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Module Title: Musical Analysis IIB

Module Code:
(e.g. 5AABC123 )

Assignment: Assignment 1
(may be abbreviated)

Assignment tutor/group: Thomas Hyde

Deadline: 14th December 2017

Date Submitted: 14th December 2017

Word Count: 2,570

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Analysis of an Anonymous Piano Piece

This anonymous piano piece presents the analyst with several challenges to understand how

the composer manipulates material in order to create a unified work that, despite being very

chromatic and having no large scale tonal centre, appears to develop particular audible

consonances. By examining the pieces structure, motivic content and harmony, I shall explore

the journey that this piece makes both tonally and thematically.

On listening to this piece, the music portrays an organic sense of unfolding continuity,

not relying on a tonally controlled structure to create unity and development. There are,

however, both audibly and visually (clear when looking at the score), several distinct

structural breaks. As the music progresses and develops though these sections it portrays an

almost Sonata-like structural outline, where the music undergoes an initial statement,

transition into a developmental passage, feel of return to the opening ideas and a closing

coda.1 Figure 1 displays the components of bars 1 and 2 which provide much of the work’s Commented [M1]:
Commented [M2R1]: Don’t need it!
thematic content. It is through the composer’s manipulation and restatement of the material

that occurs in the opening bars of the piece that these sections appear to arise, and that this

material becomes identifiable as thematic. As the listener experiences the piece, they

continue to hear these themes (ideas from the opening occur in nearly every bar of the piece)

providing an audible string through the music.2

Describing the structure of this piece as a sonata as it was traditionally presented in the common-practice era
would be inaccurate because, as Hepokoski and Darcy define in the work Elements of Sonata Theory, for a
piece to be in this form, there must be a process of tonicization. As this piece has no large-scale tonal centre,
tonicization cannot occur in the recapitulation. I am therefore using the concept of a sonata because it helps to
provide an explanation as to how certain thematic material is used places and how sections of the piece are
defined and divided.
It is only in the cadenza-like section of the development (bar 21-23) where some element from the opening is
not obviously heard. This helps to give this passage a sense of freedom and contrast from the rest of the work.
Figure 1. Motivic components of bars 1 and 2 which provide thematic
material through their variation and repartition.
Within this cell of music there are A is a paradigm out of which P and Q Q is a descending leap,
several individual motifs, apparent both are formed. This opening phrase is initially stated over a sixth
horizontally (along single lines) and seen in various forms throughout the (9 pitch classes). Although
vertically (examining how chords are piece and is developed using controversial to class two
formed). These are developed rhythmic alteration, pitch changes notes as a pitch class set,
separately, as well as a complete unit, and articulatory differences. the way that the composer
throughout the piece. uses it away from A and
develops it independently
P is a descending A justifies this.
chromatic scale –
although this a P Q
fundamental element of
music, through its
repartition, variation and One of the distinguishing
combination with other X features of this cell is the
elements in the piece, it way that the last chord
becomes a motif. could be described tonally.
Although this is obscured
X is made up of pitches 0,4 when listening to the piece,
and 5. This chord recurs B through the delay in arrival
throughout the piece and is between A and B, the
in its nature very dissonant. B again uses descending chromatic scales – phrase lands on a first
Throughout this opening important to the dissonant nature of much of inversion C minor triad. I
cell, X is sounded on each this piece. Forming an interval of a major third (5 shall return to the use of
quaver beat of bar 1 and in pitch classes) this idea is seen in many places triads later however
the first beat of bar 2. This throughout the work. The use of acciaccaturas although the piece does not
shows how a pattern is with tenuto marks adds weight and emphasis to have a distinct tonal centre,
being transposed down the this motif as well as ensuring that B is sounded there are moments of local
chromatic scale and ensures before A. This encourages the analyst to look at tonality. This helps the piece
that no prominent tone is this bar in horizontal and vertical components. to develop its feeling of
established at the outset of uncertainty, instability and
the piece. I shall return to X organicism.
later in my analysis.

