Analytical Variations – Eight Critical Essays on Applied Music Theory

by Bengt Edlund (Author)
©2020 Monographs 616 Pages
Open Access
Series: Methodology of Music Research, Volume 10


This book gives a critical account of various methods used in music analysis. In the first chapter, a number of current approaches such as semiotics, musical implications, Schenkerian analysis, and generative theory are demonstrated on Mozart’s K. 331 theme. Five essays deal with important concepts in music analysis: ambiguity, formal proportions, and similarity within and between works. A further chapter provides a discussion of probability, kinship, and influence – decisive criteria when judging musical plagiarism. The last essay, studying a piece by Schubert, sifts the prospects of deciphering a composer’s sexual leanings from his music.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • 1 Analytical Variations on a theme by Mozart
  • Introduction; apologies and commitments
  • Traditional approaches: melody
  • About motifs
  • The motivic structure of the theme
  • Melodic contours; elements of counterpoint
  • Improvisation
  • Traditional approaches: harmony
  • Some general remarks on harmony
  • Three systems of harmonic analysis
  • Harmonic analysis of the theme
  • Roman-numeral vs. functional analysis
  • Traditional approaches rhythm
  • Rhythmic properties of the theme
  • Harmonic rhythm
  • Rhythm and performance
  • Traditional approaches: form
  • Some remarks on the study of form
  • Formal analysis of the theme
  • A bottom/up perspective of the form
  • Rhetoric and interpunctuation
  • Repeats and recurrences; symmetry
  • Semiotic analysis and motivic structure
  • Semiotic analysis according to Nattiez
  • The first attempt at a semiotic analysis
  • The second attempt at a semiotic analysis
  • The nature and status of the “coda”
  • Melodic implications
  • Expectations and implications
  • Deviations and implications
  • The antecedent
  • The consequent and the AA1 period
  • The middle section and beyond
  • The concluding sections
  • Rhythmic structure
  • Analysis in terms of accent and grouping
  • Rhythmic levels
  • Duration vs. emphasis
  • Rhythm at the inferior level
  • The initial period
  • The middle section
  • The concluding sections
  • Top-level rhythm/metre
  • Concluding observations and remarks
  • Music cognition
  • Narmour’s Implication-Realization (I-R) Model
  • Melodic implications
  • Harmonic implications
  • Tonal reduction
  • Schenker’s theory of tonal music
  • Schenkerian analysis
  • Schenker and Forte & Gilbert: the initial period
  • The concluding sections
  • The middle section
  • Lester’s analysis
  • Neumeyer’s bilinear reading; matters of orthodoxy
  • Generative reduction
  • Introduction
  • Grouping structure
  • Metric structure
  • Time-span reduction
  • Prolongational reduction
  • The entire theme
  • Just reduction
  • What is “just reduction”?
  • The initial period
  • The middle section
  • The “coda”
  • Compatible upper lines in the initial period
  • The entire theme: a monolinear and a bilinear reading
  • Returning to Neumeyer’s analysis
  • Conclusion
  • Focal analysis
  • A focal analysis of the theme
  • Extra-musical content
  • The Order and The Other
  • Two extra-musical interpretations
  • 2 In defence of musical ambiguity
  • One “motto” or two?
  • One path or two forks?
  • Can analysis afford not to sit on the fence?
  • Reconsidering an “error”
  • The possibility of neither/nor
  • Ambiguity in the larger reality
  • Some general remarks; the politics of ambiguity
  • 3 Mozart out of proportion. Searching for the Golden Section
  • Which proportions are musically relevant?
  • Matters of musical perception
  • Matters of statistical assessment
  • Conclusions
  • 4 Hidden repetitions and uncovered parallelisms
  • Introduction
  • Burkhart and Rothgeb on hidden repetitions
  • Conventional tonal motions
  • Evaluation and perception of hidden recurrences
  • The Satzprobe
  • Hidden repetitions as concealed links
  • Hidden repetitions and distant associations
  • Hidden repetitions and structural unity
  • Large-scale integrating recurrences
  • Summary and discussion
  • Rothgeb’s criticism of David’s Jupiter analysis
  • Some comments on Cohn’s essay
  • 5 An das ferne Verwandte. Common ideas, ideas in common
  • Hatch: Recurring ideas
  • Contours and inversions
  • Deep-layer recurrences
  • Recurrent ideas within the cycle
  • Mediated recurrences
  • Matters of similarity and mediation
  • Recurring ideas and tonal reduction
  • The nature of similarity relationships
  • The idea of the recurring idea
  • Reynolds: Thematic recycling
  • Songs 1–5
  • The sixth song
  • The coda
  • Evaluation
  • … was geschieden uns so weit
  • 6 Warum Grillen?
  • Warum?
  • Grillen
  • Auxiliary cadences
  • Conclusions
  • 7 Suing a sound-alike
  • Originality
  • Similarity
  • Imitation
  • Some illustrative examples
  • Riff 1: Originality
  • Conventional patterns
  • Probability and melodic choices
  • Searching for melodic doubles
  • Riff 1 and 2: Similarity
  • Preliminary considerations
  • Similarities and differences
  • Riff 2: Imitation
  • Music as the art of combination or convergence
  • The actual composition process
  • General conclusions
  • The verdicts and a supreme twist
  • A final reflection
  • 8 Schubert’s promising note. Further exercises in hermeneutics
  • Introduction
  • Some general remarks on hermeneutic exercises
  • Some observations on the hermeneutic method
  • Cone’s promissory-note reading
  • A critique of the promissory-note reading
  • Some productive ideas in Cone’s interpretation
  • The promising-note reading
  • On Schubert’s modulations: Temperley and Pesic
  • On gay subjectivity in Schubert: Brett and McClary
  • The pervading figure: Kramer
  • Schubert’s “fingerprint”: Nettheim
  • Some straight exercises
  • Performance and hermeneutic interpretation
  • Prospects of empirical research
  • Conclusion
  • Music examples
  • Chapter 1
  • Chapter 2
  • Chapter 4
  • Chapter 5
  • Chapter 6
  • Chapter 7
  • Chapter 8
  • References


