Tuesday, May 10, 2011

5/10 The Genetic Structure of Beethoven's Music

Recently I read through Percy Goetchius' book on 'homophonic forms' (I found it used in Brooklyn for $7 - a very good deal even though it can be read for free online).   This book breaks down what I like to call a "theme group" or ""subject strain" into it's musically grammatical parts.  Despite that it's a musical textbook (and I hate doing homework of any kind) I was able to absorb the notion that melodic phrases and groups are "genetically" 2 or 3-part structures with sometimes extended beginnings, middles and endings.  It seems that almost all themes and theme constructions can be thought of as a kind of statement and counter-statement, or "question and answer" - or even "joke and punchline".  In the classical era, this kind of gag was everywhere, though of course there were also works based on polyphony (fugues and contrapuntal structures) and monophony (single melody chant).  Beethoven used homophony (melody and accompaniment) quite extensively within the larger structures of sonata and rondo form and eventually fused all 3 'ophonies" together, especially in his later works.  The fugue form for example is all over his ouvre, as seen in the Eroica, the Hammerklavier, the 2 Masses, the 9th Symphony Molto Vivace movement, etc...

Below are my semi-organized notes from this book. I think the binary, "yin-yang" nature of classical era construction is pretty clear.  The technical terms below don't really matter all that much - the main thing is to know that it's possible to follow Beethoven's music as a sequence of melodic "sentences" - with each statement having a cause-and-effect dynamic.  Even a single melody can have an introduction, a variation and an epilogue in it's presentation. 

From smallest construction to largest:

1. Figure – uninterrupted association of 2 or more tones
2. Motives - 2 or more figures (usually small and less than one bar)
3. Members – 2 or more figures or motives (can be more than 1 bar)
4. Phrase
  • 2 or more members, rarely 1 member 
  • 4 measures in moderate tempo
  • Opens with tonic, ends on cadence (perfect or semicadence)
Kinds of Phrase Development and Variation:
  • Repetition (including changes in harmony/register/accompaniment)
  • Extension at end (within and without the cadence)
  • Extension at beginning
  • Extension in the course of the phrase (sequences or repetitions of motives/figures)
  • Chain phrase (using repetition and sequencing)
  • Melody Expansion (no sequencing)
5. Period Form – 2 phrases / 8 meaures
a. Antecedent – 1st phrase: Opens on tonic, ends on semi-cadence (Dominant or Imperfect Cadence)
b. Consequent – 2nd phrase: Opens on any chord (dep. on semi-cad of Antec., ends w Perfect A. Cadence)

Kinds of Period Form:
  • Parallel Construction
  • Opposite Constr.
  • Contrasting Const.
Development of the Period Form:
  • Repetition of the entire period form
  • Repetition of conseq.
  • Repetition of antecedent
  • Repetition of antec., rep. of conseq.
  • extensions at beginning/end of either/both phrases
  • extensions in the course of the Conseq. (chain phrases, etc..)
  • Prelude. Codetta. Postlude
Group Formations:
  • Consequent Group
  • Phrase group – at least 3 phrases, not period form
6. Double Period – 2 periods/4 phrases PAC at end of 4th phrase
Kinds of Extensions:
  • modified repetition of entire double period
  • modified repetition of both/either of the 2 periods
  • enlargement/rep of final phrases
  • beginning and ending intros, codettas
7. Part – created from 1 or more phrases (periods, groups, etc), ending in a strong Tonic Cadence
8. Song-forms - created from 2 or more parts, ending in a Tonic Perfect Cadence
2-Part Song form (NOT 1st and 2nd subject of Sonata Form)
  • 1st Part – repeated phrase, Period/ Dbl period/ phrase group, usually ending on Dom, rel major, tonic
  • 2nd Part – usually based on Dominant harmony in 1st member
  • Diminutive 2 Part Song form – 1st part is smaller
  • Fully Developed 2 Part Song Form – 2nd part is extended
3-Part Song Form – 3rd part returns to beginning part
  • 1st Part – Statement – perfect cadence
  • 2nd Part – Departure – dominant harmony, dominant cadence
  • 3rd Part – Recurrence
  • 1 may be repeated, 2 and 3 may be repeated together
  • Each part may be a full period or just a phrase
So in a Sonata-allegro form work, the themes can be created from the above structures.  In other words, the 1st theme in the Exposition can be a Period, Double Period, Phrase Group, etc...  2-part song forms or even 3-part song forms are more usually assigned to folk tunes, hymns or smaller compositions like dances. The structure is similar tho.   Song forms can also come with a "trio" section, such as in a typical scherzo movement.

From Goetschius' "Lessons in Music Form" (recommended, tho less detailed than "Homophonic Forms"):
...The tone, by the simplest process of reproduction, became a figure; the figure, by multiplication or repetition, gave rise to the motive; the latter, in the same manner, to the phrase. The repetition of the phrase, upon the infusion of a certain quality and degree of modification (chiefly affecting the cadences) became the period; the latter, by the same process, became the double-period. The limit of coherent phrase-succession (without a determined interruption) being therewith reached, the larger Part-forms became necessary. The Two-Part form emerged out of the double-period, the two "connected" periods of which separated into two "independent" Parts, by the determined interruption in the center. The Three-Part form resulted from adding to the Two-Part the perfecting reversion to the starting-point, and confirmation of the principal statement. The Five-part form, and the Song with Trio are enlargements of the Three-Part forms by repetition or multiplication; and with the latter the limit of this particular process appears to be achieved....
....perfection of structural design is attained in the Three-Part form, and every larger (or higher) form will have its type in this design, and its basis upon it. The coming designs will prove to be expansions of the Three-Part form.

Regarding the Sonata form Subject or Theme. .. a musical sentence of very distinct character, as concerns its melodic, harmonic and, particularly, its rhythmic consistency; and of sufficient length to establish this individuality,—seldom, if ever, less than an entire period or double-period; often a Two-Part, not infrequently a complete Three-Part Song-form, though never more than the latter.

At the risk of making this post ridiculously long, here's a great breakdown from Goetschius' "Lessons in Musical Form" book".  Notice that there are lots of "semi-cadences" which eventually wrap up in "perfect cadences". 
Beethoven. Piano Sonata Op.49, No.1 (simplified phrase breakdown):
(Claudio Arrau.  Note that he takes an exposition repeat)

More about phrase form from the AWESOME www.sfcmtheory.com website
This site has presentations, audio lectures, musical examples, the works...

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