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#946104 - 10/14/07 02:11 PM Composition/Harmonic Analysis Question Romanitic Composers
vanityx3 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/17/06
Posts: 269
I asked this in the composers section, but I was told the teachers section had a professor of composition that might could help, so I thought I ask it here.

What are the ways of doing a harmonic analysis of romantic composer, like debussy or ravel, that were going against common practice rules?

I was trying to do an analysis of clair de lune and got stumped, cause almost all the chords had a doubled third. Which was a big no-no in common practice theory. So how would you go about analysing this?

I think I'd have a much easier time analysing say chopin, I think his harmonies mostly stayed within the bounds of common practice theory.
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#946105 - 10/14/07 03:05 PM Re: Composition/Harmonic Analysis Question Romanitic Composers
Morodiene Online   content
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Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 12044
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
There's nothing wrong with the doubled third as far as analysis goes. It simply goes against the vocie leading rules, which are very, very different from actually composing.

You would still treat the analysis the same way, by stacking the chord in thirds, checking your bass note, etc. where exactly in Clair de Lune did you get stumped?
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#946106 - 10/14/07 03:24 PM Re: Composition/Harmonic Analysis Question Romanitic Composers
vanityx3 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/17/06
Posts: 269
it was the second measure actually, hold on let me get the score out.

Ok, the first measure starts with an f minor chord without a 5th which is fine, and then changes to a Db chord in 1st inv. with doubled 3rd. before the 2nd measure.

The second measure starts with a Db chord with the bass note of G, im not sure what to call that chord (G Ab Db F). But it leads into what I'd call a Abminor #7(G Ab C Eb)and then goes back to the Db chord and then to the Ab minor chord.

So this is why I'm confused. I guess I'm looking at it the wrong way though.
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#946107 - 10/14/07 03:26 PM Re: Composition/Harmonic Analysis Question Romanitic Composers
Kreisler Offline


Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13798
Loc: Iowa City, IA
I've written a bit on this in the composer's forum recently.

Remember, the goal of analysis isn't to figure out how a piece follows the rules. It's figuring out which rules describe the piece, which rules don't, and why.
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#946108 - 10/25/07 03:45 AM Re: Composition/Harmonic Analysis Question Romanitic Composers
JerryS88 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/15/06
Posts: 638
Loc: Ringwood, NJ
 Quote:
Originally posted by vanityx3:
it was the second measure actually, hold on let me get the score out.

Ok, the first measure starts with an f minor chord without a 5th which is fine, and then changes to a Db chord in 1st inv. with doubled 3rd. before the 2nd measure.

The second measure starts with a Db chord with the bass note of G, im not sure what to call that chord (G Ab Db F). But it leads into what I'd call a Abminor #7(G Ab C Eb)and then goes back to the Db chord and then to the Ab minor chord.

So this is why I'm confused. I guess I'm looking at it the wrong way though. [/b]
Hey, Vanity - good for you for trying to analyze the score you are learning!

You're right that in the very begining you might think you're playing an F minor chord, but I would consider all the notes of the measure as belonging to one harmony and label this as a plain Db chord in first inversion, which makes sense because of the key the piece is in (Db!) and because if you play the whole measure it SOUNDS like a Db chord - not F minor going to Db (some may argue this - if you never heard the piece before, you COULD think the very 1st beat is F minor, but I know this piece so well, it's impossible for me to hear it that way... Anyway, this kind of ambiguity is really cool).

In the second measure I'm afraid you have misread the score. The G is actually Gb - the A is natural. Debussy spells out an A diminished chord: A-C-Eb-Gb with the Gb on the bottom, which makes it in 3rd inversion. This chord is the vii dim. 7 of the following chord, the vi7 (Bb minor 7).

The tied Db-F interval in the RH from the 1st measure is not part of the chord, it is an appogiatura (non-chord tone on the beat, resolving to the chord right after the beat) to this diminished chord, and when Db-F is repeated on the third beat they are just upper-neighbor passing tones - not part of the main harmony. Vanity - this is a really cool feature of this piece. If you look at all the measure of the opening 9-measure phrase of this piece, you'll see that all but one of them has this tied-over appogiatura from the previous measure! (Can you find the one that's not?) This means that the 1st beat of each measure starting with measure 2 is slightly "unsettled." It gives this piece a kind of push-pull, forward motion, as at the start of each measure the right hand is a beat behind the left hand harmonically! Very cool. Listen to the way that SOUNDS!

What follows is a series of 7th chords (note the SOUND of a progression of 7th chords! This is what gives this piece a "dreamy" quality):

vi7 - V7 - ii7 - V7 - ii7 - V7 of vi - vi7 - ii7 - vi7 - V7 - I

but since many of the chords are inverted they should be labelled:

vi7 - V4/3 - ii7 - V6/5 - ii4/3 - V6/5 of vi - vi4/2 - ii6/5 - vi4/3 - V7 - I.