By examining how these motifs are developed we can also gain more insight into how

they help to control the piece’s structure. Table 1 combines an explanation of the key

structural sections of the work as well as showing the transformations which occur out the

material provided in bars 1 and 2. Returning to the earlier idea of the piece having similarities

to Sonata Form, I have used categories from this structural form in my analysis. The colours

in the table show the structural sections and the paradigm which the motivic idea has

developed form.
Table 1. Structural breakdown and explanation of motivic transformations.

Bars 1-10, A section, Exposition.

Following the opening statement of ideas in bar 1 and 2, this section of the piece develops
into an asymmetrical antecedent (bar 1-6) and consequent (bar 6-10). The antecedent is
particularly important in categorising the structure because of its modified return at bar
24. The breath mark in the score articulates the idea of the two sections. The repeated
cadential like idea and final chord on the second beat of bar 10 over the sustained bass G
helps create a sense of resolution (I shall return to this idea later).
Example Explanation
3-4 Bars 3 and 4 still show evidence of
the initial idea from the first two
bars – returning to the C# and a B on
beats one and two (again creating X
with the left hand) whilst the
original leap of a sixth in bar 2 has
increased to a leap of 10 pitch
classes.3 The use of an accent on the
first beat also helps to remind the
listener that this was a prominent
note during the first hearing of this
cell. The alteration from the
chromatic scale into a figure almost
reminiscent of a broken chord in the
way they are grouped makes the
analyst question the use of
traditionally strong beats in bars.4
B begins the same here as it did at
the start of the piece. This pattern is
only altered on its final dotted
crotchet where, instead of
continuing the chromatic scale, it
jumps 2 pitch classes and an A is
added in the bass. This new
destination spells out a second

In all my discussions of pitch classes, the starting note is treated as zero.
4 One other key aspect that we must consider is tempo and how this is manipulated though the piece. When
listening to the piece, the music flows without appearing to be constrained by a strict sense of pulse. Although
part of this may be due to performative decisions, when we examine the score, the changing metronome
markings (like at bar 16 and bar 24), time signatures (moving between 2/4 and ¾) as well as the repeated
sostenuto markings help to suggest a sense of freedom in the music. Although this is particularly evident in the
development, it occurs throughout the piece. The use of silences though rests also adds to the feel of space and
flexibility. As I discussed in Table 2, we question the role of strong and weak beats in the bar and therefore what
role bar lines have. An emphasis can arise on a beat when the composer uses an accent or rhetorical device on
a specific note (such as the last quaver of bar 15 or the semiquaver Eb on the first beat of bar 9), causing us to
interpret that note and perhaps the next in a particular way but, to the listener, this occurs independently from
the bar lines. Therefore, the bar lines more useful as interpretative aids for the performer than as regulatory
sections for the listener.
inversion D major chord which gives
a locally tonal sound. This is then
clouded by the arrival of the B from
Q to ensure that any suspected
consonance is short lived. This is an
idea which continues throughout
the piece.
5 From the same paradigm as B, the
chromatic relationship between the
chords however is not as prevalent.
The use of this idea away from the
other confines of the original cell
justifies how we should look at its
contents horizontally as well as
vertically though pattern
movements of X. The acciaccaturas
have also been removed, simplifying
the idea.
6-9 This sighing motif echoes Q
although it is heavily transformed
through the addition of a third note
and the variation in the interval of
the leaps (here jumping over 4 and 8
pitch classes) thus spelling out
triadic shapes. Below I discuss how
we might interpret the use of
harmony in this section.

Bars 11-15, Transition.

