the appearance of the V chord on the second half of the measure. Although E5 initially appears over II 6 5, it is also a common tone as well as the principal topvoice note over the dominant harmony. Furthermore, it initiates the chordal arpeggiation E5 – C#5 – A4.


Excerpted from Structurally Sound by Eric Wen. Copyright © 2017 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Table of Contents

1. BACH: Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D, BWV 1068
2. MENDELSSOHN: Andante con moto tranquillo from Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, op. 49
3. SCHUBERT: Nacht und Traüme, D. 827
4. HAYDN: Adagio—Vivace assai from Symphony No. 94 in G, Hob.I:94
5. MOZART: Molto Allegro from Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550
6. BEETHOVEN: Marcia funebre: Adagio assai from Symphony No. 3 in E-flat, op. 55
7. BRAHMS: Un poco presto e con sentimento from Violin Sonata No. 3 in D mninor, op. 108

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