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For Austenite: The Introduction And Musical Argument Of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony


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I wrote this for Austenite, after reviewing the introduction to his recent organ piece, but it may prove useful and/or interesting to others, too. For any aspiring conductors, this is an example of how to properly read a score (that is: reading the musical meaning or sense from it), and for composers, observing the detail of this introduction and observing how its effects are created is the best way to learn to compose your own. If anybody has anything to add, please feel free.

 

 

Typically, the introduction to a serious piece of music sets up the (or a) proposition, problem, idea, &c., that is to be elaborated upon by the main portion of the movement, just like the introduction to a speech or an essay. This is set up by the musical 'argument' of the intro, which creates and introduces this (or these) feature(s) through the form and momentum of its material.

 

 

Tchaikovsky opens his fourth symphony:

 

 

Tchaik1_zpsed032d5e.png

 

An ff fanfare is announced by the horns (beefed up by the bassoons). These seven bars contain three different kinds of material: the rhythmic figure on Ab of the opening two bars, the figure of bars 3 and 4 which lead to or around this Ab, and the downward leading quavers which begin in bar 5 and lead to the downbeat of 7.

 

 

Now, inventing the opening rhythm is no great feat in itself, but observing its features and crafting the following music out of them makes for engaging music.

 

3/4: three crotchet beats in a bar, with the strongest accent on the first. Tchaikovsky's idea strikes the first crotchet beat, ties this over to the first quaver of the second crotchet beat (leaving out an attack), plays three triplet semiquavers on the latter part of the second crotchet beat, and slows these to two quavers on the third crotchet beat. The effect is that of a dominating first beat, with the remainder of the bar pushing towards the downbeat of the following measure, all on one note, Ab.

 

Measure 2 repeats this gesture, pushing towards another strong dotted crotchet Ab on the downbeat of measure 3. The leap downwards in this measure to F, however, along with the shortened note value, pushes the accent one crotchet further, to the Ab on the second beat of measure 3, taking the accent off of the first beat of the bar and putting it on the second (note that this beat was not attacked in the first two bars). This new rhythmic gesture is repeated in bar 4, now with the triplets circling around the Ab.

 

The fifth bar reinstates the first-beat accent (note the accent mark) on C (notice, also, the stepwise motion up to this C, created by the highest notes of each bar: Ab | Ab | F Ab | Bb Ab | C; this is a reflection of the three note triplet gestures F-G-Ab and Bb-Ab-G). Downward moving scalar quavers take up the second and third beats of this bar, creating a slight push towards the downbeat of the sixth bar, which pushes further by continuing the quaver motion, shifting the goal one bar further as trombones and tuba are added, to give weight to this goal. When this is reached in bar 7, two unexpected events occur: firstly, the downbeat goal (which we may have imagined to be Eb, if we imagined anything at all) turns out to be a chromatic note, E, which certainly grabs our attention; simultaneously, the trumpets and winds enter with the opening idea:

 

 

Tchaik2_zps067bc1d7.png

 

The result is a bright and startling diminished fourth (note that, although this could be respelled as a major third, the tonal context up until that point—viz., four flats—marks this interval as surprising, as it contains a chromatic tone; it is dissonant in the sense that it is unstable). While the newly introduced instruments play the fanfare, the continuing ones set up a rhythmic dissonance by striking the second crotchet beat (which the opening bars of the fanfare don't attack) with a long held note (twice the length of the fanfare's long note), E. This E then expands outward to D and F, on the second beat of bar 8, creating a dissonant diminished chord with the fanfare's Ab. Both dissonances (harmonic and rhythmic) are resolved on the second beat of bar 9, as the fanfare pushes its accent onto the second beat of the bar, and the accompaniment moves its D to Db, creating a consonant major chord (note the lack of a tie between measures 8 and 9 in the accompaniment, marking that something new is about to occur).

 

Compositionally, the progression of these three chords, E major-D diminished-Db major, is determined by common notes. In bar 7, where there is only two notes, E and Ab, the fanfare's Ab constitutes the common tone with the following three note diminished chord, D-F-Ab, in bar 8 (the fanfare's melody is the one being harmonised); these upper two notes, F and Ab, are the common tones in bar 9, as the bass moves to Db to create the major chord (note that, in this bar, Ab and F are the two tones in the fanfare). This progression does not imply an particular key, and we're left waiting until the end of the introduction to find out what the key might be.

 

Like a fourth species counterpoint, the resolution lasts only long enough to be heard, and again moves to a dissonance, as the Db major chord becomes a 4/2 above Cb, creating another push. In bar 10, the fanfare, rather than leap up to Bb as in the original, repeats the F-G-Ab of bar 9. The 4/2 is struck again on the second beat, and the accompaniment then moves to Ab and C, creating a 6/3 above Ab on the third beat with the fanfare's Ab and F, again via common-tone chord connection. The following bar (11) provides a third iteration of the fanfare's F-G-Ab figure, creating a sense that something new is about to happen to break the motion and reach a point of rest:

 

Tchaik3_zpsb45399da.png

 

This time, on the second beat, the lower strings enter, joining the accompaniment as it moves to E and B (or Fb and Cb), creating another 'out of context' E major chord with the fanfare's Ab (notice the arpeggiation Cb-Ab-E/Fb, which is an enharmonically spelled E major chord); like the first time, this harmony sets off a rhythmic dissonance, as the fanfare becomes syncopated, striking off the beat (i.e., on the second quaver of each crotchet beat) as the accompaniment strikes on the beat.

