Structure of Time/Unknown Container/1978

In the fourth edition of a well-known harmony text-book, two of the very first examples from the classical repertoire deserve attention and we will examine both of them. They are side by side in the book, both used as examples of Triads in Root position. Both present interesting Bar-line anomalies and we felt they were both worthy of inclusion in this page.

CHOPIN, Nocturne Op. 37, No. 1

The Problem


Each group of four Quarter notes is placed on Beats 1-2-3-4, in Rebound Association,
          rather than on Beats 2-3-4-1, in Pick-up Association.
     This continues unchanged for the four bars of the example,
          with the final DOMINANT / TONIC cadence (V7-I) ending on beat 4 rather than on beat 1.
This is not the only Chopin piece to be written this way -
     The Prelude in C minor, Op.28 No. 2, also has all the Bar-lines placed in Rebound Association.

The Solution

By singing this piece with the footsies, one immediately sees that, at the smallest level (with the feet beating every Quarter note), starting on the R(ight) foot makes one end on the L(eft) foot and that one must start on L to end on R. At the next larger level, by leaving a 1-note Pick-up and starting on L again, we also end on R. We are already at Level +1 and know how to place both single and double Bar-lines (in this case, single for Level 0, and double for Level +1). The double Bar-lines (" // ") will be placed one Quarter note sooner than they are in the original version.

Quarter note / Quarter note Quarter note // Quarter note' Quarter note / Quarter note Quarter note // Quarter note' Quarter note / Quarter note Quarter note // Quarter note' Quarter note / Quarter note Quarter note // Quarter note'

BRAHMS, Ich schell mein Horn ins Jammertal, Op. 43, No. 3

The Problem


Here we have a classical case of inordinately small bars, many with only one note (a Whole note).
     The disposition (two lines of 7 bars each) is also misleading,
          one might easily think that this music is in 2 groups of 7 bars.
     Closer examination, especially of the words and the commas between them,
          seems to indicate that we have -
               a group of 6 bars (3+3 in Pick-up Association), followed by
               a group of 8 bars (4+4 also in Pick-up Association),
                    the result of ablation in the first group, reducing it from 8 to 6.

The Solution

Here again, footsies would quickly lead us to the answer, if we were intent on ending each phrase on R (the beginning is very much like Twinkle Limp 1). We would see that the 2 first phrases would be L-T-R-L-T-R (the group of 6 bars), and that this would be followed by T-L-T-R-T-L-T-R (the group of 8 bars). It should not be too difficult to draw a nice graphic of the whole example, with an individual level consisting of 2 Ternary cells and 2 Quaternary cells (all in Pick-up Grouping).

Why did Brahms write it this way ? He might very well have tried another way first, but the obligatory change of meter might have been repugnant to him. Writing in very small bars probably seemed the best answer. Knowing the extent to which he admired Beethoven, and knowing how partial Beethoven was to small bars, even when he composed in perfectly regular binary structure and could have used larger bars (as in his Scherzos, and even the first movement of his Fifth Symphony), Brahms must have found this solution advantageous for several reasons.

What else could he have done ? The simplest way seems to be with 3/4 and 4/4 bars, using Quarter notes and Eight notes to replace the Whole notes and Half notes. Starting on the second beat of a 3/4 bar, followed by another 3/4 bar, and then two 4/4 bars, ending on the first beat of the next bar. Needless to add that this change of meter makes the work look less "classical" because it clearly exposes its rhythmic irregularity.

Quarter note Eight noteEight note / Quarter note' Quarter note Eight noteEight note // Quarter note' Quarter note Eight noteEight note Eight noteEight note / Eight noteEight note Eight noteEight note_Sixteenth noteSixteenth noteEight note Quarter note // Quarter note'

Who is keeping check on the rhythm ? It is difficult to know to what extent Brahms was aware of the rhythmic irregularities involved here. However, it seems quite clear that the author of the book, as well as his assistant who edited the fourth edition, did not notice the irregularities or were at least unconcerned, considering the whole question of rhythmic structure irrelevant to the harmony involved. How many teachers have used this book without noticing what was happening in the rhythm of this piece ?

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