The bar of silence which begins this section poses an analytical challenge. The listener
hears it as a large structural break following the quasi-cadential figure preceding it. The
music which follows it, a modified and transposed version of A, is too like the beginning to
really feel like the start of the development section. For this reason, I believe it is best
categorised as a transition where the composer begins to move the music into its more
thorough development.
12-13 Although this time the chromatic
scale moves up, this music still stems
from paradigm A. The sudden leap (8
pitch classes) on the final quaver of
bar 12 up to the D followed by the D#
to D leap of 10 pitch classes creates
more variety and reinforces the
transitional idea.
Here B begins transposed up 4 pitch
classes like A was in the right hand.
This allows X to be created on the
first beat. Instead of following the
chromatic movement downwards, B
also suggests development within
the piece and uses two pairs of
chords each 2 pitch classes apart.
This time the final chord of the
phrase is more chromatic, suggesting
the instability of the pieces structure
at this point.

Bars 16-23, B section, Development.

The development section takes many of the ideas from earlier in the piece; the
exploitation of B interspersed with X also shows how ideas from the exposition are being
harnessed and developed. This section is also a contrast to the other sections of the piece
with the use of the passage work semiquavers in the right hand creating a cadenza-like
section (in bar 18 and 21-22). The placement of chords on the downbeats of bars 18 and
21 leads to questions as to whether the semiquavers should be heard over this harmonic
background. From bar 21, the semiquavers begin to climb seeming to reach and circle
around the B. The music seems unable to get any higher than this and so tension is built
until finally in bar 24 the break is made to the C section.
14-15 The use of small fragments of A helps
to create audible connections and
continuity throughout the piece
showing the journey the material is
taking. Q is echoed in bars 14 and 15
with the sighing sound created
though leaps.
16-19 Every time B is repeated in this
section it uses an exact chromatic
scale, like at its first statement. This
also helps to cloud any consonance
that may be developing throughout
this section through the inherent
dissonances within a chromatic. Like
in bar 5, where B is also used to add
depth to the texture of the piece and
create harmonic instability, the
acciaccaturas are removed, perhaps
to allow the motif to be less
prominently recognised but still
suggest thematic unity.
16-20 This figure in the left hand of the
development has similarities to the
version of A which occurs in bar 3.
The rhythms help to give the section
momentum whilst outlining
harmonic movement.

Bars 24-27, C section, Recapitulation.

Having broken out of the development (I discuss this further below) A returns and this
marks the beginning of the recapitulation. Although not a recapitulation in its traditional,
18th century meaning, the restatement of ideas helps to give the piece a rounded unity.
Unlike in the exposition, the six bar antecedent is replaced by a four bar phrase ended,
rather than by a breath mark, by rests in both the hands.
24-25 A returns but has undergone
rhythmic diminution. This means that
the music feels more energy as it
rushes towards the coda. Although
the first note is spelt enharmonically,
A uses the same pitches as it did in
bars 1 and 2 in bar 24, clearly
marking a new structural section and
a link to the opening. In bar 25 motif
A is transposed down 7 pitches but
again follows the same outline as the
To create differentiation in this
section, B’s rhythm is also used in
diminution however the distinctive
thirds have been removed. Instead,
this time it just follows a descending
chromatic scale 1 pitch class below
A. This creates a heavily dissonant
sound and the tessitura is different
as all the pitch content is quite high
on the piano. The acciaccaturas have
returned, again signalling a link to
the work’s opening.
26 Instead of the leap in Q descending,
for the first time throughout the
piece it rises four pitch classes.
Another transformation occurs of A
and B in this bar along with the
continued rhythmic diminution. Both
parts are presented over 8 pitch
classes however if these are inverted
(as shown in the second bar of each
of the diagrams) they again cover 4
pitch classes.
X has been extended with the four
nots creating both X and X1 (see
below) which shows intense
dissonance. The recapitulation shows
the most radical transformation of
the opening cell and thus shows how
the development section has altered
the cells despite the obvious
continuity of the ideas.
27 Continuing out of the previous bar, Q
rises over 5 notes and has again
undergone rhythmic diminution. To
the listener this motif now appears
to be fragmenting again suggesting
that the music is breaking down, or
at least moving onto something else.
Again, like in bar 26 through
respelling, the intervals return as do
the acciaccaturas. Here Q and B are
very dissonant against each other
being 1 pitch class apart.