 

The repetitions continue and the tension builds through measure 12 towards measure 13; in a good performance, the tempo will fluctuate in this bar, creating the sense that a downbeat goal (on which all the instruments will come together) is coming on the first beat of bar 13. Rhythmically, we get this resolution on the anticipated beat, but the harmony once again moves from E major to D diminished, now with an added diminished seventh (Cb/B), as the upper strings and timpani enter, cutting the gesture off and thwarting its resolution. The winds and upper brass (all the instruments which introduced the first fanfare rhythm begun in bars 1 and 7; the bassoons now double at the unison, rather than the octave as in the original, due to the addition of other instruments in the upper register) go for a second try, by reintroducing the fanfare motif, but are again cut off by a dissonant chord, this time after only a single bar:

 

Tchaik4_zps1b504c88.png

 

 

As before, the D of the accompaniment moves down to Db and the upper notes are kept, but the newly added top note, B (from measure 13) makes the chord dissonant (this, in fact, is the same note that originally made this chord dissonant when it moved to a 4/2 in bar 9, but it is now in the soprano and occurs as a simultaneity, but that is merely an analytical observation). Another attempt at continuation in bar 16, this time from the horns alone (not even doubled by the bassoons), who introduced the motif originally; the dynamic is lowered to f (bassoons, when doubling, often get swallowed up by the timbre of the instrument they're doubling, especially as their register gets higher, and serve only to strengthen the sound; in the opening, a bassoon against two ff horns certainly does not shine through, and their omission here, especially in combination with the lowered dynamic, merely creates the sense that the opening's material has returned in weakened form). On the final quaver of the bar, the old tie appears, missing the downbeat by tying over into bar 17. The strings, also only f, punctuate this bar on the downbeat with a dotted minim (the length of the long long note, from bar 7), marking the rhythmic dissonance by creating another E major chord, this time in a weaker 6/4 position which pushes onwards by requiring a stronger harmony; both the fanfare and the accompaniment decrescendo again.

 

The fanfare appears again in the horns, now only mf. The same tying on the final quaver occurs, and in bar 19 the strings again enter, with Ab and C in the accompaniment (as before) but now with an added E, creating a tensely dissonant augmented chord and pushing further. There is another decrescendo down to p; the fanfare strikes a crotchet on the third beat of this bar, compressing the space (note the detail: the strings rest on this crotchet), and ties this over to measure 20, where the accompaniment enters p, not with E/Fb in the bass as before, but with F and C (this makes the arpeggation of the 'seeking' string chords: Cb-Ab-F; three minor thirds, which will prove to be the three keys of the exposition), creating the first properly and fully consonant chord of the introduction with the fanfare's Ab: F minor (which will be the key of the symphony). The fanfare then decrescendos again, and for the last time strikes the third beat, linking into a rhythmically augmented version of the F-G-Ab figure in the clarinets and bassoons in measure 21.

 

The F on the third beat of measure 21 does not lead straight to C as in the opening, however. A new motif appears, pp, in the form of an appoggiatura Db-C which, like the opening fanfare, is dwelt upon in three rhythmic forms as the tempo slows, before pausing on the final crotchet of measure 26, and leading into the first theme of the symphony in the following bar (the necessity of introducing this motif prompted the change of instrumentation in bar 21: the Db would be too high to reliably play quietly on the horns; a 2 clarinets and bassoons in octaves is a good substitute).

 

 

At the pause, then, what we have in our ears, among other things, is the idea of F minor as a point of rest and a goal, the emphasis on the chromatic chord E major in a four-flat context and its correlation with rhythmic dissonance, the pull between competing accents and times, and the sense that the fanfare never reached a conclusion (as well as, of course, the motivic material of this section).

 

Right at the opening of the first theme, we hear the rhythmic element come into play, with a very interesting idea which sounds like 4/4 with a bizarre extension at the end (the time is written as 9/8, but we hear strikes every crotchet; where you would expect the downbeat of 4/4, however, there is nothing, due to the dotted quaver):

 

Tchaik5_zps2f761804.png

 

This goes on to be elaborated from bar 36, where the fanfare rhythm is referenced in the strings' accompaniment to the wind's presentation of the idea; the preceding two bars, 34 and 35, mount tension which leads to this repetition in bar 36 by converting the rhythm into compound time. When our old friend E major comes back in bar 42, however, the dissonance between the two times becomes overt, as our missing attack in the '4/4' bar is struck, but is not tied over into the following bar. This begins to build a tension which reaches its breaking point in measure 47, with the three accented quavers, and is released by chromatically changing the iv6 into a German 6/5 (through common-tone connection) and breaking out into a downbeat dominant in measure 48, with a Db-C motion in the bass.