The name of the present book derives from the title of its first chapter, the monograph-size essay “Analytical variations on a theme by Mozart”. Just as the intention of the initial chapter is to subject the well-known first-movement theme of the Piano Sonata K. 331 to a number of diverging analytical approaches – applications devised to shed light on both the music and the methods – the other chapters of the volume are devoted to critical investigations of various analytic issues.

If a music work of some complexity is penetratingly studied, it tends to emerge as structurally ambiguous. Such an outcome may either be regarded as a hallmark of analytic sensitivity or as indicating a failure of the theory applied to the music. The first stance is adopted in the chapter “In defence of musical ambiguity”.

The Golden Section is often taken to be tantamount to an aesthetically perfect set of proportions, and this concept has of course also been brought to bear on music. But as argued in “Mozart out of proportions” the quest for the golden section is, at least as far as formal proportions are concerned, a quite precarious undertaking.

‘Similarity’ is no doubt a key concept in a great many studies from a wide variety of musicological fields. What are the implications and value of the Schenkerian notion of ‘hidden repetitions’ when it comes to the study of musical structure? Turning to “recurring musical ideas” in a more general sense, do they make up a productive point of departure when dealing with a composer’s output or with a particular work, and what insights in terms of musical content might be gained? Works of Beethoven and Schumann serve as specimens.

‘Originality’, ‘similarity’, and ‘influence’ are crucial criteria if you want to arrive at a well-grounded verdict in cases of alleged musical plagiarism. In a thorough discussion of a recent Swedish lawsuit, it is shown that suppression of penetrating music analysis may lead to a questionable verdict.

The chapter “Schubert’s promising note”, finally, deals critically with the prospects of interpreting musical structure in order to reach valid conclusions as to the content of instrumental music, and particularly as to the composer’s sexual orientation.

←11 | 12→

The chapters of the book are addressed to readers taking an interest in basic problems in music theory and analysis, but the first and the last but one of the eight texts are also intended to be of broader instructional value. To make them more accessible to the general public, they are provided with explanations that may be superfluous for expert readers.

The production of this book has been generously supported by Sten K. Johnssons stiftelse.

