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Structurally Sound: Seven Musical Masterworks Deconstructed
Structurally Sound: Seven Musical Masterworks Deconstructed
Structurally Sound: Seven Musical Masterworks Deconstructed
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Structurally Sound: Seven Musical Masterworks Deconstructed

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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 OnlineMusic 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.
Release dateMay 17, 2017
Structurally Sound: Seven Musical Masterworks Deconstructed
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    Structurally Sound - Eric Wen


    The main lesson of the analysis of great music is a lesson of organic unity.¹

    —Donald Francis Tovey


    Music is perhaps the most enigmatic of all the arts. How is it that a sequence of sounds, formulated as distinct pitches and organized in different units of time, can communicate the most intense and complex emotions? In literature, words have distinct meanings, and a writer uses them to communicate a wide variety of ideas and depict real or imagined situations. In the visual arts, a painter or sculptor uses colors and shapes to portray events and people with striking realism or to convey an abstract impression.

    But music makes no reference to the external world; pitches that we call G-sharp or A-flat have no intrinsic meaning by themselves. Yet when a composer puts such notes together, they can elicit powerful emotional responses. As Tovey remarks: There is no drama and no epic that can achieve the intensity of absolute music.² Music can affect an amateur music lover as profoundly as it does a seasoned professional musician; for those of us who are responsive to sounds, music offers a meaningful experience that enriches our lives.

    It seems uncanny that music has the power to touch us so deeply. In fact, many people who are deeply passionate about music cannot read musical notation, let alone have any idea how a piece is put together. Since one can experience and appreciate music fully without knowing anything about it, why analyze it? Music analysis sets out to explore how music works. Although it may not increase our enjoyment or love of music, it aims to bring us closer to understanding the remarkable language of pitches organized in time, and help explain its uncanny but irresistible effect on us.

    Two figures who have had a profound influence in the field of music analysis are Jean-Philippe Rameau and Heinrich Schenker. A contemporary of J. S. Bach, Rameau was perhaps the most successful French opera composer of the Baroque era. In his Traité de Vharmonie réduite à ses principes naturels, he bequeathed one of the most important concepts in music theory: the theory of chordal inversion. Unlike the many practical figured bass manuals or contrapuntal treatises that came before it, this was a real theory that contemplated the nature of tonal music as a system. Rameau’s idea of la basse fundamentals (the fundamental bass) designates the scale steps of chords in the context of any given key. This led to the establishment of Roman numeral analysis, the most widely accepted method of labeling vertical harmonies. The actual use of Roman numerals to designate chords was formulated a century after Rameau by a German musician named Gottfried Weber.

    Rameau’s idea of chord inversions and the eventual establishment of Roman numeral analysis reflected the spirit of the Age of Enlightenment. With the establishment of grand systems in philosophy, science, and politics, Rameau created an all-encompassing methodology for classifying chordal sonorities. Indeed, in his lifetime he was dubbed the Isaac Newton of Music.

    Nearly two centuries later, an Austrian pianist and composer named Heinrich Schenker developed a methodology for designating hierarchy in tonal music. This enabled him to formulate ideas about the innate structure of music itself. Retaining the time-honored system of Roman numerals and figured bass, Schenkerian analysis contextualizes the meaning of different events within a piece of music, helping to guide a performer as to where the important structural points occur in a composition. Furthermore, Schenkerian analysis offers an analytical system that reveals these hierarchies within a tonal work.

    In a Schenkerian analysis, Roman numerals are incorporated into a graphic representation of the music, but are shown to have levels of meaning based on their relative significance. In Rameau’s original conception, Roman numerals establish absolute designations of harmony. Schenker showed, however, that these harmonies can have different meanings dependent upon their context. Even repetitions can take on new meaning when they appear at different junctures in a piece. What is more, a succession of chords need not be always understood as a harmonic event, but can sometimes serve a contrapuntal purpose. If Rameau may be likened to Isaac Newton, Schenker’s contribution is comparable to that of Albert Einstein. As Einstein came to realize, the fundamental laws of gravity that Newton formulated are not absolute, but must be adjusted to reflect contextual factors such as the ultimate speed of light and the curvature of space.