Note that by using inversions, Debussy is able to move from chord to chord very smoothly (think of how you'd have to jump hand position from chord to chord if you played them all in root position)!

In case you haven't learned yet, when labelling 7th chords:

Root position = X7
1st inv. = X6/5
2nd inv. = X4/3
3rd inv. = X4/2

(Please forgive me if I explain stuff you already know.) These are shortened "nicknames" musicians use. The real, full names list the INTEVALS between the lowest note and the notes above it. Technically their full names are really:

Root position = X7/5/3
1st inv. = X6/5/3
2nd inv. = X6/4/3
3rd inv. = X6/4/2

For example, C major 7 in root position is made of C-E-G-B.

C to B = 7th
C to G = 5th
C to E = 3rd

So C 7/5/3 (Nickname = C7)

C major in 1st inversion is E-G-B-C
The lowest note is now E:

E to C = 6
E to B = 5
E to G = 3

So C 6/5/3 (Nickname = C6/5)

Traditionally we don't use the full names - just the "nicknames!"

Isn't it NEAT to discover how Debussy creates this beautiful "soundscape," Vanity? This is why I LOVE analyzing music, plus it makes it much easier to learn the notes (and memorize them!). Everything makes sense!

Hope this helps. Good luck with your studies, Vanity! \:\)

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#946109 - 10/25/07 01:17 PM Re: Composition/Harmonic Analysis Question Romanitic Composers
vanityx3 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/17/06
Posts: 269
thank you jerry. I love to try to analyze music. I'm not always the best at it, especially with pieces outside of common practice period, but I really do enjoy tyring to learn about a piece through analysis.

By the way, in case you wondered I've taken up to Music Theory 2, and the last things we were learning
were, secondary dominants, and secondary diminished 7ths, and borrowed chords. I like to put what I know to pracitce. So thanks again
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#946110 - 10/25/07 01:41 PM Re: Composition/Harmonic Analysis Question Romanitic Composers
JerryS88 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/15/06
Posts: 638
Loc: Ringwood, NJ
No problem, Vanity. The thing about Clair de Lune (at least the opening - haven't looked at the rest) is that the chords are NOT especially outside the norm, EXCEPT for the fact that they're all 7th chords. What's neat about this is that Jazz is the genre of music that is based on 7th chords (and 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths) - so what Debussy's written is a direct cousin of jazz!

Now, Vanity, at the risk of inundating you with information, I'd like to point out another cool thing about this opening of Clare de Lune. Three times Debussy plays the vi chord, Bb minor, which is the relative minor of Db. Both Db Major and Bb minor share the same key signature. Not only that, the first appearance of the Bb minor chord is in the third measure and it is "reinforced" by it's very own vii dim. chord preceding it in measure 2. If you want to really EMPHASIZE a particular chord, you can do so by preceding it either by it's vii dim. or it's V7, which is exactly what he does again at the end of measure 6 going into measure 7: V6/5 of vi - vi4/2. He writes the vi chord a third time in measure 8 before finally writing a very strong CADENCE to Db: V7 - I (notice both final chords in root position).

Why I point all of this out is because of the way this makes the piece SOUND, Vanity - it's always about sound! In effect, Debussy has written in a kind of ambiguity as to what key the piece is actually in. Is it in Db Major, or is it in Bb Minor? This flirting between the two tonalities contributes to a "floating" quality of the piece! Isn't that cool? And doesn't that final cadence in Db sound so extra satisfying when it finally comes?

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#946111 - 10/25/07 02:15 PM Re: Composition/Harmonic Analysis Question Romanitic Composers
drumour Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/08/05
Posts: 860
Loc: Scotland
JerryS88


I like your explanations - simple, enthusiastic in tone, avoid being patronising, informative.


John
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#946112 - 10/25/07 02:59 PM Re: Composition/Harmonic Analysis Question Romanitic Composers
JerryS88 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/15/06
Posts: 638
Loc: Ringwood, NJ
Thank you, John. I love spreading the gospel of analyzing the pieces you are learning to play! (Who in the world decided music analysis should be saved for college, and only taught out of textbooks?!)

