Music – Form Building

Music as it flows along in the continuity of a composition, may very readily be divided into portions by several conceptions of articulation. It has been customary for writers on the subject of musical analysis to attempt to define the groups in all these conceptions in terms relating them alike to a single standard or unit — the measure. This has resulted in so much inaccuracy and ambiguity as should have directed attention long since to the in applicability of the standard for all purposes. A period is not a certain number of measures with occasionally some deviation from the number — essentially it has nothing to do with measures, but with sense. A phrase is not a definite portion of a sentence — essentially it has nothing to do with a sentence, but with breathing, bowing, or touch. A subject is not a certain number of periods — essentially it has nothing to do with periods, but with form.

In the plan of a city we find the area divided off into blocks, and these again into lots which have a certain uniformity and regularity as to size. A man wishing to invest in real estate, however, does not find it necessary to buy just a lot, or just so many lots ; he buys a parcel which may involve ells or jogs covering parts of several lots. When he builds he may cover his parcel or only part of it, or he may lease from neighboring owners and cover more than his parcel — he may even build both sides of the street and connect two blocks by tunnel or bridge into what is practically a single building larger than the city block. Again, his building may be a bazar presenting mostly doors to the street, or it may be an art gallery presenting more blank wall than doors, or it may be an office-building with many more windows than doors. And whatever the external appearance of the building, its contents will be quite independent of its structure. As blocks, elevations, doorways, and contents along a street are absolutely distinct from each other and related very freely; so meter, periodic structure, phrasing and form are independent considerations in musical analysis. It is not possible accurately to de-fine members of one group or classification in terms of another.

Form in music signifies the arrangement of certain separable elements, called subjects, passages, episodes, codas, etc., by which the composer secures unity, regulates contrast, or adheres to certain established patterns. In very simple forms like folk-songs, the unit is often a clause, which may be repeated to make up a sentence of two similar portions, or may be utilized as a part of two different sentences, in each of which it is repeated or nearly repeated. (See Ex. 64.) In somewhat larger ” ballad ” or ” applied song” forms, the unit will correspond to the strain or period ; and in either case the possible arrangements are numerous and of no particular significance. But the fact that in these simple compositions it is usual for the portions that enter into the make-up of the form to correspond with the portions that make up the sense, does not make the subject and the sentence or part-sentence necessarily identical.

All such things are to be distinguished by their application and use. In simple works they are apt to coincide in length and situation at the beginning of the piece ; in larger works they are just as apt not to do so.

This point is insisted upon at the risk of making this chapter seem pedantic and technical, because so many popular books touching upon musical analysis fail to distinguish sufficiently the various conceptions of articulation, and be-cause in the study of form it is essential that a clear conception of “subject ” be secured. The limitations of the ” subject ” are determined entirely by use in the composition under examination; as meter is determined by pulses, phrases by slurs, and sentences or periods by cadences. The text of a sermon is usually a verse, and a verse is usually a sentence ; but those facts do not make it true that any sentence in a sermon is a text, any more than it is true that the subject of a sermon is a paragraph.

A certain quaint old divine in the southwestern part of New York State, years ago, became convinced that his congregation, particularly the feminine portion of it, was becoming too much conformed to the world. So he preached a sermon against the tendency. His ” subject” was Fashion, his sermon had the usual divisions into sentences, paragraphs, and ” heads,” and his ” text ” was taken from Matt. xxiv, 17 —”Top(-knot, come down ! ” This he applied to the prevailing fashion of dressing the hair into a ” top-knot.” He did not need to make his text coincide with the entire verse, which reads : “Let him which is on the housetop not come down,” etc. Things which coincide are often not essentially the same.