Bars 28-32, Coda.

This closing section is predicated using the F# on the final beat of bar 27 leading onto the
G on the first beat of bar 28. In some ways, the coda is an extension of the consequent of
the exposition where through a process of repartition a sense of resolution is created
onto the G however this ambiguous due to the other harmonic movement in this section.
Although the recapitulation makes use of material from the opening cell, I shall discuss
this later in the essay when I look at the harmony of the coda.
The harmonic journey that this piece undergoes provides the analyst with interesting

questions surrounding the notion of consonance and dissonance. Throughout, the piece is

highly chromatic, and this ensures that no solid tonal centre arises. Chord X is a prime example

of how chromaticism is used within the pieces harmony and chordal creation. Figure 2

explains the formation of X.

Figure 2. Formation of X.
X is formed out of intervals 0, 4 and 5.
This shows how it appears on its first
appearance (G#, B# and C# on bar 1, This diagram shows how X can be
beat 1) and how it can be re-written mirrored to create X1 which is
using the concept of pitch class so subsequently formed of intervals 0, 1
that the intervals are condensed into and 5.
their smallest forms.

X and X1 recur throughout the piece in several guises across voices and in various

transpositions. As well as being prominent in the opening bars, the composer exploits the

shape repeatedly from bar 5 to bar 10. This is interesting because this moment is signalled to

the listener as important through the rhetorical repeating cadence shape and the

introduction of the climbing third voice in the bass of bar 5 (perhaps suggested slightly earlier

with the A on the final chord of bar 4). This new voice exploits a different register of the piano

and uses the whole tone scale. These help to increase the expectation that an important

moment will occur in the music. The first beat of bar 6 has a second inversion chord of E major

before the chromaticism returns with the use of X1 (Figure 3). The following chord is also

difficult to describe using tonal language but is not a variation of X.5 Through the repartition

of this cadence, the listener begins to hear these chords as consonants arising by an

emancipation of the dissonance. The use of voice leading into bar 9, this time the X chord

A description of this chord using tonal language would be C# minor13, the chord on beat 2 of bar 6 could also
be defined as B major with a major 7th and so a I-ii cadence is occurring. However, it does not sound like this
and so by using these definitions it would be contorting the music into a model which it does not fit.
having been enharmonically respelt (Figure 4), encourages us to look at the G as an arrival

point. The accent on the G also suggests it is important and helps the listener to remember

it for its recurrence in the rest of the work. Although this respelling cannot be heard by the

audience, it can be taken as a direction for the performer to encourage them to play the music

in bar 9 in a particularly tonal way.

Figure 3. Bar 6 beat 2 into bar 7. Figure 4. Bar 8 beat 2 to bar 10.

When referring to Bartok in his book Music in Transition6, Samson states that ‘to

demonstrate that a tonal argument need not be dependent upon triadic harmony but can be

built around pitch polarities which one established through repetition and emphasis’. In some

ways the composer of this piece exhibits this idea in the way they establish the role of the

note G. It is repeated many times throughout the piece in particularly prominent places (see

Figure 5) and this repartition helps to establish it in the memory of the listener so that by the

time it is heard at the very end, the music feels like it has reached a sort of resolution. The

piece, however, does continue to be highly chromatic throughout which would perhaps push

Samson’s idea to the extreme because although G becomes a prominent pitch, the music

never becomes tonal. It therefore may be more accurate to consider the piece as a process

of G being emancipated as a consonant out of the haze of chromaticism. Throughout the piece

there are moments of local tonality, though the composer’s use of G and use of a major

seventh chord (as on beat one of bar 6) and at the end of statements of A and B such as bar


Samson, Jim. Music in Transition: A Study of Tonal Expansion and Atonality, 1900-1920. (London: Dent, 1977),
page 33.
Figure 5. The role of pitch class G.

