Note: This is the analysis that got a 90. And thus resulted in me getting a 93.something for the semester. Which means I was less than a point away from a true A. It’s fine. Everything’s fine.
Composing their works during the Romantic Era of music during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn maintained an acquaintanceship beginning from their first encounter; Schumann, a great admirer of Mendelssohn’s compositions, noted that he found him to be humble and modest upon their first meeting. As the years progressed, the two would perform together and support each other’s compositions until Mendelssohn succumbed to a series of strokes on November 4, 1847 (as documented in the subtitle of Schumann’s Opus 68: 28 “In Memoriam”). The piece is featured in Schumann’s Album for the Young, which is a collection of works composed for his daughters. It is believed by many that the pieces present in the album are highly suitable to be played by amateur pianists and beginners, therefore literally acting as an album of music for the young. While the composition shares many similarities to other music in the album due to the collection’s etude-like nature, the piece is given enhanced color through its usage of parallel asymmetrical form and secondary dominants.
Measures 1-4 and 5-10 form a parallel asymmetrical period form, both phrases moving in ascending motion. In both phrases, the second note in the soprano is a passing tone, therefore smoothing the transition between the anacrusic note and the next note in the chord (C#), which is a minor third below. The first phrase reaches the piece’s highest pitch (F#) just prior to moving to the half cadence on E Major (V), while the second phrase begins with the same musical information, yet continues past the point where Phrase I concluded (the first beat of Measure 8 being the equivalent to the first beat of Measure 4) as a method of adding onto the sentence. The theme of the first phrase returns on the “and” of Beat 2 in Measure 14 and continues through Measure 18’s first beat. The phrase on the “and” of Beat 4 of the same measure begins the same musically and rhythmically, although it soon deviates just before reaching the fermata.
In addition to form, it is crucial to note that there are three key modulations that provide chromaticism to the piece. While the first modulation (from A Major to E Major) takes place in Measure 6 and ushers into the secondary dominant of F#7 (V6/5 in the key of B Major [vi]), it is the second modulation—from E Major to B minor—that truly adds energy to the piece through the upward-moving sequence that takes place in Measures 11-13. The sequence begins in B minor with the utilization of natural accidentals, moves the entire sentence up one whole step in Measure 12, and then returns to a similar motive to M. 11 in Measure 13, concluding the sequence with dissonance as a B Major chord (V in the key of E Major [V]) is used. Dissonance is also a major contributor to the listener’s sense of the piece reaching its end in Measure 20, when in lieu of the expected V chord (EM), an e#m7 is played instead, altering the root note of the expected chord up one half step. The piece then continues through to the first ending, falling on a perfect authentic cadence until the anacrusic note. In both endings, the bass notes reach the lowest pitch (A1), arpeggiating through the chord until settling on A3. The second ending in the final measure then incorporates neighbor tones to provide a trill-like closure, highlighting the beauty of the supertonic note (B) against the median (C#) as the composition draws to a melancholic and nostalgic close, much like Felix Mendelssohn’s life.
At several points in the work, the listener expects the phrase to conclude on tonic; however, the usage of secondary dominants provides a faint dissonance, an uncomfortable settling. Although the composer arranged several key modulations, the listener still feels as though the piece is returning “home” in the key of A Major. A hypothesis is that because there are three repetitions of the opening sentence (which is completely in A Major), the listener becomes familiar with A; even when the piece modulates, their ear is still tonicizing A.
This is not a practice unfamiliar to Felix Mendelssohn himself. His contralto aria from the oratorio Elijah, “O Rest in the Lord,” is mostly written in the key of C Major and never truly changes its key signature, although there are several accidentals in the B section of the song, suggesting the possible usage of secondary dominants. However, as the contralto concludes her last “wait patiently for him,” the orchestra returns to the true tonic key. The final secondary dominant takes place as she says, “He shall give thee thy heart’s desires.” This is highly unexpected for the listener; every other time she has sung this line it has been on a V chord. However, once again, the piece returns to C Major and ends with a beautiful dissonance caused by the leading tone/tonic note neighbor trill in the flute section.
Although Schumann and Mendelssohn composed works for two completely separate reasons—one for a young pianist’s songbook and one for an oratorio—the composers utilized many of the same musical concepts. Although it is likely due to either their close musical relationship or living during the same period, it could be inferred that Schumann borrowed ideas from his style in order to pay his respects to his role model-turned-friend and carry his legacy into the future.