SOUND PATTERNS

A Structural Examination of Tonality, Vocabulary, Texture,
Sonorities, and Time Organization in Western Art Music

by PHILLIP MAGNUSON

THE ABC's OF CHORALE SETTING

A Pre-Schenkerian Approach to Analysis and Synthesis

Chapter 23. A is for ANALYSIS
Chapter 24. B is for BASS LINES
Chapter 25. C is for COUNTERPOINT
Chapter 26. D is for DIVERSITY
Chapter 27. E is for EMBELLISHMENT
Chapter 28. F is for FINISHING

Introduction

Vertical vs Horizontal

Johann Sebastian Bach wrote many sacred vocal works: cantatas, motets, passions, oratorios, and even a mass. In these compositions he often used melodies that were familiar in his time (and in fact are still familiar today, such as A Mighty Fortress Is Our God). Typically, they were set as chorales (or hymns). There are 371 of these settings that still exist (Bach probably wrote hundreds more), and they offer an unparalleled body of examples of how a Common Practice Period composer viewed four-voice homophonic counterpoint (harmony). These composers did not think of harmony in terms of chords (vertical) as is often done today. The thought process is clearly line-oriented (horizontal): "chords" evolve from the conterpoint (and not the other way around). A study of these settings is most beneficial in understanding the synthesis of the basic fabric of Western music.

The chorale is OK

The chorale is ideal for this kind of study since it is such a concentrated form of music: counterpoint, harmonic progression (prolongation, connection, cadence), modulation, tonicization, and embellishment can all be found densely packed in musical space. Even the concept of the phrase is concentrated: chorale phrases are generally much shorter than the standard 4- and 8-measure units, frequently being as short as 2 measures. And since the chorale is based on a pre-existing melody, it even shares a common bond with species counterpoint and the cantus firmus. Albert Riemenschneider organized the 371 settings into a collection that all musicians should own.

Restatement of the five basic elements of the Common Practice Period

  1. Tonality:

    The essential organization is around a single pitch, the tonic, which provides a home base to the ear. All other pitches work to establish the pre-eminence of tonic. Furthermore, an organization of phrases (generally made up of 4, 8, or 16 measures) expand the establishment of tonic; all phrases end with a cadence which confirms this sense of tonic.

  2. Vocabulary:

    The essential vocabulary is a diatonic pattern of seven stepwise pitches called major and minor scales. Chromatic pitches, the remaining five, can be used, but only to enhance the diatonic ones.

  3. Texture:

    The essential texture is created with counterpoint, which is two or more simultaneous individual and independent lines, each of which confirms the pre-eminence of tonic and utilizes the vocabulary of a major or minor scale.

  4. Sonorities:

    The essential sonority (chord) is consonant and is a group of three notes (a triad) arranged in thirds (tertian). Dissonance is used, which could be a group of four notes arranged in thirds (a tertian tetrad) or non-chordal embellishments (passing and neighboring tones, suspensions, and pedals, among others). All dissonances are required to resolve.

  5. Time organization:

    The essential time organization is based on a consistent and unchanging beat. These beats organize into 2, 3, or 4 essential pulses per measure, with the first beat always the strongest. Each beat can sub-divide into two parts (simple division) or three parts (compound division) meters.


Links to other units in Sound Patterns
FUNDAMENTALS
BASIC RULES FOR SPECIES COUNTERPOINT
DIATONIC PROCEDURES I: Harmonic Dimensions
DIATONIC PROCEDURES II: Expanding the Phrase
DIATONIC PROCEDURES III: Substitutions
CHROMATIC PROCEDURES I: Moving from the Global Key
LARGER PERSPECTIVES
CHROMATIC PROCEDURES II: Modal Mixtures
CHROMATIC PROCEDURES III: Advanced Vocabulary
THREE ANALYSIS PROJECTS
MICROCOSMS: Musical Styles of the Twentieth Century

Copyright 2008-2009 by Phillip Magnuson.

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