Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Expressive Meaning and Musical Structure, Chapter 1 of Schenkerian Analysis: Pattern, Form, and Expressive Meaning

Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Expressive Meaning and Musical Structure, Chapter 1 of Schenkerian Analysis: Pattern, Form, and Expressive Meaning

Article excerpt

[1.1] Listeners familiar with tonal music find it possesses expressive meaning-that quality that allows music to suggest (for example) feelings, actions, or motion (or even stillness, which is a special kind of motion).(1) This book teaches Schenkerian analysis-a method of analysis that discovers some of the ways in which musical structure and its elaboration contribute to expressive meaning.

Example 1. Lennon and McCartney, "Michelle," partial transcription

Example 2. Schumann, "Wenn ich in deine Augen seh' "

Example 3. A passage from Lennon and McCartney, "Michelle"

[1.2] Let's begin by considering our responses to two songs. Example 1 transcribes the vocal and bass parts of the Beatles's "Michelle," from their album Rubber Soul.(2) Lead-sheet symbols indicate the chords played by some of the other instruments. Example 2 gives the score for Schumann's "Wenn ich in deine Augen seh'," from his song cycle Dichterliebe. It also gives the text and a translation.(3)

[1.3] The following analyses explore the expressive meanings of these songs-especially the ways in which departures from implied structure support the meanings of the lyrics. So please take time now to listen to recordings of these pieces and to sing and play them yourself.(4)

[1.4] In both songs, the words "I love you" ("Ich liebe dich!" in German) are set in special ways.


[2.1] In "Michelle," the word "love" is the vocal climax of the song; it is the highest note sung by the lead vocalist (Paul McCartney). Even without the pitches, the lyrics emphasize the words "I love you." These words encapsulate the basic message of the song. They are emphasized through repetition. Within their three-fold repetition, the final statement is the loudest, longest, and highest. But that final statement also emphasizes the word "love" with an expressive appoggiatura.

[2.2] To more clearly experience the expressive power of that appoggiatura, consider what the melody might be like without it (Example 3). Example 3a omits the appoggiatura.(5) Example 3b reproduces the three-fold repetition of "I love you" as it sounds on the recording.

[2.3] "Michelle" is a strophic song (that is, it uses the same music to set different texts); later, to the same music, we hear "I need to" and "I want you." And when this music is repeated, McCartney adds the ornamental upper neighbor shown in Example 3c-so that the G, which is an embellishing note, receives its own embellishment. One reason that the Beatles's settings of this line (Examples 3b and c) are so much more attractive than Example 3a is that, at some level, we expect something like Example 3a. As experienced listeners of tonal music, one of our expectations is that patterns of music, once heard as patterns, will continue in the same fashion. Having heard F on the first and third beats of the first measure of Example 3, we expect it to sound again on the first beat of the second measure of that example. When we hear the unstable G instead, our longing for it to resolve to F resonates with the longing expressed in the lyrics. The expressive meaning of the G is based in part on our hearing it as an embellishment of a simpler bit of music.

Schenkerian analytic notation

Example 4. A passage from Lennon and McCartney, "Michelle"

[3.1] Example 4 shows how that same relationship of embellishment to simpler structure may be depicted in a Schenkerian analysis (also called a "reduction" or a "voice-leading graph"). Example 4 analyzes only the climactic measure that sets the third statement of the words "want you" (and the third statement of "need to")-including the embellishing upper neighbor that did not appear the first time we heard this music (on the words "love you"). The pitches of the voice part are given on the upper staff of Example 4c and the pitches of the bass-guitar part are given (an octave higher than they sound) on the lower staff. …

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