The bass is
The accented sustained G in the bass creates enharmonically re-
a grounding below the movement towards spelt, perhaps to create
an apparent resolution in the upper parts. voice leading onto the
This assumes that we are assuming than the D and G, enforcing their
harmonic root of the moment is in the bass importance.
of the chord. The D, a fifth above the G,
helps to justify the G being the harmonic
root though traditional diatonic associations.

A G minor chord is formed, with the G being

doubled enforcing how this is an important
tonal centre – at least at this moment of the
piece. As the piece is evolving temporally, the
listener still experiences the chromaticism
until the last moment.
The anticipation of this G begins the
textural build up. The accent again
emphasises its importance. The fact
that it is then repeated on the down
beat of each of the next two bars Despite the presence of
creates an anchoring effect, the G, X continues to
reminding the listener of the pitch’s recur in this section,
importance. causing harmonic
confusion as to the role
of the pitch.

As the development progresses, G ceases to be emphasised as

much, perhaps in favour of the B. However, as I suggested earlier,
this repartition of the B works differently acting as a pitch which
needs to be burst through to break the tension. The listener does
not hear this harmonically but melodically.

This pedal G invites The tenuto-marked F#

the contemplation if creates voice leading up to
the notion of the G, although it is not
resolution. It feels The sounding of the G after the connected by a phrase line,
stable to the listener release of the other notes poses an we hear it as part of the next
because of the voice analytical problem as to how it phrase. The tenuto mark is
leading towards it as should be heard. Below I give a more important in this effect
well as its repartition in-depth description of how this because it stresses that the
earlier in the piece ending works harmonically and thus note must be given its full
although it still how it effects the listeners’ rhythmic value.
cannot be thought of experience.
as the piece’s tonic.
In the coda, we again see how the composer is ensuring that the harmony is remaining

clouded and ambiguous. In this respect the piece shows how the journey has not brought any

resolution to finding a tonal centre (if indeed that was the intention of the piece) and, has

perhaps, made it even more ambiguous with the role of G. As seen above, the G act as a pedal

during the coda, forming a bass over which the alternating chords in the upper voices are

hear. This idea is developed out of the opening bars again where the acciaccaturas ensured

that B was heard first. Tritones are used in both voices during the coda and so the music

sounds unresolved. The chromaticism continues with the use of descending chromatic scales

in both parts (again echoing the opening). The final bar of the piece poses many analytical

problems. If we consider the right hand of the whole bar, a version of X is created, and so the

circle is complete – the piece beginning and ending with the same chord shape. However, the

G does not sound until after the other notes have been released and the diminuend marking

suggests that the sound should be fading away, so the listener does not hear the G as strongly.

This leads us to question whether the piece sounds finished. I believe that it does, the

decreasing dynamic and the feeling of a reduction in tempo (caused by the acciaccaturas

being transformed into longer notes) suggests that the piece is winding down to its

conclusion. Therefore, the G acts as a reminder of both X chord – which has been key to

allowing the piece to have unity and continuity and as an indication of the consonance that

was almost established throughout the piece.

In this piece, the composer presents a journey to the listener signalled and linked

though their transformation and exploitation of material that is first heard in the opening

bars. Through the unfolding structure the music experiences moments of local tonality with

dissonances appearing to become consonant through their reparation whilst chromaticism

continues to return in order to remind the listener that the piece is not firmly tonal and to

add to the unstable, unwinding of the music.


Hepokoski, James A, and Warren Darcy, Elements Of Sonata Theory, 1st edn (New York, N.Y.:
Oxford University Press, 2011)

Samson, Jim. Music in Transition: A Study of Tonal Expansion and Atonality, 1900-1920.
(London: Dent, 1977)