The “Subject ” of a musical composition is an important and prominently located portion of music that recurs. It may not be the first thing, its length is not subject to general definition, but is sufficient to assure its importance ; it may recur only as to its melody ; other things besides the subject may recur, and in a large work there may be several subjects ; but the fundamental distinction of the subject is recurrence. In a small work like a ballad or folk-song, the word “subject” would hardly apply, but the study of the thing may well begin with the smallest ” tune.” – The subject of a fugue has already been considered, and in that style of composition several items may be noted in which it differs from what would be called the subject in ” classical forms ” (rondos, sonatas, etc.) ; — the fugue form itself is relatively short, and so the subject is short; the subject is always the first thing to be heard and always stands quite alone when first heard; — but the essential thing about the subject in any form or composition, is that it is used, it recurs.

Unity is recognized by all authorities as an absolutely essential requisite in any finished art work. The powerful influence of a subject in securing unity in a musical composition is apparent from the definition. Other items can be and are used for this purpose. The motive has been dwelt upon already, and rhythm and attunement are powerful agents that may be employed for the same object. Yet ” subject ” has an effect in unifying a work that is all its own and that may be superposed upon other influences with gratifying results. For example : in a set of ballroom dances, the necessity of using a characteristic rhythm (which is one of the strongest possible unifying influences) makes it essential, if the composer would have his music enjoyable for its own sake, that he study contrast and diversity. Nevertheless if he conclude his ” set ” with a ” finale ” in which he gathers together snatches from some or all of the individual dances, he will thus unify his work by a fresh expedient and increase the pleasure his listeners will derive from it. The ” snatches ” which he gathers from the separate waltzes of the ” set ” (and which must be important items in the individual numbers in order that they may be recognized in the finale), will by this use of them become, in some sort, ” subjects ” within the letter and spirit of the definition, although the name might not occur to a musical analyzer in this connection. One readily recognizes the unifying effect of the recurrence of a familiar portion in a church tune, and if the portion is of a suitable length, it makes little difference in the value of so brief a composition what may be the relative arrangement of the recurring and the contrasted and but-once-used portions.

Beginning with such tunes as one may chance to hear, the student of The Art of the Musician should search in them for the unifying principle, whatever it may be. In such a tune as ” America it will be found mainly in the rhythmical motive, but melodic resemblances between the lines may be noted. In “Horne, Sweet Home” the melodic resemblance between the first and second lines is noticeable, also in the endings of the second and fourth lines. In President McKinley’s favorite tune, ” Bethany,” it will be easy to see that the first, third, and seventh lines are identical in melody, as are the fourth and eighth, both being similar to the second. The fifth and sixth also closely resemble each other and are in contrast with the others. Such a tune might be formulated as A, B, A, B2, C, C, A, B2. Similarly ” John Brown’s Body ” might be formulated as A, B, A, C. Such formulas using a letter for any separable portion that may be convenient, and applied to many tunes, at first trying particularly to note which clause or strain is repeated, and which lines of the stanza are set to that, so that its order with reference to X (any different line, clause, or strain) may be established, will carry one far in the analysis of form. Of course the next step is the noting of other lines that are also melodically repeated. It will be months for most students before such work can be done accurately with all the strains of even a short tune at first hearing.

Auricular analysis of this kind will not have been continued long before the conviction will be pretty firmly established in mind that most musical compositions have passages that return, and that some order or form can be made out simply by noting the scheme of this return. Next it will be evident that as pieces increase in length, the form will display elements of considerable size, which when considered by themselves will reveal a shorter form made up of smaller elements within the larger, perhaps differently arranged, and perhaps themselves resolving into still smaller elements.

For example, the familiar Polonaise of .Chopin in A major, Op. 40, called the ” Military Polonaise,” may easily be divided off on first hearing into three portions, of which the third is a repetition of the first. Another hearing may be sufficient to recognize in this repeated portion a structure consisting likewise of three parts, of which the third is a repetition of the first. Adopting, for convenience, a key in which capital letters represent larger divisions and small letters sub-divisions, using X to represent anything which is heard but once, the early letters to represent anything which is repeated, and associating each early let-ter with a special part, which, if repeated in a modified form, may be marked by that letter with a 2 or a 3, if necessary, after it, the structure or form of compositions may be graphically represented.

