Context

Week 6 of Analytic Techniques adds the final “layer” of analysis to our tool belt: context. From the lecture material, context can mean musicological, historical, sociological, psychological, or many other “isms.” The lecture material discussed Brahms’ Fantasien, Op. 116, No. 6 as representative of his style and that of the mid-to-late-nineteenth century piano character piece. The reading in Engaging Music applied historical context to Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, and we were asked to use the methods of applying historical context on a piece of our choosing for the discussion. The Application asked us to trace how Schubert developed an idea throughout his art song, "Der Doppelgänger," from Schwanengesang, D.957. Similarly, the Assignment asked us to analyze Schubert’s Daß sie hier gewesen! (That they were here!) in the vein of Carl Schachter's analysis of the first half of the song in Engaging Music.

Application and Live Classroom 1

Prompt: As a way to prepare for this week's Schubert Daß sie hier gewesen! assignment, we will look at another Schubert song, "Der Doppelgänger," from Schwanengesang, D.957, found on pp. 317–319 in the Burkhart. Romantic, (especially German-Romantic), literature, is a staple of the Western Art canon. One of the most important genres from this period is the Art Song. Drawing on late-18th Century composers such as Zumsteeg and Zelter, Schubert is the single-most important contributor to this important new form. Note how the first four measures set the tone for the entire song. Trace the development of this idea throughout the music, and note any significant deviations. The text is divided into three stanzas; consider how Schubert uses this structure as the basis for the musical structure of the song.

Discussion: I was not able to attend this week’s first Live Classroom in person because it was my wife’s birthday! Luckily for me, each of the Live Classrooms sessions are recorded and transcribed by Zoom, so I could watch it at my leisure later in the week. I wish I had attended the Live Classroom prior to writing my Discussion Board prompt (below), as our instructor cautioned us that a contextual analysis involves external sources relating to the music itself. In my case of discussing Lament, my external source discusses J.J. Johnson, but not the music itself. This was a struggle I was having—finding a source that both interested me and related to the music. Luckily each Discussion Board post is only worth 2% of our overall grade.

The two main thrusts of the analysis of Der Doppelgänger using the text to provide context were Schubert’s use of text painting—hollow chords describing a hollowed house, dissonances at high points—and his transformation of an F#7 chord into a C major chord, all serving dominant functions. The F#7 chord is the first structurally functional, fully-voiced chord that appears in the piece, and it doesn’t occur until measure 12. Each occurrence of it serves as a half cadence concluding a line of the text. It occurs again as a literal repetition in measure 22, and in measure 32, Schubert lowers the C# to a C natural. This is spelled like a French Augmented 6th chord which typically would function as a pre-dominant chord in the key of E, progressing to a B dominant chord. Instead, it progresses to the tonic B minor chord. Our instructor’s contention is that Schubert is altering the F#7 chord, but still intending it to function as a dominant chord. In measure 41, the C# is lowered to a C natural, and the F# is raised to a G, spelling a German Augmented 6th chord in the key of E, but again resolving to a tonic B minor chord. Finally in measure 59, the two previous alterations are included with the reduction of the A#, leaving a C major chord. This would typically be analyzed as a Neapolitan chord in B minor, but it is instead the final alteration of the F# dominant—a tritone substitution! Our instructor’s justification for this analysis is the text—the first stanza sets the scene of an empty house, adding a person (the doppelgänger!) in the second stanza that causes terror, with the third stanza serving as reflection. This process and transformation is reflected in the alteration of the F# dominant into C major.

Here are a few other key pieces about contextual analysis I drew from the session:

  • If you are not tying an external source to specific musical details, it’s really in the realm of musicology and music history and not the analysis of the music itself.

  • For any piece of music with text, take the structure and meaning of the text into context. That can help explain what is happening in the music.

  • When you find something unusual, dig deeper to find out why they made that decision. Use context to analyze it.

Discussion Board

Prompt: Begin by reading Janet Schmalfeldt's article, In Search of Purcell's Dido, (pp. 149–163), in Engaging Music. (The score to the recitative and lament can be found on pp. 69–71 of the Burkhart.)

As the introduction to this article points out, Schmalfeldt "advocates providing a historical context for music analysis." Her approach in discussing Dido and Aeneas, centers around the concept that an understanding of the music itself, "can become immensely enriched when placed within the bigger contextual picture." Specifically, she cites four extramusical factors which have been important in the ongoing understanding and analysis of this work: literary; historical; sociological; and, political. Using this article as a model, briefly apply one of these four factors to a work of your own choosing, discussing how this idea of musical context can be effectively applied elsewhere. Try to choose a work in which you are already familiar and engaged. The work may be for any forces and style, including standard Classical repertoire, jazz, pop, rock, world, etc.