Lund, 10 February 2018

Bengt Edlund


1 Analytical Variations on a theme by Mozart

Introduction; apologies and commitments

Why does anyone write once more about the first-movement theme of Mozart’s A-major Piano Sonata K. 331? Isn’t that too small a subject for a large essay, hasn’t everything worth saying about this tiny piece already been said, isn’t the tradition of Western art music at a too late and too troubled stage for such a futile exercise? Anticipating such incredulous questions, I will start by arguing that what follows may after all be worthwhile.

Mozart’s theme is certainly short, and the music is not very complex – or so it may seem at a cursory glance, so it may appear when listening superficially. But this simplicity is deceptive. On closer examination, when attending to the music with keen ears, these eighteen bars reveal a most delicate balance between order and freedom, and barely beyond the surface there is a wealth of ingenious patterns and relationships to be discovered. A masterpiece cannot very well be too small a subject for a large essay; indeed, it is doubtful whether the following observations – or any other discussion of this music – will be exhaustive.

Mozart’s A-major theme may be the most frequently used piece in the restricted stock of works or passages that music theorists constantly resort to when demonstrating their methods or training their students, or when just illustrating a certain analytic point. One reason for this preference is of course that the theme is very handy: brief, (seemingly) simple, and easy to read and play – at least at the modest level required for making analytical points. Furthermore, since it belongs to the aural fixtures of most people taking an interest in Classical music, it is quite well-known. But it is above all the structural richness of the K. 331 theme that explains why its properties have been described over and over again, and why it has proved capable of serving a wide variety of analytic purposes.

The fact that the theme of Mozart’s set of variations has already been repeatedly and often penetratingly analysed is an asset as well as a problem for the present study. All these analyses – undertaken from diverse theoretical perspectives and having different aims – provide abundant material for a critical assessment of both the music and the methods used to describe ←13 | 14→it, but on the other hand they leave but little scope for fresh observations. Hence, the present contribution will necessarily be one in terms of synthesis, comparison, and critical reflection, although some presumably new insights and approaches might perhaps turn up along the route.

Qualifications like “presumably” and “perhaps” have to modify the connotations of originality associated with words like “fresh” and “new”. Since the K. 331 theme has been commented upon in countless writings, it is virtually impossible to know, when it comes to what seems to be an observation of my own, whether it is common intellectual property or a finding attributable to a certain analyst, unknown to me, who should be given due credit. The notion of complete references belongs to an (non-) ideal world – a perfectly cumulative, but also somewhat uneasy, scholarly world with less scope for creativity and enthusiasm than the one we actually inhabit. Discovery is inextricably linked with the belief that you may, after all, now and then come up with something new.

It cannot be denied that the times are a-changin’. Classical music no longer occupies the natural, let alone official, position of being the model and standard for other kinds of music. It has in fact largely given in to the forces inherent in the current ideology that music is but one of many commodities offered by an all-embracing and all-decisive market, and it has quietly made itself at home in the niche so far tolerantly allotted to it, a niche that may be diminishing. But Classical music must be written about because verbal discourse is no less important for an endangered musical species than are dedicated playing and keen listening. Dealing scholarly with this once venerated and culturally dominating music is not to be equated with the care that we owe the aged and ill, but should rather be thought of as the grooming that is essential for any survival. Otherwise put, the eventual demise of Classical music deserves some verbal celebration; indeed, the situation calls for thorough dialectic understanding including an element of recalcitrance.

Turning from defence to declaration of contents, the above raisons d´être suggest the aims of this monograph-size essay. As its quasi-Subotnikian title Analytic Variations indicates, the main purpose is to expose a number of quite different analytic methods. The word “expose” carries an unfortunate ring of hostility, but what is meant is only that the theories and analytic approaches will be described, explained, characterized, and evaluated – a neutral intention that does not preclude adverse observations when called for. The comparative ←14 | 15→and critical undertaking is greatly facilitated by the fact that the various methods are applied to the same piece of music. The differences between the analytic approaches, their advantages as well as drawbacks, are likely to stand out clearly when brought back to a common, everything-else-equal condition.

The text is intended for a variety of readers: laymen seriously interested in musical structure, students of music and musicology, and music theorists. This wide range of addressees cannot but influence the text. Some space will be allotted to presentations of the various methods; on the other hand, theoretical complexities and analytic subtleties will not be avoided. Being an amalgamation of scholarly essay and textbook, Analytic variations on a theme by Mozart requires some patience on the part of the readership: expert readers will have to put up with some elementary and unnecessary information, lay readers with passages of overly sophisticated discussions. As always when boredom impends, merely scanning uncomfortable portions of the text is a possible way out.