    Because Schenker’s ideas have a direct bearing upon performance, many musicians have been drawn to them. The celebrated conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler was one of Schenker’s most ardent champions. Not only did he consult Schenker about pieces he was to conduct, but he also helped finance several of the theorist’s publications. Schenker also influenced another eminent conductor: Bruno Walter. In Walter’s autobiography, he wrote that under the influence of the writings of the profound theorist and musical philosopher Heinrich Schenker, I became aware of what I had missed and began to understand the theoretical problems, which fascinated—even consumed—me.³

    Structurally Sound is an analytical exploration of seven musical masterworks from a Schenkerian perspective. As the title implies, music can be understood as architecture in sound. In fact, music and architecture have long been compared to one another. Johann Wolfgang Goethe spoke of architecture as tine verstummte Musik (silent music), and Friedrich von Schelling described it as tine erstarrte Musik (solidified music). Viewing the two disciplines from the reverse perspective, Moritz Hauptmann wrote that Man hat die Architektur eine gefrorene Musik genannt; ebenso würde die Musik auch tine flüssige Architektur zu nennen sein (As architecture has been called frozen music; so music should be called liquid architecture).⁴ Beneath the ebb and flow of music at the surface, there is a structural foundation; this secure underpinning provides a framework for each piece to be expressed as an organic whole.

    The seven works discussed in Structurally Sound are all drawn from the so-called common-practice period of Classical music, dating roughly from 1650 to 1900. Contextualized within the long history of Western music—not to mention the wide diversity of cultural traditions around the world—this focus may seem conspicuously narrow. But what is lacking in breadth will, I hope, be made up for in depth and rigor. The Austro-German Classical tradition from which these seven pieces stem represents a pinnacle of musical art. Even as we broaden our analytical range to embrace a multiplicity of popular and global musical styles, we should also strive to keep this great tradition alive.

    Throughout the book the registral designation for individual notes follows that established by the Acoustical Society of America, which identifies middle C as C4.

    In reading, one should notice and fondle details. There is nothing wrong about the moonshine of generalization when it comes after the sunny trifles of the book have been lovingly collected. If one begins with a ready-made generalization, one begins at the wrong end and travels away from the book before one has started to understand it. Nothing is more boring or more unfair to the author than starting to read, say, Madame Bovary, with the preconceived notion that it is a denunciation of the bourgeoisie. …We must see things and hear things, we must visualize the rooms, the clothes, the manners of an author’s people. The color of Fanny Price’s eyes in Mansfield Park and the furnishings of her cold little room are important.¹

    —Vladimir Nabokov


    Devising a way of depicting sounds is one of the great achievements of humankind. Using a simple system in which filled-in or open circles are placed upon a grid of five lines, the most complex network of pitches can be codified for all time. However, a score is an inanimate document; it requires a performer to make the static notation come alive. The photographer Ansel Adams likened the realization of a musical score to the making of a photographic print: The negative is similar to a musician’s score, and the print to the performance of that score. The negative comes to life only when ‘performed’ as a print.²

    Like a performer, the music analyst interprets a score. But instead of playing it, he realizes it by other means. Either through writing about it or by annotating it with charts or symbols, an analyst points out the salient features of a work. In a sense, he serves as a commentator, who aims to clarify the ideas inherent in a score.

    It is generally acknowledged today that Heinrich Schenker created one of the most effective methods of analyzing tonal music. Basing his approach on the fundamental principles of harmony and counterpoint, Schenker’s aim was to make sense of each musical composition as an organic whole. Most importantly, he found a way of doing so by means of an analytic method that uses musical notation itself. Instead of words, metaphors, letters, or charts, he employs standard musical symbols—such as such as slurs, stems, and beams—to express ideas about a musical composition. Having configured each analysis as a schematic representation of the music, Schenker referred to them as Bilder (pictures). These analytic musical pictures were codified to become what’s now generally known as Schenkerian analysis.³ As described by Felix Salzer,

    The graphs make use of noteheads and many symbols of notation as they appear in the score itself. They show a type of notation in which different note values, slurs, beams, connecting lines, brackets and various additional symbols and terms are used to indicate tone and chord function, goals as well as details of motion, relation of certain tones to others, and, above all, the direction and interaction of the various voices, in short: the voice leading and tonal coherence of an entire work.

