Phrase Structure and Meter

Week 4’s new layer of analysis for Analytic Techniques looked at phrase structure and meter. To borrow from the introductory lecture:

The phrase structure is an interesting concept because it's articulated primarily through harmonic action in the background. But it does have a surface-level layer to it. We often see in a piece of music where the composer puts phrase markings, which may or may not line up with what is going on underneath. It's where there's a dichotomy between those two that's interesting.

We're talking about meter on a structural scale. The concept of Vierhäbichkeit (habit of fours), where we have normal groupings of four in a lot of music, where it's two measures plus two measures equals four measures, and those four measures plus another two-plus-two equals eight, and those form 16, etc. Where composers deviate from that concept and where they extend it or pull back… creates an interesting background layer of how meter works in a piece of music.

Lecture Material

The lecture analyzed the opening to Bach’s Sonata No. 3 in C major, BWV 1005. Several different methods were employed for determining phrase structure. First we looked at how Bach used the different strings on a Baroque violin to evoke different “voices.” This texture, used in conjunction with the rhythmic design, was used as a surface method of determining phrase length. The pitches were used to demonstrate meaning derived from context. Finally, the harmony was used to demonstrate how Bach continued to extend the phrases through use of deceptive resolutions.

Application and Live Classroom 1

Prompt: As a way to prepare for this week's Chopin Mazurka, Op. 17, No. 2 in E minor assignment, we will look at the Corelli Sonata for Violin No. 1 in D major, Op. 5, Mov. 5, found on pp. 69–71 in the Burkhart. Concentrate on parsing out the phrase structure of the piece. Consider how the harmony, melodic lines, registration, and texture of the music interacts with the phrase structure. Work from the large-scale structure down to the level of the sub-phrase.

Discussion: The first Live Classroom was immensely helpful by clarifying some of the terms used in the Burkhart article for the Discussion Board. Subphrases are units without cadences. Expansions are inserted into the middle of a phrase, prior to the cadence that ends the phrase. Extensions occur after a cadence. Ellisions occur when the last chord of a cadence in the previous phrase is also the first chord of the following phrase.

Discussion Board

Prompt: Begin by reading Charles Burkhart's article, The Phrase Rhythm of Chopin's A-flat Mazurka, (pp. 3–12), in Engaging Music. (The full score to this Mazurka can be found on pp. 359–360 of the Burkhart.)

Respond to one of the following questions:

  1. (From p. 8.) "…this extension (bars 17-20) is surely trying to 'tell a story' of some kind-not a literal story, of course, but a psychological experience expressible only in tones. We can only use words in our attempt to suggest it. What might they be? More importantly, what strategies might the performer employ to convey this 'story' dramatically?"

  2. (From p. 9.) "Bars 23-44 are structurally identical to the first twenty-two bars. What do they contribute to the piece that is new?"

  3. (From p. 12, regarding m. 101-end.) "As I show in EP (by the numbers under the staff), I can hear the metrics of this flourish in two different ways. How do you hear them? Could Chopin's pedaling influence how one hears them?"

  4. (From p. 12.) "…we know from the manuscript sources of op. 59, no. 2, that Chopin had difficulty finding an ending that satisfied him. He rewrote the last bars several times before arriving at the of the curious repeated chords in the last two measures. What is one to make of them?"

Response (to Question 2): In his essay on Chopin’s Mazurka 37 in A-flat Major, Op. 59, No. 2, Burkhart (2005) noted that measures 23–44 are “structurally identical” to measures 1–22 and asked the reader, “What do they contribute to the piece that is new?” (p. 9). At the surface level, Chopin harmonizes the melody in the right hand. Most of the time, this involves transferring the top note of the left hand harmony from the first twenty-two measures into the bottom of the right hand, Because the melody follows a different rhythm than the repeated quarter notes in the left hand, the harmonized melody in measures 23–44 can be enriched by non-harmonic tones. The pedaling in measures 23–44 must be less than measures 1–22 because of this richer, harmonized melody. Lastly, in this second statement of the A1 section, Chopin uses dotted eighth-sixteenth rhythms in measures 30 and 32. I believe Chopin does this to accentuate the “mazurka rhythm” Burkhart (2005) discussed that emphasizes beat two by “playing ‘into’” it (pp. 5–7). In all, I believe measures 23–44 contribute an enriched statement of the original theme by harmonizing the melody and accentuating the second beat in strong measures.