Most of the essay will be devoted to influential twentieth-century analytic methods. This means that present-day polarities within music theory will be brought into focus, but (needless to say) these controversies cannot be fully accounted for, let alone be settled once and for all.

We will also discuss the traditional approaches to music analysis – approaches based on theories and terminologies of long standing, but still widely favoured. If carefully and persistently applied with a keen sense for the interrelationships between the musical elements, these methods are in fact quite powerful and productive analytic tools. Indeed, they may partly yield the same insights as the more recent methods. But in order to avoid duplications the chapters on the traditional approaches will be rather brief.

The twentieth-century methods as well as the traditional ones, rooted in the instructional practices of the nineteenth century, are no doubt to various extent anachronistic with respect to the K. 331 theme. As long as we keep this in mind and do not believe that we have any “authentic” access to the music, this element of anachronism is not necessarily a great worry since it may be assumed that we have incorporated elements of period musical thinking into our own, present-day ways of conceiving music. And whereas thoughtless anachronism may be likened to a colonization of the past, inverted colonialism, letting past ways of thinking dominate the present, is no better. Based on what we know today, it would have been possible to ←15 | 16→include a chapter describing the theme as it might have been understood by Mozart’s contemporaries. But this idea was abandoned, and we must put up with the suspicion that Mozart might have laughed at some of the analytic ideas to be presented.

There is a strong and reciprocal relationship between analysis and interpretation. Each and every analytical observation is of course not pertinent for interpretation but some of them may be quite productive. What you find in the score often confirms that your musical intuition has led you on the right track, and analyses may make you see and hear things that you were unaware of. On the other hand, and whether you think of it or not, interpretation sets the limits for your analysis – it is hard to discover or accept things lying beyond how you think that the music should be performed. The analytic observations to be advanced will therefore be complemented by some remarks on the interpretation of the music.

This brief account of the contents may give the misleading impression that the entire essay will be devoted to the theme’s “structure” and to analytic methods devised to study musical structure. It is true that analyses most often deal with structure in a narrow sense, but the readings to be proposed sometimes open up perspectives towards musical understanding in a more comprehensive sense. Musical “structure” is in fact imbued with musical meanings of various kinds, and the step from such meanings to “extra-musical content” may sometimes be both indiscernible and irresistible – as well as legitimate. But this is far from saying that any hermeneutic proposal goes. Quite to the contrary, verbal interpretations of musical content that enjoy solid structural support are worlds apart from unwarranted and self-indulgent impositions, however exciting and fantastic, culturally refined, or politically deserving these “critical readings” may otherwise be.

Music is accessible in three ways. We experience it with our ears, of course, but also by means of our eyes and our proprioceptive sense, i.e. music is also felt in our muscles and joints when we play it. Unfortunately, the latter source of information and delight is often neglected in music analysis. This way of encountering music is not accessible to everyone, one might argue, but reading music is also a skill that is not possessed by all people interested in music. Indeed, some theorists are prepared to maintain that people cannot even listen (properly). The present study will pay some attention ←16 | 17→to aspects deriving from the fact that the Mozart theme is something that you play.

Listening to music is a temporal activity – the events turn up in immutable succession – that releases the dynamic aspect of music, whereas reading music from a score may proceed in due temporal order and may be realistic enough to recreate the sonic gestures out of the notated substrate. On the other hand, music reading makes it possible to compare widely separate passages in whatever sequence you want. Speaking generally, the visual approach to music encourages you to disregard its inherent dynamic aspect and to conceive of it as a static structure. And even when it comes to music as an aural experience, the ongoing process may after many hearings transform into a fixed virtual object.

These facts cannot but have repercussions on music analysis. It seems that most analysts have favoured the permanent objects and relationships established in the score rather than the evanescent phenomena of music as heard. This choice or propensity is as understandable as it is regrettable: music reading and music analysis without “tönend bewegte Formen” is like swimming out of the water. It is important to stress that if you want to arrive at a penetrating description of a piece of music, the aural stream of events is as important as, indeed more decisive than, the visual facts to be gathered from the score. These two avenues to musical understanding are complementary in a way that must be exploited in order to gain full insight: you can see more than you are able to hear, and many of the things you hear are invisible. Hence, when trying to do analytic justice to the K. 331 theme, both the visual/static and the aural/dynamic aspects of the music will be paid close attention.