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#946113 - 10/25/07 03:37 PM Re: Composition/Harmonic Analysis Question Romanitic Composers
Theowne Offline
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Registered: 05/26/06
Posts: 1099
Loc: Toronto, Canada
Great descriptions, JerryS88. It's really interested to really dissect something like Claire de Lune especially. Do you think you'll be posting further analysis of the piece anytime?
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#946114 - 10/25/07 03:47 PM Re: Composition/Harmonic Analysis Question Romanitic Composers
JerryS88 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/15/06
Posts: 638
Loc: Ringwood, NJ
 Quote:
Originally posted by Theowne:
Great descriptions, JerryS88. It's really interested to really dissect something like Claire de Lune especially. Do you think you'll be posting further analysis of the piece anytime? [/b]
I would love to analyze the rest of the piece - I'll see if I can get some time over the weekend. \:\)

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#946115 - 10/25/07 03:54 PM Re: Composition/Harmonic Analysis Question Romanitic Composers
JerryS88 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/15/06
Posts: 638
Loc: Ringwood, NJ
Double post \:\(

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#946116 - 10/25/07 03:56 PM Re: Composition/Harmonic Analysis Question Romanitic Composers
JerryS88 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/15/06
Posts: 638
Loc: Ringwood, NJ
Yikes - triple post!

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#946117 - 10/29/07 10:57 PM Re: Composition/Harmonic Analysis Question Romanitic Composers
JerryS88 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/15/06
Posts: 638
Loc: Ringwood, NJ
OK, I said I'd finish my analysis of Clair de Lune, so here it is. Just beware, I did it pretty hastily, so I cannot vouch that there are no errors. Also, be aware that two people may come up with different results - at times there are chords that can be identified in different ways.

Most of the piece is in the key of Db, with a brief section in it's parallel minor key of C# minor. All the chords used in the C# minor section are diatonic, that is, chords built on steps of the C# minor scale - except for one dominant 7th chord built on the flat 7th degree (bVII7), B7 in the key of C# minor, which is uncommon (if anyone has a different idea of how to label this chord, I'm all ears. I didn't think that V7 of III made any sense, as it just doesn't function that way). Actually, now that I think of it, B7 is a naturally occurring chord in the C# NATURAL minor scale (minor scale without the raised 7th!), so it's not so far out. This would explain why it doesn't SOUND all that far out. Throughout the rest of the piece (the Db major sections) all chords are diatonic except for:

1) V7 of vi
2) ii half-dim of vi
3) vii of vi
4) V of IV
5) bIII

Notice the preponderance of secondary chords relating to vi - Bb minor (the first three listed). Remember how the beginning set up that ambiguity between the two related keys Db major and Bb minor. Debussy continues that straddling between the two keys throughout. The flat III chord (E major) is pretty far out - unrelelated to the key of Db major - look for it and listen to how cool it sounds. The progression from I to iii to bIII6 is based on a common tone - they each contain the tone Ab (G#). Play the progression and listen to how neat that sounds and notice the common tone.

OK, so most of the chords are diatonic, or closely related - nothing extraordinary. Again, what gives this piece that rich, lush sound is Debussy using EXTENDED chords - 7ths, 9ths, and even hinting at 11ths (see measure 41) - just like jazz.

Now, I know that there are people who don't see any value in doing Roman Numeral Analysis, but I'm just not one of them. First of all, I could have just labelled each chord by it's name, ie. Db, Eb minor 7, Bb minor, etc., etc., but the reason I like to use RNA is that it reveals the RELATIONSHIP, or RELATEDNESS of all the chords - to the key the piece is written in, and to each other. Doing this type of analysis doesn't just reveal the 'vocabulary' used by the composer (which in itself is really cool to see), but also the harmonic STORY the piece tells. The chord progression is like a narrative - I want to understand that narrative - to notice when it is just a common story, or when something unusual is occurring. Or when the harmonic progression is not extraordinary it makes me appreciate how each composer brings what is common to life, making it extraordinary. Yes, I know, you can probably HEAR when things happen out of the ordinary, but I want to understand why. It heightens my experience of the music.

Then there are the practical rewards of doing this work. How do you learn to play a piece of music? How do you go about memorizing it? I believe the answer for most people is just keep repeating it over and over until it's learned, and continue repeating until it's memorized. In my experience learning pieces by analyzing them first allows me to learn and memorize them in a small fraction of the time it takes through mindless repetition. Through analysis of this type, what appear to be hundreds of unrelated notes become just tens of related chords, sequences of chords become recognizeable as common sequences, and whatever is uncommon is easily learned because of it's uncommoness.

I know that all of this may be difficult to believe looking at the analysis below if you are relatively new to this - that's why I began by describing how really limited the vocabulary is in this piece - don't be thrown by the complicated looking chord symbols. Take away the inversion indications and you will begin to see how uncomplicated this piece is. Anyway, the more you do this type of analysis, the easier it gets. If you are new to this, I would recommend first listing the chords belonging to whatever key the piece you are analysing is in, then do TWO analyses - first writing in the actual chord names, then figuring out and writing in a second copy of the score their Roman Numerals. Don't skip the second step - remember it reveals how everything relates! Here's a trick to figuring out the names of 7th chords in inversions. Look for the two notes that are a second apart - the top one is the root!