The first analysis of the Chopin Polonaise would follow the formula A, X, A. Then having analyzed A into a, x, a, if that formula should be substituted for A, the fragments might be symbolized thus : a, x, a, X, a, x, a, or better, a, x, a, (— A), X, A. Later hearings will result in an analysis of X, which as a portion made up of sub-divisions in which recurrences are observed, might now be styled M instead of X, to indicate a portion analyzed but not repeated as a whole. M soon reveals itself as consisting of three statements of a passage which we will call B, with X2 separating the second and third of them. But B itself is divisible, its contents being distinguished as a passage, b, which, after x2, returns modified and in octaves, b2, after which comes once more new matter, x3. The whole piece may now be formulated something like this : a, x, a, (= A), b, x2, b2, x3, (= B), B, X2, B, A. The graphic representation shows there is a grand division A, used twice, a division B, used three times, a sub-division a, used four times, a subdivision b, used three times, and in the modified form b2, used also three times, a grand division X or M, a division X2, which occurs but once, and three subdivisions, x, x2, and x3, which are repeated only as the grand divisions containing them are repeated. Such an analysis made and tabulated is one step taken toward an understanding of the subject of form in music. The trouble involved will be richly repaid by the value of the ultimate results.

Undertaking next a larger work, the formal plan of Weber’s familiar “Invitation to the Dance ” may be examined. In this piece there are two distinct movements, although there is no interruption in the continuity of the work on that account. After the second movement is concluded, a partial repetition of the first movement is added as a termination to the piece ; and the two movements are unified by the idea suggested in the title. The first movement plainly brings to mind the thought of a dialogue comprehending some graceful compliments, and a request for a dance with its favorable answer ; the return of the movement at the close of the piece as plainly suggests the word of parting. The other movement is the dance itself. No other idea could more effectually weld the movements into a single composition. The second movement readily divides into four large groups of passages, which may be distinguished by the letters A, B, C, and A2, using the letters simply as cues, not as in the analysis of the Polonaise, as implying repetition except in the case of A2. A begins at the ” Allegro Vivace,” B at the ” Wiegend,” C at the ” Vivace,” and A2 at the point where the signature of five flats is restored after the passage without key signature. Using small letters to indicate subdivisions, figures to indicate modifications in repetition, and x to mark a passage not repeated, A will be found to be made up of a, b, c, x, c2, and a. The first portion of A, up to the double bar, is indicated by a; the next portion again extending to a double bar, by b ; c also terminates at a double bar ; x and c2 share equally in making up the passage to the next double bar ; and a finishes A. B is made up of d, x2, and d2. The line of division between d and x2 is again a double bar, and d2 enters after the scale of a flat in single notes occupying four measures. C is made up of e and x3, each extending to a double bar ; then e again, followed by x4, extending to the place where the signature is cancelled. At this point we have b2, extending sixteen measures and followed by x5 which completes division C. A2 begins with a, b, and c, as at A, except that the repetition marks (to which no attention has been paid in this analysis) fail after b, and after c has been played once through, the notes enter as if a repeat were to be written out, but from that point the movement continues with new matter (x6) containing suggestions of former passages, but nothing more that could be called a recurrence until the first movement enters as already described. The piece then, in a word, presents a first movement, a second movement with five subdivisions that recur, and six portions besides that are used but once each, although the last of these contains reminiscences. The subdivisions of the second movement naturally group themselves into divisions, of which the fourth is a partial reproduction of the first.