Burkhart, C. (2005). The phrase rhythm of Chopin’s a-flat major mazurka, op. 59, no. 2. In D. Stein (Ed.), Engaging music: Essays in music analysis (pp. 3–12). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Assignment and Live Classroom 2

Prompt: One of the virtues of a musical analysis lies in its ability to convey a strong sense of the piece as a whole, and the relationships within that whole. This week's reading by Charles Burkhart does just that by performing a rhythmic reduction and phrase structure analysis on a Mazurka by Chopin. Some of the most powerful tools of music analysis are the analytic diagram and the analytic reduction. Following Burkhart's method, you will make a similar analysis of another Chopin work—the Mazurka, Op. 17, No. 2 in E minor—creating your own analytic reductions. This week's lecture, which traces the decision-making process for an analysis of the phrase structure of a Bach solo violin piece, will be helpful to you in your own decision-making process.

  1. For the first step in your analysis, as Burkhart emphasizes, please some spend time getting to know the music. Listen to the piece several times, both with and without the score.

  2. Analyze the phrase structure of the music according to Burkhart's method. Both the A and B sections of this Mazurka are built on eight-measure phrases, each made up of two basic four-measure subphrases. These basic phrases are elaborated by some of the techniques described by Burkhart; you may wish to review the article and write them down as an aid at this point.

  3. Next, make your reductions and analytic diagram. Burkhart's PAN diagram uses two different reduction types, a melody/Bass reduction for all of the music (above) and an harmonic reduction for the basic phrase (below). You only need to make the upper melody/Bass reduction and indicate the phrase structure above it, as Burkhart does. His reduction shows the basic melody along with the long values of the Bass line. His analysis leaves out small rhythmic gestures and non-harmonic tones, showing the basic melodic structure. Chopin's melody for this Mazurka is complex and the melodic reduction is challenging. Simplify the melody by choosing approximately one note per beat that seems most basic—the main melodic tone, often part of a stepwise line or arpeggio, not a passing or ornamental tone. Do not worry about making "perfect" choices.

    You do not need to do a chord-by-chord Roman numeral analysis for this assignment, nor do you need to indicate the principle harmonies on your analysis with Roman numerals as Burkhart does, although you should look at and analyze the cadences to help guide your decisions about the phrase structure.

  4. Finally, answer these specific questions:

    • Which criteria for the basic subphrase do you think point to mm. 5–8, and which to mm. 9–12, and how?

    • What aspect of the music does Burkhart value in making decisions like these?

    • Accordingly, which phrase do you choose as the second subphrase?

    • Which of Burkhart's types of elaboration does the other four-measure phrase represent?

    • Does the pair of subphrases you chose for mm. 1–12 work equally well in mm. 13–24, especially in relation to the earlier music?

    • In the B section, briefly describe the elaborations to the repeat of the second subphrase. Use measure numbers, Burkhart's terminology, and a diagram if you would like.

    • In the return of the A section, briefly describe the additional elaborations, using measure numbers and Burkhart's terminology.

Response: This particular assignment was relatively easy, and I did not gain much from the Live Classrooms. As you can see from the prompt, the Mazurka divided nicely into 8-measure phrases with roughly 4-measure subphrases. It was left up to us to determine whether those subphrases were functioning as extensions or expansions. This was similar to work I did in the Music Fundamentals class in Ankeny.


Burton Hable

Burton Hable is an instrumental music educator from Central Iowa. In 2013 he helped open Centennial High School in Ankeny, the first time in forty years that a school district in Iowa expanded to two high schools. He served there through 2018 as Assistant Director of Bands: conducting the 10th Grade Symphonic Band, directing the varsity Jazz Collective, co-directing the Centennial Marching and Pep Bands, teaching music theory, and providing individual and small group lessons to brass students in grades 6-12 at Prairie Ridge Middle School, Northview Middle School, and Centennial High School. During his tenure in Ankeny, enrollment in band grew from 450 to nearly 700, the jazz program expanded from four to seven ensembles, and ensembles under his direction were invited to perform at Iowa State University, Harper College, and the Veterans Day Parade in New York City.