But presenting and comparing theories and analytic methods is not the sole purpose of this essay. Since as a matter of principle the music studied is always to be held superior to whatever analytic observations or methods it gives rise to – this principle may allow of a few exceptions in the form of penetrating remarks on trite pieces – and since it happens all too often that compositions are degraded into objects of analytic exercises or vehicles for devising or proving theories, the K. 331 theme itself makes up the other focus of the text. Mozart’s music will serve as the ultimate touchstone of the various analytic approaches, and at the same time the various – and not always consonant – analytic efforts to grasp the elusive essence of this short ←17 | 18→piece will hopefully add up to a many-faceted description that does justice to its subtle secrets. This aim is not to be regarded as a misguided ambition to erect a monument of insights to a piece of music that is non-monumental, but as an attempt to give analytic substance to the aesthetic claim that this seemingly inconsiderable theme is quite extraordinary.1

Striking finally a personal note in this introduction, this essay may be understood as a way of adopting the theme in the same non-possessive sense that you adopt a child. As its self-appointed parent I will feel responsible for it and lovingly embrace it, promoting its qualities and guarding it against misunderstandings. In other words, I will assume the attitude that is not only appropriate, but mandatory, for any musician that endeavours to play a piece of music.

←18 | 19→

Traditional approaches: melody

To most people melody is the foremost musical element, and yet it has arguably been the stepchild of theory. Melody is often thought of as the very core of musical creativity, and although this view is contestable –inspired melodies may in fact stem from rhythmic or harmonic ideas – it may have fostered the notion that melody defies description.

The reluctance to deal specifically with melody is not without justification, however. Whereas it might be argued that all elements of music are intimately related, it seems almost impossible to divorce melody from rhythm – both elements will lose much of their meaning – and melody and harmony are often implicated in a mutual camouflage/camouflaged relationship. And yet, studying an element like melody in isolation from other aspects of the musical structure is what traditional music analysis is doing most of the time. Whether the descriptions that eventually come out of such endeavours are enlightening or not depend on whether you are able to restore the interdependencies between the various elements of the structure.

When dealing with melodies, one thing is fundamental: a melody is not a series of pitches, but a sequence of intervals.

In order not to waste too early whatever powder and shot there may be, the following observations, preparing for discussions to come, will be restricted to some basic and fairly straightforward properties.

About motifs

Dividing melodies into motifs is usually the initial, standard, and sometimes only move in melodic analysis, but this does not preclude that decisions requiring careful discrimination are involved.

Turning first to matters of definition, a ‘motif’ can be defined either as a minimal but still meaningful melodic particle that recurs more or less frequently within a piece of music, or as a short melodic idea that plays a crucial role in the music in virtue of its conspicuous qualities, location, and/or function, although it may occur just once. But “motif” can also be used ←19 | 20→to denote the lowest, sub-phrase, unit in the hierarchy of “morphological lengths” to be found in more or less regular, “periodic” music.2

Motifs of the first kind are pertinent when discussing matters of thematic construction and thematic relationships, and they may imbue the music with a sense of unity, whereas motifs of the third sort belong to the domain of musical metre and make for a sense of order and clarity. One and the same configuration of notes may of course serve both constructive and metric functions – as is the case in the K. 331 theme.

Obviously, when it comes to analytic practice some words in these definitions (“short”, “meaningful”, “recur”, “conspicuous”, “regular”) call for further clarification.

Given the phenomenally close connection between melody and rhythm, should a certain motif be understood as a compound unit made up of two elements, or should the melodic and rhythmic components be divorced from each other, giving rise to two motifs, one in each domain? This is largely an ad hoc matter; as we will see, dealing separately with the pitch sequence and the rhythmic configuration may sometimes be heuristically productive.

