Foreword - Rhythm (§ 1 - § 3) - Cadences (§ 4 - § 5) - Sentences and Phrases (§ 6 - § 10)
With this and the following chapters I’ll introduce some specific topics which constitute the root of the musical language, as the subdivision into periods, phrases, semi-phrases, and motives. General definitions will be presented with some examples drawn from known composers. I advice the readers to pay attention to the short extracts in score here included, there could be some hints for performers but also for passionate listeners. At this earlier stage it doesn’t make much sense to propose also audio extracts. These will be inserted when longer sections or complete works will be analyzed.
§ 1All music, even the simplest, resembles poetry in requiring regularity of accent and system in cadence. With regard to the former, there is greater strictness in music than in verse; for, with very rare exceptions, the accents recur at perfectly regular distances throughout a piece of music. The only analogy in music to prose is to be found in the Recitative, which is simply declamation sung instead of spoken, and in the Gregorian or Byzantine intonations.
It is scarcely too much to say that accent is one of the simplest and most essential qualities of music. So much so is it that it would be impossible to sing or play a series of notes without laying a stress on some of them, thus dividing them into sets.
Sounds are grouped – by accent – into sets called bars (or measures), and this is Time.
Tunes are grouped – by cadence – into sets of bars, and this is Rhythm.
Since cadences are used to divide music into rhythmical groups it becomes necessary to find out the true meaning of a cadence.
The word cadence properly means a falling, and in music it means a close or ending. It may be the ending of a complete musical idea, or merely the ending of a portion of an idea.
A cadence in fact is a point of repose.
Since a cadence is a point of repose – that is, a note or chord on which we can rest before proceeding further, it follows that the final chord of a cadence will be in the majority of cases a concord. A cadence therefore will usually consist of two chords, the first of which proceeds to the second.
Let us recapitulate now the various kinds of cadences. (See below Example 2).
(a) The Perfect cadence or full close consists of the dominantcommon chord (or in alternative the dominant seventh chord) followed by the tonic common chord, both being in their root position.
This cadence is used at the end of a composition, or at the end of an important section. In most cases it is arranged so that the tonic chord occurs on the first beat of the bar, the dominant chord being on the last beat of the previous bar. There are, however, many exceptions to this.
(b) The Plagal cadence consists of the tonic common chord preceded by the subdominant common chord.
In modern music the plagal cadence is only (as a rule) used at the end of a composition and after a perfect cadence. It has a restful and even solemn effect, and on this account it is much used in church music. The “Amen” at the end of hymn tunes is usually this cadence.
(c) The Imperfect cadence or half close ends on the dominant common chord. The chord which precedes may be any suitable chord, but most frequently it is the tonic common chord.
(d) When the dominant chord in a cadence is followed, not by the tonic chord, but by some other chord, we have an Interrupted or avoided cadence. The commonest interrupted cadence is the dominant chord followed by the VI grade common chord (submediant) in its root position.
(e) If either of the chords used in a perfect cadence is in its inverted form, the cadence is called an Inverted cadence.
The imperfect, interrupted, and inverted cadences cannot be used at the end of a composition or even at the end of an important section. They rather indicate a sort of a short pause before the completion of the idea, and they are often classed together as middle cadences.
Besides the above there are also other cadence-endings which have no distinctive names.
Sentences and Phrases
As our first example we will take the commencement of a well-known choral.
It will be seen that the passage contains 8 bars, and that there is a half close (I - V) at the fourth bar and a full close at the end (V - I).
A passage ending with a perfect cadence, and which can be subdivided by some form of middle cadence into at least two parts, is called a SENTENCE or PERIOD.
If we analyze this sentence, we see that it naturally divides itself into two equal parts, the division being marked by the half close, and each half containing four accents (or bars). In an enormous majority of musical periods the number of accents, and therefore of bars, consists of some multiple of 2, – either 4, 8, or even 16 bars. We shall see later that sentences can also be constructed of other lengths than these; but such are exceptional.
The cause of the extreme prevalence of 2-, 4-, or 8-bar rhythm, as compared with any other, is the natural feeling for balance of one part against the other. We can convince ourselves by a very simple experiment. Let us listen to any sound repeated at regular intervals, such as the ticking of a clock. We will find ourselves involuntarily counting the sounds in twos and fours. We cannot, without a mental effort, think of them as falling in groups of three; and after trying to feel them in threes for a while, as soon as our attention relaxes, they will fall into twos again of themselves. We cannot help feeling one tick of the clock as accented and the next as unaccented, though, as a matter of fact, they may be both of exactly the same strength. And what is true of the ticking of a clock also applies to musical forms. After a statement (Thesis) we require a corresponding reply (Antithesis). No isolated phrase, even though ending with a full close, can make a sentence, because the want of a response creates a feeling of incompleteness. The following passage illustrates this.
Here, in spite of the full close at the end, the mind clearly feels the want of something to follow. One phrase by itself is as incomplete as half a pair of scissors.
The two passages of four bars each into which the sentence is divided by the middle cadence are called PHRASES.
The first subdivision of a sentence will invariably be into phrases. Short sentences generally contain two phrases; in longer sentences we not infrequently find a larger number. Such sentences will be spoken of later.
The following passage shows the same construction of a sentence in a minor key.
Here again we have a half close ending the first phrase at the fifth quaver of the fourth bar (note the sign //). We see here also an example of what is termed a “feminine ending” – that is, the ending of a phrase on an unaccented note following the accented one on which the actual cadence mostly occurs. Such feminine endings are very common, both in phrases and sentences.
It is by no means necessary that the first phrase of a sentence should end with a half close, as in the examples hitherto given. Any form of middle cadence may be employed.
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Cfr. Prout, Musical form (Augener ed.), Ch. 2; Cfr. Bertenshaw, Elements of Music (Longmans ed. 1896), Ch. XXXVI and LIX.
The names of the grades of a scale are the following: tonic (I grade, which gives the name to the key), supertonic (II), mediant (III), subdominant (IV), dominant (V), submediant (VI), leading note (VII).