Response: J.J. Johnson is best known for making the trombone relevant in the modern jazz era. As Gioia (2012) noted, without Johnson’s “fleet and flashy stylings,” the trombone may have gone the way of the clarinet, C-melody saxophone, banjo, and cornet—disappearing from the idiom. However, Johnson was also an excellent composer, and his works, like his playing, have solidified the trombone as a modern jazz instrument. One of his most famous compositions is Lament, first appearing on the 1954 album, Jay and Kai, with Kai Winding. Lament was later made famous by Miles Davis and Gil Evans on their 1957 album, Miles Ahead.

The combination of register and use of tonality are what make Lament such a beautiful composition for trombone. The piece has a 16-bar ABAC form of four measure phrases that repeats with slight variations. The opening chord, rests, and opening melody appear to imply the key of F minor, but the opening progression is actually vi–ii–V–I in Db major for the first three measures. Modal mixture in measure 4 seems to imply a ii-V progression in F minor, but resolves to F major. The melody and chord progression appear to stay in F major for measures 5–11 with a brief tonicization of D minor in measures 8–9. The C7(b9) chord in measure 12 sets up a transition back into F minor for the final four bars of the first half. Measures 17–26 are identical to measures 1–10 in both melody and harmony. In measure 27, Johnson replaces the G half-diminished seventh chord with a B half-diminished seventh chord, interrupting the progression in F minor to accommodate an extended melody with a slightly altered harmony. He then shifts the bass down a half-step to create a ii–V progression in Ab, the relative major to the implied key. However, the last four bars play out as a I–vi–ii–V–I progression in F major, with a major melody to match.

Gioia, T. (2012). The jazz standards: A guide to the repertoire. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Assignment and Live Classroom 2

Prompt: This week's assignment is to analyze Schubert's song, Daß sie hier gewesen! (That they were here!). The text by Rückert is spare but intensely expressive. Begin by reading Carl Schachter's article, "Motive and Text in Four Schubert Songs," (Stein; pp. 110-121). His analysis of the first half of the song, (pp. 113-115), focuses on aspects of the music which contribute to its expressivity-motive, harmony, text and their interrelation. You will build on this analysis and extend it to the rest of the the song.

  1. Once you know the song well, re-read Schachter's analysis carefully, relating it to the score. Schachter makes a number of observations on the first half of the song;

    • The nature of harmony: tonal ambiguity, shifting impressions of chords, and the eventual establishment of the tonic, C major.

    • Important motives in the music: the two-note appoggiatura figure that pervades the music, and the descending four-note figure built from it.

    • The connection between the meaning of the text and the music that expresses it.

  2. Perform an harmonic analysis of the song. Schachter's analysis should be very helpful for the first half, all of which takes place in the tonic key of C major. The are 7th chords everywhere; both types of diminished 7th chords, ("normally" resolving and common-tone diminished 7ths), and dominant 7th chords, transforming into each other through the appoggiatura figure. Since mm. 19-35 repeat mm. 1-17, you do not need to analyze them.

    In the second half of the song, harmony moves away from the tonic, exploring, but never strongly establishing, two new harmonic areas-one closely related, and one chromatically related-before returning to C major. You may analyze these as pivot chord modulations or as tonicizations. Certain progressions and melodic associations undergo slight but noticeable changes; be aware of them. Do your working analysis on one copy of the score. Once you have finished your analysis and written your comments, prepare a clean copy to hand in.

  3. Analyze the melody, including its motivic content, as well as that of the accompaniment. Note the changes and transformations from the first half of the song to the second.

  4. Consider the text and it relation to the music in the second half of the song. The text and translation are found below.

  5. Finally, write answers to the following questions:

    • How do harmony, motive, and text come together in m. 9 to produce a distinctive effect? How does this relate to what occurs in m. 12?

    • What significant changes in harmony, melody, and motive occur at or near the beginning, and later on in the second half of the song? Do these bear any relation to the text?

    • How exactly does Schubert reorient the music from the chromatic territory of m. 54, back toward the tonic in mm. 55-59?

Discussion: The second Live Classroom provided some further clarification into using external sources to provide context when analyzing a piece of music. In both the Application and the Assignment, this context is provided by the lyrics of the piece. Here are a few other points from the Live Classroom:

  • Sometimes non-harmonic tones create functional sounding sonorities, but are not actually functioning as that sonority because of the resolution. Patterns are important.

  • Roman numeral analysis should reflect the harmonic rhythm—Only add a Roman numeral when the harmony actually changes. For arpeggiations, incorporate inversion numbers for the lowest voice.

  • Nowadays, it is much more common to not treat modal mixture as a modulation. Schubert excessively used modal mixture because most of his music is leider of a poem. Major and minor are just flip sides of the same coin, essentially the same. It could be appropriate to mention it in the prose, depending on the question.

  • A common tone diminished seventh chord (CTº7) is a fully-diminished seventh sonority that does not resolve functionally (not a viiº7). If it resolves to anything besides it’s functional tonic, there will be at least 1 common tone.

  • Strange, unexpected things will happen in this piece. These can’t be explained from purely musical logic. Turn to the context—the text. How does the text relate to the music?

Comment

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.