To the casual reader the above description can but seem dry and meaningless, but one who would familiarize himself with form in musical composition, can do so successfully only by such practical analyses of many compositions ; and work of that character will inevitably reveal the need of a nomenclature. Unfortunately musical terminology in this particular subject of analysis is in a chaotic condition much to be lamented. The whole subject is quite modern, and writers in different countries using different languages, have hit upon different terms and different ways of translating foreign expressions that have sadly confused matters. Composers have not infrequently given sub-titles to portions of a composition for no very evident good reason, and in doing so have used in a rather loose sense words that it seems absolutely necessary to restrict and use in a technical sense. For example, the words Prelude, Introduction, Intermezzo, and Coda. Other words like Theme, Strain, Passage, and Phrase, can hardly be preserved from vague use even in technical works, yet every one of these terms is needed for a specific technical application. There are hardly terms enough in use to satisfy all demands ; the same terms are differently applied in the different specific forms ; and yet for some things several different terms are in use by different writers, as, for example, “Elaboration,” “Development,” “Working-out,” and ” Free Fantasie ” all used for a portion of a sonata that the Germans call the ” Durchfürungs-Satz.” Under such circumstances the student may be recommended to make large use of symbols, as has been suggested in the analyses worked out above, for after all it is the things rather than their names that it is important to understand; yet thinking and comparing without names does not carry us far in scientific work. Even the symbols are needed in conjunction with nomenclature, and therefore such application of them as has been made in the present chapter (intentionally varied in connection with different pieces) can be only tentative.

In view of the situation just stated, the author may be pardoned, perhaps, if he ventures to suggest the use of one or two terms not commonly accepted among writers on musical analysis, and selects among possible definitions those specified below for words about which there might be some difference of opinion.

Subject should always mean a passage of considerable length, prominently placed, and reproduced in its essentials, or at least as to its melody, after an interval but within the movement.

Second Subject should mean a similar passage also reproduced but always appearing in two keys in the course of the movement. A Second Subject usually appears first in some key other than the principal key of the movement and recurs in the tonic key ; but specific rules as to key cannot be made part of the definition except that different keys in at least two assertions of the item must be used. An Episode is an item quite on a par with a Subject as to inherent interest and importance, but never appearing more than once. An Intermezzo is a passage of similar grade which recurs with marked changes, perhaps much extended, perhaps comprehending modulations, but yet recognizably the same in essence and spirit in at least two places in the one movement. A Passage (technically defined — it is very difficult to avoid the use of this term in a general sense) is an item used evidently for purposes of connection, generally involving runs or ornamental figures, and frequently including a modulation. A Coda is easiest appreciated by bearing in mind its etymological signification of a tail — the caudal appendage. it is a portion, sometimes of considerable length, added within the movement after all things essential to its structure have been completed. This word has been found very convenient and has been applied to many smaller items, as ” a coda to the first subject” “a coda to the first part,” and the like. ” Extension,” ” Termination,” “Conclusion Theme,” and a Codetta ” are better terms for use in minor situations, holding ” Coda ” for a final passage in a movement characterized as above described.

The author has frequently found it very convenient to use the word ” Paragraph ” to designate collectively or generally a Subject, Episode, Passage, Intermezzo, Coda, or similar item; and the word Chapter he has also found very serviceable to designate a specific group of Paragraphs less than a movement, such, for example, as the items marked by capital letters in the formulation of the members of the Chopin Military Polonaise, and of Weber’s Invitation to the dance in the present chapter.

The application and use of these terms will be more fully discussed in the following chapter, but by their aid, and using in connection with them the symbols suggested by Mr. A. J. Goodrich, in his volume entitled ” Complete Musical Analysis,” one can go far in the study of The Art of the Musician as displayed in Musical Form. The symbols are, for Subject, A; for Second Subject, B ; for Episode, Ep.; for Intermezzo, Iz.; for Passage, Pas.; and for Coda, Co.

Experience has shown that there is no more fascinating and enlightening form of music study than that outlined in the present chapter. Noting the exact character and limitations of the various paragraphs, comparing them, deciding upon their designations and upon the form name that corresponds with their arrangement, involve so many considerations that one who practices himself in such study is led almost insensibly to a very wide range of musical observation and given a keener insight into The Art of the Musician than is likely to come to him in any other way without far longer and deeper study. The annotators of symphony programs emphasize this side of the works they consider, and all critics are unanimous that good form is a sine qua non of artistic excellence in composition. These facts must serve as the excuse, if any be needed, for the moderately technical way in which the subject is treated in this and the following chapters of what purports to be a popular work.