Analytic Techniques: Final Project

For the last week of Analytic Techniques, we spent the entire time writing a paper analysis of Schumann’s Novelette, Op. 21, No. 1 in F major. The goal of the paper was to use all of the different techniques from the previous weeks (harmony, form/structure, melody, phrase structure & meter, ambiguity, and context) in our analysis.

Prompt: The final project for this class consists of a multi-dimensional analysis of Schumann's Novelette, Op. 21, No. 1 in F major. Please begin by re-reading William Marvin's article, "Introduction to Writing Analytical Essays," that you read for the Week 1 Discussion question. As always, acquaint yourself thoroughly with the music at hand. By now you may find that you will naturally be already thinking about your analysis as you get to know the piece.

A multi-dimensional analysis should unfold in layers, revealing the richness and depth of the work over time. Apply to this final analysis any concepts from the course that you feel are relevant. You should discuss aspects of most or all of the following: the work's character, form, tonal and harmonic content, phrase rhythm, surface design, motivic content, and perhaps register. Additionally, address the following specific points.

  1. This work seems on the surface to be quite simple, perhaps a March in character. Schumann's wholesale repetition of material is significant. Begin with a large-scale view. Describe the form of the work, differentiating its thematic characters. Consider proportions of the sections and the overall scheme of the keys used. How do these keys relate to each other, the home key, and the harmonic structure of the opening section? Provide an answer in the form of both a diagram or outline, and also a paragraph or two, clearly listing key areas and measure numbers.

  2. Make an in-depth harmonic analysis of the first 21 measures. (This includes the first measure of the Trio.) Explain the modulations, showing pivot chords where appropriate, and the use of sequence. Your harmonic analysis should be written on a copy of the score, and the explanation as a couple of paragraphs. Proceed through the remaining sections. It is not necessary to analyze each and every harmony in the repetitions, but keep in mind what has gone before, and make a careful note of significant differences.

  3. Drawing from the discussions and readings throughout the course, decide what you think are the significant musical/analytical issues for the piece. Describe these issues and present your conclusions and observations. Remember, a good analysis rarely follows a chronological accounting of events from beginning to end. Structure your paper in terms of topics, and do not be afraid to work forward and backwards through the music.

Your paper should contain from eight to ten pages of double-spaced text. Use a 12-point font or smaller, with no larger than 3/4 inch margins. You should include musical examples, reductions, diagrams, etc. Use proper citations for any works consulted in the form of a bibliography, along with footnotes or endnotes.

A Multi-Layered Analysis of Schumann’s Novelletten, Op. 21, No. 1 in F Major

A multi-layered analysis of a piece of music provides great insight into the composer’s intent for any musician or music educator. There are several more layers beyond harmonic analysis that can inform performance: form, structure, phrasing, ambiguity, and context. The first of Schumann’s eight Novelleten provide an excellent example for a multi-layered analysis. I will begin by looking at the form and thematic character of the work. Next, I will do a more in-depth harmonic analysis of the first twenty-one measures, as they provide a frame for how the remaining sections are related. From this harmonic analysis, I will look at how Schumann used melody and phrasing to shape the remainder of the piece. Drawn out from these layers, I will look at some specific areas of ambiguity, and conclude with a discussion on the salient features that make this piece unique.

Form and Structure

Novelletten, Op. 21, No. 1 in F Major is set in a seven-part rondo form of ABACABA. The rondo form is a large classical form with recurring sections known as refrains, labeled A, and contrasting sections, labeled B and C (Benward & Saker, 2003, p. 159). Some composers used transitions and retransitions to connect refrains to episodes and episodes to refrains, respectively (p. 159). Romantic composers sometimes used the seven-part rondo form as a sonata rondo, with the C episode functioning as the development, and the ABA sections functioning as the exposition and recapitulation (p. 160). Considering the harmonic analysis and phrase structure which are discussed below, I do not believe Schumann incorporated transitions or retransitions into the piece. Because the material in the C episode is significantly different from the A refrain or B episode, I do not believe Schumann set this piece in a sonata rondo form.