:Tchaik6_zps7e186adf.png

Tchaik7_zps1de9a835.png

 

The interplay between these ideas and the material which constitutes them characterizes the entire movement, and the seeds were planted, for this, in the introduction, which was carefully crafted to make every note count. When composing, conducting, playing, analysing, or whatever, it is important to consider every detail of our scores, perhaps even asking ourselves questions about the material or altering it slightly to observe the effect, if we don't understand something immediately. This is what constitutes true musicianship.

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Kickstarter Project for Music Jotter begins May 10th. Write music on the web or desktop computer.
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Well, I can only thank Wayne for his extensive analysis - and for the interest he has taken once again in my work. It's weird that all of it was sparked by the very piece that I deem as the worst of my uploaded compositions :dunno: . But of course, one is always poised to learn much more from a failure than from success.

 

It's interesting for me, thought, that Wayne chose to dissect the first measures of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony (of all works!), since when I was younger, I chose the very same score to study (going as far as to transcribe the first 40-50 bars, roughly the same lenght of what was covered by this post). Nevertheless (and due most likely to my own ignorance), despite having rewritten it note by note, I missed a lot of the details pointed out by Wayne (which means it warrants another go, this time looking closely at this post).

 

I can't find enough words to express my appreciation for this effort. I hope to be worthy of it in the future. Thanks a lot!

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Austenite,

 

I see what you mean, but I wouldn't really call this analysis. This is just a discussion of what the introduction is 'about' and how that carries on into the opening of the movement proper. I suppose you might call it analysis, but I wouldn't really go that far; it's about as basic as reading prose and understanding the meaning behind the utterance. That's what the conductor is there for in rehearsals: to bring this out according to his understanding of the score. It's a pretty straightforward example; conductors rarely make a balls of it.

 

Unfortunately, the language of the common practice seems to be almost dead at this stage, (meaning not that it's not spoken, but that it's not understood) and most ordinary musicians don't seem to be able to read scores in this way, anymore, leading to crap performances. I was talking about this in the shoutbox the other day. Here is the Tatrai Quartet's performance of Haydn's op. 55 no. 3. This is the score of its opening:

 

haydnquartet_zps020cceb5.png

They just play that E-natural as if it's a normal F. On the immediate level, it's quite strange, because it creates a kind of wtf moment when this weird note isn't emphasised by the performance; because of this, the following subphrase just sounds perfunctory. My interest is lost immediately. I simply can't understand why performances like this (and there are plenty) exist; does nobody in the quartet turn to the guy beside them and go, "Hey man, I wonder why that note's E instead of any other note"? Actually, if you listen to that whole first movement, you'll hear (you'll probably have to listen out for it, in this performance) that E-natural and E-flat (the note at the end of the first subphrase and the note at the start of the next) that the play between these two notes drive the whole movement; but if there's no connection forged between them (especially at the start) then this isn't brought out.

 

This performance on the other hand, by the Buchberger Quartet, is good. The players bring out the tension inherent in the E-natural, which makes the first subphrase sound almost like a question, which is then answered by the following E-flat's subphrase, which answers it, forming the exact kind of relationship necessary for the connections between these two notes for the rest of the movement. The two subphrases sound like characters reacting to one another, rather than the single lifeless body of the Tatrai Quartet's performance, and make interesting music, because the players understood the score, and because it had an idea.

 

This isn't really an analysis. An analysis would look at how exactly the idea is manifest, and how the movement achieves what it does, but I'm not really interested in that. You'll find lots of analyses of that Tchaikovsky symphony that speak as though they're diving beneath the depths of the music to unearth the underlying unity between the themes, for example; but I don't see how that's interesting. Good composers just wrote, and didn't need such theorising to see how themes were related, and I don't see why we would either.

 

 

Anyway, I chose that piece of yours to review almost at random, and I already knew what I was probably going to write, from hearing your music before. The only reason I definitely went with that one is because the organ shows up weaknesses like no other instrument, and because I could get a live recording of an organ piece (which itself has some errors—the organist was only sight-reading—but we'll live). Really, that wasn't much worse than many of your other works; it's just that, really, a lot of your other music is essentially popular music, and that piece attempted to be something more. The pleasant effects you and others seem to think yourself capable of producing, in your orchestral pieces, is basically only a mix between the nice sounds of the orchestra (I can't remember who it was that said that the orchestra was so beautiful that it would take positive genius to make it sound ugly) and the very general effects that playback allows to come through; this is why you can't seem to produce anything good on a smaller, clearer scale. Looking at the first bars of some of your scores, also, gives the game away about certain things; some of the bow markings in the first violin part in that 2014 Habanera, for example, show that you don't really understand how to use these, and I too often find myself wondering about some of the things you've done: does he really know what that sounds like? The very fact that you're trying the things you're trying tells me that you aspire to more than writing popular music, and it is in this spirit that I urged you to look and listen closer to music and scores, and to perhaps do some study with a teacher who really knows what they're talking about.

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