A Melancholic Celebration of Mendelssohn’s Life: A Schumann Analysis

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.


A Creative Analysis of The Harmonious Blacksmith

Note: Yeah, this wasn’t my best analysis. And yet this got a 94, and my Schumann one (which was much better) only got a 90. I’m still bitter.

George Frederic Handel’s “Air and Variations” from Suite no. 5 in E Major, HWV 430, For Harpsichord, commonly nicknamed “The Harmonious Blacksmith,” is a Baroque-era piece consisting of two initial phrases followed by five variations of the main theme. Although it is unknown why it is famously known as “The Harmonious Blacksmith,” the musicality of the composition involves a sense of increasing intensity in the first variation through the usage of sixteenth notes in the right hand, much like the increasing, rhythmic intensity of work that a blacksmith performs.

The formation of the bars is unique due to the first phrase being anacrusic, while the second (and both phrases of the first variation) is crusic.

The first phrase’s melodic line ascends, reaching its highest point at C#5. The continuous movement through the usage of eighth notes that move in an Alberti-like fashion provides a light, harpsichord-like feel, even when performed on other instruments. The phrase is repeated, contributing to the growth of the overall composition through the restatement of the introduction. The second phrase then begins with a melodic line that also rises and then descends back down to tonic, creating a mild contrast with the first phrase. Additionally, there is a greater incorporation of sixteenth notes and first inversions (as well as a cadential 6/4 inversion in measure 6), giving the piece a faster feel and the inclusion of more non-chord tones. The second phrase contributes a B section which includes various non-chord tones and even a g#m chord (iii in the key of E Major). It then returns to the structure of the first phrase with an I-V-I pattern.

The first variation on the theme then follows the same line, but jumps down to the B and back up to the melodic line throughout both phrases. It serves as a propeller into each following variation, each new one developing the theme further.

“Air and Variations” is one of Handel’s most performed works for various reasons. Its light texture and moderato tempo gives it an ability to be performed on various instruments, as well as its chords being utilized from both the tonic and dominant keys. It is truly a unique composition that applies various theory principles.

A Creative Analysis of Mozart’s K.315 A

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Two Minuets is a notable piano composition of the Classical era in Western music. Common in the music of its time, K.315/a has a light texture, relying on the tonality from the chord structure. The chord structure is reinforced through the usage of Alberti basslines and strong chord progressions, encouraging the movement of harmony throughout the piece. The piece is unified through its use of hidden motivic unity, and repetition of rhythms. The piece explores contrast between the Allegretto and Trio sections through differing orders of rhythmic patterns, interval sizes, and progressions. The minuet’s shape is formed through the range utilized as well as through the form of the overall line.

In the Allegretto composed in the key of C Major, each phrase begins with an anacrusis on the tonic note, with primary movement occurring between tonic and the dominant. Each phrase begins with an anacrusis, as indicated by the singular quarter note in the first measure. The treble staff’s pattern then leaps down to G (the dominant in a C Major triad) and ends the phrase on the dominant as it approaches its first rest. The next phrase continues from where the dominant lies, still maintaining most movement within the chord of C Major (with emphasis on the notes that spell out the triad—C, E, and G). All this occurs accompanied by an Alberti bass pattern, which utilizes eighth-note arpeggios that include the first, third, and fifth notes in a triad. After the imperfect cadence in the fifth measure, Mozart transitions into G Major briefly, incorporating the use of inversions, sevenths, and triads raising F to F#. The G Major section then ends with a perfect cadence, moving from a D Major triad back to tonic. As the minuet returns to C Major and the Alberti bass pattern returns, the treble staff returns to its original pattern as well.

The trio section has various similarities as well as several points of contrast. In the minuet, the opening motive is a chord followed by the idea of thirds. In the B section, the order is reversed, moving as third-triad in lieu of triad-third. A point of contrast is in the range of the minuet and trio. While the minuet’s primary range lies within the staffs (with rare use of ledger lines), the trio’s pitches are primarily found in the upper ranges of both the treble and bass staffs. Furthermore, while the minuet is consistent in utilizing the progression of dominant chords (with primary movement between the I and V in the key), the trio’s motion is mostly stepwise.

The motivic unity is present in several ways. Both the minuet and the trio begin with an anacrusis on Beat 1. They also follow the similar rhythmic pattern of (where “q” represents the quarter note):

q (Bar line) q q q (Bar line) q

Furthermore, the Alberti bass pattern is present in all sections of the piece. The arpeggios that shape the pattern provide a sense of stability that connects the sections together; they also add extra movement, allowing listeners to truly feel the simple triple time signature.

Evidenced by the information above, W.A. Mozart’s K.315/a is a keyboard masterpiece, highlighting all of the greatest features of classical Western music: emphasis on dominant chords, lightness of texture, the utilization of Alberti bass, the usage of a compound ternary (ABA) form, and motivic unity. To this day, works of his such as this continue to inspire musicians and composers all throughout the Western world.