The identification of motifs tends to involve delicate decisions with respect to similarity: when is a difference between two melodic fragments great enough to amount to a difference that counts, that makes for a categorical distinction? What deviations from the model – if a model can be established – can be accepted when we talk of variants of a certain motif, and how many deviations can a formulation take before it should be dismissed, although it may still have some affinity with the model? From the listener’s perspective it seems reasonable to adopt different criteria of similarity depending on whether it is a matter of juxtaposed quasi-iterations, say units within a continuous melodic development, or involves recurrences turning up only after some intervening material has been heard, i.e. associative relationships requiring long-term memory. Still another situation obtains when it comes to reminiscences between different works.

It is tempting to extend the search for recurring motivic material by taking account of similarities that only present themselves if one looks/hears beyond ←20 | 21→the surface. Taking away or adding notes may reveal what is reasonably to be regarded as a hidden recurrence of a certain musical idea. As the study of the Mozart theme will eventually show, a cautious, piecemeal approach to reduction may disclose subsurface motivic relationships of great interest.

The motivic structure of the theme

Leaving this methodological ado for some analytical work, what is the motivic structure of the A-major theme cf. ex. 1? The asterisk* at the slur refers to the fact that it is hard to determine with certainty whether Mozart wanted two-note or three-note slurs in m. 1 and in other comparable bars. The two-note option is chosen since it appears preferable.

The five notes forming the treble melody in m. 1 do not qualify as a motif: this formulation does recur several times, but it cannot very well be called minimal. These five notes are rather to be understood as making up a short phrase, a phrase with motivic functions. [M]; Recurring at predictable places and being one bar long – it is in fact crucial for defining the length of the bar – it lends both unity and hierarchic transparency to the music.

The smallest building block of the melody is its very first three notes, an upper neighbour-note motion characterized by its dotted rhythm, a quite common tonal cliché and yet a motif of some individuality. [m1] It turns up in mm. 1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 13, and 14, and all listeners will agree that the similarity is patent although the neighbour-note interval is sometimes a minor, sometimes a major second. Irrespective of the exact size of this interval, then, the motivic identity remains intact; since the tune is heard within a diatonic context, the neighbour-note relationship is not affected. Had the difference been categorical, had an otherwise similar three-note configuration occurred, featuring (say) a minor third instead of a minor or major second, the situation would have been less clear-cut.3 If the rhythm had been the same and the metric position comparable, such a configuration would ←21 | 22→probably have been accepted as a variant of the motif in m. 1; otherwise it would merely have been thought of as a formulation exhibiting a certain affinity with it. (We will return to the fact that the m1 motifs in the first two bars are different in another respect.)

The m1 motif is always followed by a quarter-note and a repeating eighth-note. This is certainly a quite common and most inconspicuous configuration, but it turns up regularly in the theme; hence it might be understood as a self-contained motif. [m2] But if the study of motifs is extended to include subsurface similarities, this second motif will emerge as a variant of the first. The upper-neighbour sixteenth-note constituent of m1 is simply absent in m2, but the basic, long-short rhythmic pattern persists, laying bare the element of repeated notes in m1.

When inspecting the score the affinity between m1 and m2 presents itself readily, whereas when listening to the music it may be less obvious. It is partly for this reason that two-note slurs seem preferable when playing the m1 motifs. The last note of m1 becomes detached just as the last note of m2 must necessarily be when playing the piano – the similarity in terms of articulation underscores the shared note-repeating essence and makes for motivic integration.

It is the fixed combination m1+m2 that makes up the recurring one-bar phrase M, turning up seven times in the theme and being, many listeners would say, “the theme within the theme”. But its fifth occurrence in m. 9 differs crucially from the others. The fact that there is now a major-second skip between the two motifs, instead of a minor-third one, does not affect the status of m. 9 as a variant of the initial phrase, but this categorical difference as regards an interval within M makes for a substantial musical change.

The five-note ideas appearing in m. 1 and m. 9 are both open-ended, but the initial phrase invites to be repeated – or to be repeated from another note in the scale, which is what happens in m. 2. The contracted variant in m. 9, on the other hand, has an ongoing quality demanding expansion and development, an urge that is immediately satisfied. It should be observed that rhythmic essence of m. 9 seems to be preserved in m. 10 – the two slurred eighth-notes in m. 10 simulate the effect of a quarter-note. Indeed, if we leave the pitch element (and the grace-notes) out of account, it becomes evident that m. 10 reproduces the rhythmic element of the m1+m2 compound in m. 9. Furthermore, the melody in m. 10 may emerge as a free inversion of ←22 |
 23→the e2–f♯2 motion inherent in m. 9; the excursion to the top note a2, musically important as it is, conceals the beyond-the-surface return from f♯2 to e2.