    Not only do these analytical graphs show precisely how each note fits into in the cohesion of the piece as a whole, but they also illuminate the relative importance of different passages within a score. Their presentation in successive stages also reveals how even a dense, complicated musical passage can derive from a diatonic basis. Schenker’s concept of structural levels was a natural outcome of this approach. Deconstructing a complex passage to show its diatonic origin is not a uniquely Schenkerian idea, however. The British music writer Donald Francis Tovey undertook something similar in his explanation of Wagner’s Tristan chord, found in his article titled Harmony in the eleventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica.⁵ Nevertheless, it was Schenker who ultimately created a highly coherent and consistent system for analyzing a piece of music.

    Over the course of a decade, Schenker refined his elaborate notational system to analyze music, and eventually came to believe that his graphic analyses had now become developed to a point that makes an explanatory text unnecessary.⁶ Indeed, a musical technique or harmonic progression can be far more precisely portrayed in a graphic analysis than is possible in words. Following in this spirit, the analyses in Structurally Sound are primarily conveyed through the musical graphs. The proliferation of examples enables the reader to follow an analysis step-by-step through many intervening stages. Nevertheless, for the sake of clarity, each analytical graph in Structurally Sound is also explained in meticulous detail. Sometimes an analysis may focus only on a progression of two chords. In looking at each work in such close detail, we clarify the vital part played by each note in the structure of the whole. Only by deconstructing each work at this level of technical detail is it possible to understand the logic in how it was put together, as well as what makes it so distinctive.

    For readers who have never encountered a graphic (i.e. Schenkerian) analysis before, the following analysis of the main theme from the last movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, the Pastoral, provides an introduction to the notational conventions in graphic analysis.

    Principal theme from fifth movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 Pastoral

    Extracting the melody and bass of the main theme on two staves, we have the following outer voices.

    Example 1

    The standard way of analyzing this eight-bar theme would be to use Roman numerals to designate the different chords supporting the melody. Omitting the rhythm and just writing the outer voices of the theme with the noteheads alone gives us a tabula rasa to notate our analysis. Adding the standard Roman numerals and figured bass for every single harmonic change results in the following analysis:

    Example 2

    chord to occur on the downbeat of bar 5 rather than on the anticipatory eighth-note chord that precedes it.

    —the first inversion of the V⁷ chord—is the main positioning of the dominant harmony; the root-position form of the chord at the end of the bar serves to expand it.

    , but it’s better understood as an arpeggiated bass note of the VI chord on the second half of the bar, and not as a distinct harmony in its own right. And the low C on the last beat of bar 7 is nothing more than a displacement of the bass note of V down an octave. Omitting these decorative notes in the bass yields the following outer-voice structure:

    Example 3

    Now that we’ve determined the harmonic progression of the theme with Roman numerals, we can focus on the melody on its own. The opening three bars of the theme articulate an arpeggiation of the notes of an F-major chord. Although all the notes in the melody belong to the same tonic harmony, some of them are more prominent than others, due to their placement and articulation within each bar. In bars 1 and 2, we hear A5 as the most important melodic note. Although A5 is the main melodic note in the first two bars, it becomes less important in the following bar. In bar 3 the F5 and C6 are the principal tones, and the A5 between them subdivides the ascending skip of fifth into two thirds.

    5 prolonged in bar 5 ultimately resolves to the A5 at the beginning of bar 6, with C6 interpolated as an incomplete neighbor note. In bar 7, G5 and E5 are the main notes, both of which resolve to the F5 in the final bar. The slight delay of the final tonic note in the melody is caused by the suspension of the consonant C5 from the penultimate bar.

    If we wanted to earmark the important notes in each bar, we could highlight them with circles:

    Example 4

    While the circled notes do stand out as more important than the others, the notation has become somewhat cluttered, and the individual notes more difficult to read. Alternatively, we could color the important notes, or differentiate them by means of different shading:

    Example 5

    But we don’t always have access to different colored ink, and different shadings might not be easy to distinguish clearly. Another possibility would be to highlight the main notes in the melody with stems:

    Example 6

    This is, of course, how quarter notes are written, but here we use them as markers. In fact, one of the advantages of using stems to highlight the important notes, rather than circles or colors, is that we can use different lengths of stems to serve to differentiate between notes of varying significance.

