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Voice-leading analysis of music 1: the foreground

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This free course, Voice-leading analysis of music 1: the foreground, introduces 'voice-leading' or 'Schenkerian' analysis, perhaps the most widely used and discussed method of analysing tonal music. In this course, this method is explained through the analysis of piano sonatas by Mozart. The course is the first in the AA314 series of three courses on this form of harmonic analysis, and concentrates on the 'foreground level' of voice leading. As you work through this course, you will become familiar with five complete movements of Mozart's piano sonatas, as well as shorter extracts from some of his other sonatas.

After studying this course, you should be able to:

  • recognise an analytical methodology known as 'voice leading analysis'
  • recognise five complete movements from Mozart’s piano sonatas, and be familiar with brief extracts from other sonatas by Mozart
  • recognise some defining features of Mozart's harmonic style
  • understand the principles of the simplest level of voice-leading analysis
  • express musical observations by means of the notation developed within this system of analysis.

By: The Open University

  • Duration 20 hours
  • Updated Friday 5th February 2016
  • Advanced level
  • Posted under Music
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3.6 A second reduction: analytical levels

Next I want you to make another foreground reduction, in order to demonstrate how the sorts of analytical observations found at this level always lead on to considerations of issues at deeper levels of the harmony. This next activity, which is based on Mozart's Piano Sonata in B flat, K570, is presented partly on video, in four sections.

Activity 13

Watch the first section of the video

Voice-leading analysis, Mozart Piano Sonata in B flat K570 (part 1, 1 minute)

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Transcript: Voice-leading analysis, Mozart Piano Sonata in B flat K570 - Part One

Robert Samuels
In this video section, I want to look at one of Mozart’s themes in detail, to see how analysing the foreground of the music leads on to analysing deeper levels of structure.
Here's the theme we are going to analyse. It's the very beginning of the last movement of Mozart’s sonata, K. 570 in B flat, written in 1789.
Now, I want you to make your own foreground analysis of these bars, as you did with the example from K. 545.
End transcript: Voice-leading analysis, Mozart Piano Sonata in B flat K570 - Part One
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Activity 14

You have been asked to make your own foreground analysis of the first four bars of Mozart's Piano Sonata in B flat, K570, which is shown as Example 15 below. Just as you did with K545, choose the notes in the top and bottom lines which are consonant harmony notes, and write these out on two staves. To do this, you should print out the sheet of music manuscript paper at the link below. To help you, I would suggest that you look for repeating patterns. Note that, as in K545, the rate of harmonic change is not constant. In the first two bars, the harmony changes every crotchet. In the third bar, the rate changes to minims, and in the fourth bar leading up to the imperfect cadence, the rate speeds up to quavers.

Example 15 Mozart, Piano Sonata in B flat, K570, third movement, bars 1–4

Click to open blank staves [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

Activity 15

Watch the next clip from the video now, where my solution will be explained, and the analysis will be taken a stage further.

Voice-leading analysis, Mozart Piano Sonata in B flat K570 (part 2, 4 minutes)

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Transcript: Voice-leading analysis, Mozart Piano Sonata in B flat K570 - Part Two

Robert Samuels
Well, how did you get on? I hope you noticed that the E natural in Bar One is a chromatic passing note. [play b. 1], which means that the harmony notes follow this line, in tenths with the bass [play D–E flat–F]. In bar two, there is a chromatic neighbour-note to the C natural [play C– B natural–C], and this C becomes an appoggiatura to the D natural [play C–C–D]. Then there's another appoggiatura, where the F natural is a neighbour-note to the E flat on the last beat: this E flat really harmonises the C natural in the bass under the F [play F–E flat then E flat]. This shows how the melody is working as a sequence based on the shape of three notes rising up a scale, and harmonised in tenths [play bb. 1–2, then bb. 1–2 reduction]. Now, in bar three, the B natural and C sharp are clearly chromatic passing notes [play b. 3].
And in bar four, the third beat is a 6/4 chord, which is nearly always a set of neighbour-notes to the following chord, making a cadence [play b. 4].
So if we write out just the harmony notes of the extract, we should have something like this. Look at the reduction on the screen while I play Mozart’s original.
You can see from this that Mozart continues the three rising notes of bars one and two in the melody of bars three and four.
We're going to use two more sorts of notation to analyse this sequence which is just below the surface of Mozart’s music. First, we can show the rising tenths in bars one and two.
Secondly, we are going to show how the same interval — a tenth — is approached in bars three to four. Here, the D in the top [highlight] and B flat in the bass [highlight] are approached from a B flat in the top [highlight] and a D in the bass [highlight]. This is a common way of writing a harmonic progression, and we call it “voice exchange”, because the top and bottom lines exchange their notes. We show it with two crossing lines to show where the exchange happens
End transcript: Voice-leading analysis, Mozart Piano Sonata in B flat K570 - Part Two
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Example 16 Reduction of Example 15

