Raymond MONELLE: "Musical uniqueness as a function of the text" (10/17)


Exactly the same necessity is felt by the musical composer. At the point of transition from progressive to lyric time, there is sometimes a syntagmatic event which serves as a sign of temporal change, and thus, eventually, a sign of emotional verisimilitude. This takes the form of a semantically weak link passage in which all thematic interest, dynamic thrust, tonal direction seems to be drained out of the music, as though it were going to slump into inaction. The supreme emotional realism of the second subject of Dvorak's Cello Concerto is prepared in this way. If we examine the opening ritornello, all material up to bar 46 is effectively in the tonic key and there has been no effort to modulate. In the next bar, an unexpected harmony is heard (it is a secondary seventh, irregularly on the subdominant in B, but more acceptable in D). There is some perfunctory quoting of fragments from the main subject, but the succeeding passage has a primarily syntactic function, being a long close into D major with ritardando and diminuendo (Figure 1). There is constant attenuation of thematicity, and a swaying chromatic drift in the essentially simple harmony as though chromaticism were being pushed out to the sidelines. In all, this is a "framing" gesture, a sign of the shift from structure to genre and from progressive to lyric temporality. The famous tune which it heralds has all the characteristics of lyric temporality and emotional evocation.
Figure 1
There is an even more extreme example of this procedure in Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony. At the poco piu animato before rehearsal letter D (bar 73), the music becomes obsessed with a simple motive derived from the first subject; there is a tiny chromatic alteration, the music sinks into D major, and thematicity is gradually abandoned, the strings leading upwards in a celestial gesture like that of the awakening Brunnhilde or the mysterious bleak dawn of the third act of Tristan. There is silence, and the tune begins in D. Every conventional sign is here: slowing, softening, thematic attenuation, harmonic derailment. The listener is prepared for a numinous vision.

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AS/SA Nº4, Article 4 : Page 10 / 17

© 1997 by AS/SA

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