    Example 7

    By lengthening the stems of the A5 in the first two bars, we highlight this note as more important than the F5 and C6 in bar 3. Although an F-major tonic chord governs the first three bars, A5 is designated as the most important note in the melody. Similarly, although a high C6 appears in the melody at the end of bar 3, A5 remains the principal note of the opening three bars. The short stems on F5 and C6 in bar 3 show their relative importance to the unstemmed notes, but they do not supplant A5 as the most prominent tone.

    chord in bar 5, before it resolves back to A5 at the return of tonic harmony in bar 6. In the final two bars of the theme, we hear G5 on the downbeat of bar 7 as a more important note than the E5 on the second half of the bar, and at the end of the theme in bar 8, the F5 marks the final resolution of the leading tone E5 that precedes it, and is thus more important than the C5 on the downbeat.

    The next thing we can do is to unify the successive notes through their harmonic relationship. One way to do this would be to circle groups of notes belonging to the same chord.

    Example 8

    Circling a group of notes together makes sense, but is cumbersome. Alternatively, we could use another musical symbol—the slur—for this purpose. In conventional notation a slur represents an extension of a note’s rhythmic value, but here it’s used in an entirely different way. In this context slurs are used to link consecutive notes that belong to the same harmony.

    Since all the notes of the opening three bars of the melody appear over an F-major tonic chord, we can show this by connecting all the notes that follow one another by slurs. Essentially, a slur is used to connect notes of the same harmony that are separated over time.

    Example 9

    One of the advantages of using slurs to join notes together is that we can outline broader connections of the melodic tones over the same harmony by using longer slurs across several notes. In the prolongation of the F-major tonic chord in the first three bars, rather than using a solid slur to show that A5 is the main note over the first two bars, we can adopt a dotted slur to show a connection of the same note across a longer time span. Unlike a solid slur that connects two different notes, a dotted slur connects the same notes across a span of time.

    The solid slur from the A5 at the beginning of bar 2 to the F5 at the beginning of bar 3 shows the larger connection between two different chord tones over the F-major harmony. And in bar 3 itself, we can show the broader connection of the ascending fifth from F5 to C6. Furthermore, to make the slurring less fussy, we can eliminate the one from F5 to C5 in bar 2, since the C5 serves as an upbeat to the F5 in bar 3.

    Example 10

    Showing large-scale associations between notes that make up a theme can sometimes uncover deep motivic connections. In the opening three bars of this theme, the broad slurs reveal that the prolongation of F major over bars 1–3 is an expansion of the arpeggiation A – F – C of the very opening bar, as shown by the brackets:

    Example 11

    Having analyzed the melody, we can now turn to the bass line that supports this melody.

    Example 12

    As with the notes in the melody, we can highlight the most important bass notes with stems and make connections between the common harmonies with slurs:

    Example 13

    chord at the beginning of bar 5, however, conveys its anticipatory function.

    The C3 at the end of bar 5 is the root of the dominant harmony in that bar, but having determined that the principal form of this chord is the first inversion with E3 in the bass, the chordal skip down to C3 is not stemmed. Neither is the A2 on the last beat of bar 6, since this is an arpeggiated note expanding the D-minor VI chord on the second half of the bar. Finally, in bar 7 the low C2 represents an octave skip in the bass of the V chord at the final cadence, and is connected by a dotted slur to the C3 that precedes it.

    5 is common to both. Similarly, in bar 6, we can make a connection between the A5s that appear in both the I and VI chords at the beginning and end of the bar. Within this prolongation of A5, a slur connecting A5 to F5 above the I and VI chords is also added. Even though the bass articulates different harmonies, the slur shows that the two notes are common to both chords.


    Example 14

    5 in the melody and the E3 in the bass that make up the principal outer voices of this bar.


    Example 15

    – V – I.

    Example 16

    chords over bars 6–7, it serves to subdivide the descent of a fifth in the bass into two thirds, and is therefore notated with a shorter stem and brought up above the beam connecting the main structural harmonies.

    There are two progressions that expand F major: the one over bars 1–6 prolongs the initial tonic, whereas the second one over bars 6–8 defines the tonal structure of the theme as a whole, and brings it to its ultimate conclusion. Because the first of these two harmonic progressions is a prolonging rather than a structural one, it is designated at a different level, between the staves, rather than in tandem with the horizontal beam in the bass.

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