Yesterday my Beethoven’s cycle in Padova with all the 32 Piano Sonatas in 10 recitals was completed. Sincere thanks to the organizers and to all the people who were present from the first recital to the last.
Sentences and Phrases
For paragraphs § 1 to § 10 see: Chapter 3a
For paragraphs § 11 to § 18 see: Chapter 3b
§ 19So far all our sentences have consisted of 8, 12, or 16 bars, and all our phrases of 4 bars. Look now at the following two extracts from Schumann’s Album für die Jugend, Op. 68.
It is easy to see that each of these is a complete sentence, and yet the whole is in each case only four bars. Thus we apparently have sentences of four bars made up of phrases of two bars. The explanation is that sometimes pieces in common time (with 4 beats in a bar) ought to be written in 2/4 time (with two beats in a bar). Thus the Example 16 consists really of 8 bars in 2/4 time. Similarly (though less frequently) there are pieces in 6/8 time which should be in 3/8. Thus the Example 17 makes 8 bars in 3/8 time. So, too, not infrequently pieces in 12/8 should be written with twice as many bars in 6/8.
The number of bars in the sentence clearly depends on the method of barring, and proper barring does not depend on the number of notes but on the number of accents. A bar consists of a strong accent followed by one or, in triple time, two weaker accents. Now, in many cases a bar of 4/4 time is in reality two bars of 2/4 thrown into one, and is therefore a COMPOUND bar – that is, a larger bar composed of two or more smaller bars. It is, indeed, necessary for the proper understanding of rhythm that we should regard quadruple time in many cases as compound time. The reason is that the two accents in a bar of quadruple time are not of the same strength: there is a strong accent on the first beat of the bar, and a weaker accent on the third; and it is needful to bear this in mind in all compound times in order to get the cadences in the right positions. There are also many pieces in 2/4 time which have really four beats and two strong accents in a bar, (the signature 4/8 is not so common). In these cases it is possible to have a 4-bar sentence which ought to be written as an 8-bar sentence in 2/8 time.
We have already pointed that in a cadence in common time the last chord should come upon a strong accent. The chief exception to this rule is in the case of the “feminine endings” of which we have given some examples. The numerous instances to be found in the works of the great composers, of the final chord of a cadence occurring in quadruple time on the third beat of the bar instead of the first, are in the majority of cases due to the fact of the bar-lines being put in the wrong places throughout the whole piece. This arises simply from inattention on the part of composers, who are often indifferent, so long as the cadence comes on an accent, whether that accent is strong or weak.
An example of this, as striking as it is familiar, may be seen in Schubert’s Impromptu D 935 n. 3.
Here the cadences in each case come on the third beat of the bar (notice the asterisks), whereas the piece ought to begin with a half bar. This is most conclusively proved by the final cadence in the 15th and 16th bars.
This cannot possibly be correct, as here written, for it violates one of the strictest rules as to the treatment of a [6 4] chord, – that when it is followed by another chord on the same bass note, it must not be on a weaker accent than the chord that follows it. But by changing the position of all the bar-lines, the passage becomes correct and intelligible at once.
Such instances of misplaces bar-lines are by no means uncommon in compound time. Dr. Riemann in his “Catechismus der Phrasierung” proves that the whole of Chopin’s Nocturne in E flat Op. 9 n. 2 is wrongly barred.
We said just now that every bar of quadruple time consisted of two bars of duple time thrown into one. We know that a bar of quadruple time contains a strong accent on the first beat and a weaker accent on the third. It is therefore composed of an accented and an (in comparison) unaccented bar. This bring us to our next point, and one of great importance.
Every musical sentence, or part of a sentence, is made by an alternation of accented and unaccented bars.
In the majority of cases, these follow one another with regularity – one accented, and one unaccented – this being the most natural arrangement, as we have already seen with accents. Cases of departure from this general rule will be treated of in a later chapter; for the present we are concerned only with sentences in which the alternations of accent and non-accent are quite regular.
It is of the utmost importance, in fact indispensable, in investigating rhythms, to be able to determinate with certainty which bars of a phrase, or sentence, are accented, and which unaccented. For this we have a very easy rule to guide us.
The bar in which a cadence occurs, ending the phrase or sentence, is always (except sometimes with feminine endings) an accented bar.
So in the large majority of pieces it is only necessary to count back from this point, and to reckon every alternate bar as an accented one till we reach the beginning of the phrase.
Now, in 3/4 time played rapidly there is only one accent in a bar, and, as we cannot (as a rule) have two strong accents together, one bar in these cases has a strong accent and the next a weak one. Here, therefore, as a real bar must have the strong and the weak accent, it requires two written bars to make one rhythmic bar, and such pieces should be written in 6/4 (or 6/8) time, two bars being grouped into one. We give an example.
It is impossible to play this without accenting it as indicated by the added marks (>), and it would be more correctly barred and certainly much easier to play if written as follows.
It may be asked why Beethoven did not write in 6/4 or 6/8 time if such is necessary for the proper performance. The reason is probably a historical one. This melody occurs in the Scherzo movement of a Piano Trio. Now the Scherzo was developed from the Minuet, which was in 3/4 time, and probably Beethoven wrote so from a sort of habit, just as very many slow movements which ought to be in 4/8 time are written in 2/4.
Many similar illustrations might be given of the importance of distinguishing between accented and unaccented bars. In Beethoven’s Scherzos included in his Piano Sonatas, for example Op. 2 n. 3, Op. 27 n. 1, and Op. 28 the effect is entirely ruined by accenting the wrong bars. In each case one will be able to find the right accentuation by reckoning backward from the cadences, as explained above. It should be added that it is not every passage that can be so simply analyzed; we often meet with more complex rhythms, as we shall see later; but in probably the majority of cases, especially in older music, the simple rule here given will be found sufficient.
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Cfr. Bertenshaw, Elements of Music (Longmans ed. 1896), LX; Cfr. Prout, Musical form (Augener ed.), Ch. 2.
Bravissimo! Un evento eccezionale!!!