Although it starts from the note a1 as could be expected, m. 3 breaks the descending sequence of iterated phrases by bringing two m2 motifs in rising succession, and this is what listeners hearing the theme for the first time think will happen in m. 7 as well. But now the habit of repeating notes is replaced by a rising motion, and only the long-short rhythmic element of m2 persists. [m2r] One might say that this unexpected turn of events reveals that there are (were) two components within m2, one melodic and one rhythmic. Alternatively, given the subsurface rhythmic similarity between m1 and m2, it may be argued that m2r permeates the whole theme, excepting mm. 9–12 and particularly mm. 11–12.

In retrospect, m. 7 and then m. 15 can be understood as furtively introducing a new, constructive melodic motif. [m3] The seemingly fresh, rising idea that demonstratively turns up in m. 17 may emerge as a transposition of the ascending three-plus-one-note m3 compound heard in m. 15. Since the a1–b1–c♯2–d2 initiative ended so abortively in m. 16, the c♯2–d2–e2–f♯2 attempt in m. 17, raised in pitch and to be played forte, has a sense of determined resumption.

For analysts and listeners so disposed, the swift motions f♯2–g♯2–a2 in m. 10 and m. 17 may be identified as variants of an independent idea. [m4] For rhythmic and metric reasons the similarity is not likely to be immediately recognized, but the kinship emerges as structurally meaningful since it makes for an associative link between the two culminations within the theme.

In Classical music, formal units tend to be rounded off in conventional ways, and therefore the melodic motifs appearing in cadences tend to be neglected. But it is pertinent to observe that m. 4 and m. 12 end with formulations that are identical not only melodically, but rhythmically and harmonically as well. [cad1] Listeners paying attention to this similarity will get an impression of being transferred back to the close of the first four bars of the theme. For those who have missed this hint, m. 15 provides a second chance of orientation – or rather re-orientation since this bar does not turn out as they might have guessed, namely in the same way as m. 3, but seems to issue into the full cadence known from mm. 7–8. [cad2] Bar 16 is on the verge of closing as did m. 8, but the taken-for-granted final note ←23 | 24→a1 is replaced by the rising appoggiatura b1–c♯2, not by a falling b1–a1 motion as convention bids. This unexpected formulation links most strongly to what follows, and it is made even more startling by the expected, and yet “wrong”, bass note A in the middle of the bar. The last bar brings a full cadence, associating back to m. 4 in virtue of the appoggiatura motif. [app]

The melody of the theme is characterized by its parsimony; two motifs (or indeed only one) account for the continuity and growth of the melodic process as well as for its sense of unity and order. Adding the correspondences between the cadence motifs to the picture, one might liken the melody of the theme to a poem with regular rhymes and amply provided with alliterations.

Only mm. 11–12 escape the regime of this germinal motif: the middle section of the theme eventually issues into a series of falling triadic motions, whose regular rhythm is introduced already in the second half of m. 10. [m5] Retrospectively – and this is probably something that you are more likely to see than to hear – the less conspicuous rising triads of the accompaniment in mm. 9–10 may emerge as prefiguring inversions. [m5i]. Indeed, this correspondence makes for a sense of mirroring symmetry between mm. 9–10 and 11–12.

All motifs identified so far have started from (relatively) accented notes, and this is of course an important rhythmic property of the melody. But there are two exceptions, the quick, falling upbeats embellishing the otherwise different cadences in m. 4 and m. 18.

Melodic contours; elements of counterpoint


ISBN (Hardcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2020 (January)
Analytical methods Schenkerian analysis Musical ambiguity Musical similarity Musical plagiarism Musical hermeneutics Golden section
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 616 pp., 274 fig. b/w, 2 tables.

Biographical notes

Bengt Edlund (Author)

Bengt Edlund, trained as a pianist and formerly active as a music critic, has worked as a professor of musicology at the University of Lund. His main fields of interest are music theory and analysis, music cognition and aethetics, and musical interpretation. Related titles: Chopin – the Preludes and Beyond, and Questioning Schenkerism.


Title: Analytical Variations – Eight Critical Essays on Applied Music Theory