Table 1 labels each of the seven sections of the first Novelletten with the measures, key areas, and thematic material. The first refrain modulates through F major, G minor, F minor, Db major, Eb minor, Db minor, and A major. These major key signatures foreshadow the use of key centers in the B and C episodes. In each section, Schumann usually uses two different thematic ideas that reoccur either later in the section or later in the piece. 

Section Measures Keys Thematic Material
A 1–4
g, f
eb, db
B 21–24, 25–28
F B1
B3, B1
A 49–52
d, c
C 61–72, 73–81 Db C1
A 82–85 Db A1
B 86–89, 90–93
A B1
B3, B1
A 114–117
F A1
Coda 126–129, 130–133
F D1

As mentioned before, the three major tonalities present in the first refrain foreshadow the other major tonalities used in the piece. The piece modulates to Db major for the C episode and third refrain and A major for the second B episode before returning to F major for the final refrain and coda. Had Schumann followed the traditional structure of tonalities for a seven-part rondo, the tonal centers for each section would have been as mentioned in Table 2 (White, 1994). Schumann’s use of tonalities is one example of what Cole (2001) described as extending the “range of tonal possibilities for episodes” (para. 33).

  A B A C A B A
Typical I
vi or IV or i
d or Bb or f
Schumann F, Db, A F F Db Db A F

Melody and Phrase Structure

Figure 1. Reduction of mm. 1–12 showing Themes A1 (mm. 1–4, 9–12) and A2 (mm. 5–6, 7–8)

The refrain section uses two specific themes in a variety of different keys. The first occurrences of themes A1 and A2 are displayed in Figure 1. A full harmonic analysis of measures 1–22 is included in Appendix A. Schumann used the concept of vierhäbichkeit, the normal grouping of fours, in the phrase structure of the refrain (J.H. Wallace, personal communication, April 9, 2019). Theme A1 contains four measures with the melody spanning nearly two octaves as it ascends. The harmonic progression begins in F major, contains a brief tonicization of the supertonic G minor, and ends with a full cadence in F major. Schumann used a passing E to transition to A2. The first statement of A2 begins with open octaves of the submediant, leaving it up to the listener if the harmony is progressing to the submediant chord of the original key or beginning a new statement on the dominant chord of a new tonality. Schumann wrote passing tones in the bass to connect A1 to A2. Because A2 is only two measures long, it functions as a subphrase, requiring a second statement of A2 to complete the four measure phrase. The first statement of A2 occurs in the supertonic of the previous major tonality. The tonicization of the subdominant at the end of A2 facilitates the transition to the next subphrase, either to the relative minor of the previous major tonality or to the next major tonality. There does not appear to be a cadence within A2, so the phrase must continue into A1 in a new tonality to finally find structural completeness in a cadence (Burkhart, 2005, p. 4). Schumann used the same A2–A2–A1 period in measures 13–20, moving through Eb minor and Db minor to get to A major. When the A2 theme in Db minor concludes on a Db major triad, it is the enharmonic equivalent of a C# major major triad, functioning as the dominant of F# minor, the first chord of A1 in A major. To transition into the first B episode, Schumann wrote a passing tone G descending down into F major.

The first B episode contains three themes, each comprised of two subphrases. Figure 2 shows measures 25–36, which contain statements of themes B1, B2, and B3, respectively. Measures 21–24 are nearly identical to measures 25–28 with just the final chord becoming a dominant seventh chord in measure 24. The subphrases in each theme appear to be complete phrases, as they end on full or half cadences. B1 occurs again in measures 37–40, followed by B2 in measures 41–44. The first B episode concludes with the second two-measure subphrase of B3 transposed up a perfect fifth and an abbreviated two-measure subphrase of B1 to setup the transition to the second refrain. 

Figure 2. Reduction of mm. 25–36 showing Themes B1, B2, and B3.