Activity 16

Next, compare your solution to Activity 14 with my graph (Example 16). I hope your reduction looked similar to mine, apart from the 10–10–10 (showing interval patterns) and crossing lines (showing voice exchange) which the video has now explained. This completes a foreground analysis of these bars. Notice that, like all musical foregrounds, it makes a good piece of simple counterpoint on its own, with no parallel fifths or octaves. This is why Mozart's harmony makes sense – we have analysed the way he was thinking of the harmonic movement in these bars.

Activity 17

As you watch the next part of the video, you may find it helpful to have Examples 17a–d to hand, which reproduce the next stages of analysis as demonstrated on the video. The examples are labelled ‘Level 1’, ‘Level 2’, ‘Level 3’ and ‘Level 4’. These ‘levels’ will be explained on the video, but before you watch, it might help you to know that they represent a progressive reduction of the notes of the original music. Thus Level 4 gives just the harmony notes, but still including the appoggiaturas, and Level 1 is a simple representation of the basic harmonic structure of the passage. These examples are discussed on the video beginning with Level 4 and working through to Level 1, to show you this process. Continue with the next video clip now.

Voice-leading analysis, Mozart Piano Sonata in B flat K570 (part 3, 5 minutes)

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Transcript: Voice-leading analysis, Mozart Piano Sonata in B flat K570 - Part Three

Narration
Now we are going to look a bit deeper at the largescale linear patterns in this short extract. We have already shown that these bars contain three sequences hidden within the melody.
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Example 17a Level 1
Example 17b Level 2
Example 17c Level 3
Example 17d Level 4

Activity 18

When we start to analyse more deeply than the foreground level of the music, we have to spot those harmonies which are consonant in the music as it is played, but are dissonant at a deeper level – they are passing notes or neighbour notes within the same harmony.

Look at the four levels of the music printed as Examples 17a–d. Put ‘P’ and ‘N’ above the passing notes and neighbour notes in Level 3 that are missing from Level 2, and then do the same with Level 4; that is, put ‘P’ and ‘N’ above the notes that are missing from Level 3. To do this, you should print out Example 17 at the link below.

Click to view pdf of Example 17

Activity 19

When you have marked in the neighbour notes and passing notes, please return to the next video clip to see my solution. This time I work through from Level 1 to Level 4, showing the gradual elaboration from the middleground to the foreground and then to the full score. For your reference, Examples 18a–d reproduce my solution as demonstrated on the video.

Voice Leading Analysis Mozart Piano Sonata in B flat K570 (part 4, 2 minutes)

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Transcript: Voice Leading Analysis Mozart Piano Sonata in B flat K570 - Part Four

I hope writing those in didn’t take you that long. Now let’s hear the process of gradual elaboration which connects the middleground to the foreground and then to the full score.
Play ‘theme’, variations 1–3, and extract, each with graphic score including ‘N’ and ‘P’ I hope you agree that this helps us get closer to understanding Mozart’s musical thought in writing this short extract. We are now almost at the end of this unit, and we’ve moved beyond the foreground level of analysis to something much harder to do, but also much more revealing of the composer’s musical thought.
End transcript: Voice Leading Analysis Mozart Piano Sonata in B flat K570 - Part Four
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Example 18a Level 1
Example 18b Level 2
Example 18c Level 3
Example 18d Level 4

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