A melodic line can have an “implied” harmony, even if no other notes are sounding at the same time, because the melody is constructed in such a way that it strongly “suggests” a harmony that could accompany it. The listener’s ears fill in the missing notes, so that they can “hear” the implied harmony in their mind. In this way, an unaccompanied melody can imply a harmonic accompaniment, that is, the chords that are missing. Implied harmony is common in jazz and in unaccompanied solo pieces for string and wind instruments, for example, in Bach’s cello suites. It is quite rare in pieces written for the keyboard, where there are always plenty of fingers left to play the necessary chords in addition to the melodic line. Bartók’s Unisons is an exception, as I show in this blog.
Mikrokosmos contains 153 graduated piano pieces, assembled in 6 volumes. The first ones can be played by students in their first year (indeed, week) of piano tuition. The pieces in the last two volumes Bartók himself played in concert. All of them are witty, surprising, and instructive. And even the simplest ones, from the first volume, are never boring or primitive. Boating, from the fifth volume, juxtaposes several musical elements (pentatonic writing, quartal harmony, layering of sound) in the space of a little over one minute.
The Melodie Hongroise (Hungarian Melody) is a quintessentially Schubertian gem of a work: it is bittersweet, dainty and elegant, yet at the same time almost overwhelmingly haunting and penetrating. Hearing its folkish rhythms, articulation and lyrical qualities, one cannot mistake it for anything other than a work of Schubert. It has the unsaturated simplicity that sets Schubert […]
On the rare occasion that a work of tonal music doesn’t end on a tonic chord, it usually comes as a great surprise. Such instances are few and far between: Schubert’s Ganymede ends in a different key from the one in which it began, and so does the slow movement of Brahms’s F minor piano sonata, Op. […]
Earlier, I discussed how Haydn, in his only four-movement keyboard sonata, harked back to Scarlatti’s style. This week, I will look at another instance of a composer reaching far beyond his own sphere, but instead in an early-modernist context. Shostakovich composed his cycle of 24 preludes in 1933, exactly at the time of his masterly […]
Haydn’s sonata in G major, Hob. XVI:6, published as a “Partita,” is unique among the dozens he wrote, as the only one in four movements. Its scope and ambition are a lot greater than those of many early sonatas, one of which I discussed a while ago. It was published in 1766, at the same […]
In the previous entry, I discussed the fascinating differences and similarities between Schubert’s single Diabelli variation and Beethoven’s 33 variations on Diabelli’s theme. Here I discuss another intriguing relationship between two contemporaneous works, Albéniz’s El Albaicin from the third volume of Iberia, and Debussy’s La serenade interrompue from his first volume of Preludes. Debussy composed his first volume of Preludes […]
When one mentions the “Diabelli Variations,” the first thing that comes to mind is of course Beethoven’s monumental set of 33 variations on Anton Diabelli’s simple waltz, in response to his commission to Beethoven for one variation. However, we tend to forget that Schubert was one of the many eminent composers and pianists of the […]
The chromatic scale, one of the most prevalent and recognizable figures in all of music, from the Baroque era to the present day, has many implications, both musical and rhetorical. One of the iconic examples of a chromatic line appears in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, where the descending chromatic line represents a descent into hell. Throughout the […]
Janáček’s two-volume cycle of miniatures, On an Overgrown Path, is a prime example of musical conciseness. While 19th and early 20th century music can at times be accused by its detractors of verboseness, Janáček’s style is pithy and direct by nature, so much so, that a sense of impatience is sometimes heard in the music. That […]