The second refrain in measures 49–60 is an abbreviated version of the first refrain, containing A1 in F major, followed by A2 in D minor and A2 in C minor. To get from F major to D minor, as opposed to G minor, Schumann used a passing tone G instead of E. Measures 57–60 function as a unique theme, A3, as seen in Figure 3. The melody begins similarly to A1 with similar triplet motion, but the more scalar bass line provides for a new harmonic progression. Instead of beginning on the submediant chord, this final phrase begins on tonic. The more scalar bass line provides for a more ambiguous harmonic progression that delays resolution.

Figure 3. Reduction of mm. 57–60 showing A3.

Episode C is the most significantly different section in the entire piece, utilizing descending scales that enter in ascending voices. Voices enter on metrically weak beats and begin their descent after the previous voice arrives at its lowest note on a strong beat. Schumann breaks from diatonic lines, inserting one chromatic passing tone, to arrive at specific harmonies in the progression. The flowing lines are somewhat interrupted in measure 70 with a more prominent bass line, returning to the patterns in measure 73. This same prominent bass line returns in measure 79, this time resolving to an F dominant seventh chord, which sets up the third refrain.

The third refrain is very short, stating A1 in Db major before using a Cb passing tone—enharmonic B-natural—to descend from Db to A, the tonic in the second B episode. The second occurrence of the B episode is almost identical to the first, occurring in A major instead of F major. The only real difference is the eight-note triplet in measure 113 that transitions the listener from A major up diatonically to D minor.

The final refrain begins identically to measures 49–60, save for beat four in the last measure. Functionally, the piece could end on the perfect authentic cadence in measure 125, but the coda provides a significant harmonic departure from the rest of the piece with Gb, Db, and Cb major sonorities that stabilize with a C dominant seventh chord at the end of measure 127. The progression ends in another perfect authentic cadence in measure 129, and repeats itself in measures 130–133. The final four measures tonicize the dominant before progressing to tonic.


There are a few moments in the piece where Schumann uses ambiguity to disorient the listener. In Theme A2, there is no cadence to provide structural completeness, leaving the listener wondering in which tonality the piece is occurring. The only potential cadence in A2 elides with the first chord of the following subphrase and providing no stability. As mentioned before, the bare octaves beginning A2 could imply the resolution of the previous subphrase or the dominant of the new tonality for A2.

Theme A3 also employs tonal ambiguity. The E diminished triad beginning measure 58 resolves deceptively to a G# diminished triad. Together, these two sonorities could constitute an A dominant seventh chord which also resolves deceptively to a weak D minor triad in second inversion. The descending melodic line and leaping bass set up an F dominant seventh chord that resolves deceptively to G minor. Finally, the progression begins to become less ambiguous with chromatic alterations in measure 59 setting up a G dominant seventh sonority progressing into a perfect authentic cadence in F major in measure 60.

The constantly flowing eighth notes of Episode C create the effect of both metric and tonal ambiguity. Metric ambiguity occurs as accented voices enter on beats two and four while descending scalar lines arrive and sustain on beats one and three. At times, the four voice sonority creates a diatonic chord in Db major, but there are also pitch collections that do not define a specific sonority. The only time a tonic Db triad appears, it occurs in a weak second inversion or with other non-harmonic tones obscuring it.


Schumann’s Novelletten, Op. 21, No. 1 in F Major provides an excellent example for looking at multiple layers of how a piece of music is constructed. At the structural level, Schumann composed a seven-part rondo form, but strayed from the tonal conventions of the large classical form. The proportions of the refrains and episodes are also unique, with the first refrain containing three modulations within 20 meausures, the second refrain containing only one  tonal center in twelve measures with an additional theme, and the third refrain containing only one theme in four measures. Both B episodes are the same length, and the C episode is proportionally similar. Harmonic analysis reveals the true uniqueness of this piece, providing themes in three major tonalities that outline a Db augmented triad. Phrase structure shows each section is composed on mostly two themes with a great deal of repetition. From the listener’s perspective, there is a little bit of ambiguity that can be better understood by analyzing the piece. This multi-layered analysis of the first Novelletten provides important insight into the construction of the piece that can aid musicians and music educators alike.


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.

Cole, M.S. (2001). Rondo. In Oxford music online.

White, J. D. (1994). Comprehensive musical analysis. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.


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.