A final word - this is only one way to analyze a piece of music. There are others - including analyzing form, melody, rhythm, and more. I do not mean to imply that I have done a complete analysis of this piece by any means. I usually start by analyzing the form. The form of Clair de Lune is pretty much marked by each section having its own tempo indication, with only the first section, measures 1-9 being repeated toward the end of the piece, starting in measure 51 with slight harmonic changes (interesting to note. Vanity look! Measure 51 is F minor! (iii))

* Circled notes are non-chord tones but I am not consistent about circling non-chord tones throughout. I find it a valuable aid in identifying chords and recommend it.












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#946118 - 11/07/07 04:44 AM Re: Composition/Harmonic Analysis Question Romanitic Composers
cosmic Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/30/05
Posts: 30
Loc: Whangarei, New Zealand
Analysing Debussy might be difficult as he didn't religiously follow the rules of tonality to the extent that composers like Bach did. I'm no expert, but I remember reading that he was into using weird scales and things just to create a different effect.

Jerry, I find some of your "non-chord" tones that you have circled to be interesting - for example, on pg. 4 in the third system just after the treble clef, you've indicated a D natural as a "non-chord" tone - but surely D - Gb - Bb is an augmented chord? It looks in the context like it leads quite smoothly into Eb minor. IMO you don't give it enough credit :p

But I have to thank you people for getting me interested in this piece. I've never played it before, and I suppose now that I should.

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#946119 - 11/07/07 05:08 AM Re: Composition/Harmonic Analysis Question Romanitic Composers
drumour Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/08/05
Posts: 860
Loc: Scotland
 Quote:
Originally posted by cosmic:
Analysing Debussy might be difficult as he didn't religiously follow the rules of tonality to the extent that composers like Bach did. I'm no expert, but I remember reading that he was into using weird scales and things just to create a different effect.

Jerry, I find some of your "non-chord" tones that you have circled to be interesting - for example, on pg. 4 in the third system just after the treble clef, you've indicated a D natural as a "non-chord" tone - but surely D - Gb - Bb is an augmented chord? It looks in the context like it leads quite smoothly into Eb minor. IMO you don't give it enough credit :p

But I have to thank you people for getting me interested in this piece. I've never played it before, and I suppose now that I should. [/b]
That D natural is probably a non-chord note. It resolves onto the Eb and that resolution is immediately echoed in the next bar. You are right in that these matters in Debussy are not always easily described. The effect aurally is not of an augmented chord. If D Gb Bb were the aug chord D F# A#, the A# would want to resolve upwards. In this case it is the D - the lowest note - that does all the wanting and resolving. But you're right that these processes still, in context of Debussy's music, produce chordal colour effects which are often as important as harmonic direction.

Edit: re the above. Of course this is not about the spelling of chords except in so far as spelling matches/reflects context.


John
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#946120 - 11/07/07 01:55 PM Re: Composition/Harmonic Analysis Question Romanitic Composers
cosmic Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/30/05
Posts: 30
Loc: Whangarei, New Zealand
I was thinking that it'd be more of the Gb - Bb - D augmented chord, which would lead nicely to Gb - Bb - Eb or some inversion of that.

It is such an essential part of that chord progression, how can you call it a non-chord note?

Perhaps I misunderstand you people, because of different styles of music terminology around the world, etc. What do you define as a non-chord note?

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#946121 - 11/08/07 10:23 AM Re: Composition/Harmonic Analysis Question Romanitic Composers
JerryS88 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/15/06
Posts: 638
Loc: Ringwood, NJ
Cosmic - that's really cool that you perceive this as an Augmented chord (sound-wise, and in isolation it most certainly is!) - thank you for pointing it out. As I said, harmonic analysis is rarely definitive - there are often more ways than one to analyze particular details. Here, though, I consider the D to be a reiteration of the lower-neighber non-chord tone used two notes earlier in the bass - the entire measure preceding it and the first half of this one are so firmly stating the ii chord, and in fact the D resolves immediately back to the root Eb.

If I were to consider the D as belonging to an augmented chord, it would be odd to think of it as either being built on Gb (Gb Aug.) OR D (D Aug.) (for those who are not aware of it, when you invert an augmented chord you get two more augmented chords with new roots - very cool feature of augmented chords!), as one would be IV Aug. and the other I# Aug. in the key of Db, or III Aug. and VII Aug. in relation to the surrounding Eb minor chord (ii) - all highly unusual. It would be more logical to consider it a Bb Aug. chord, as that would explain it's relationship to the surrounding Eb minor chord - it would be V Aug. of ii - a very logical progression indeed. One problem with that is that it is not spelled like that - for it to be a Bb Aug. chord it would be spelled Bb D F#. More importantly, to me, though, in the end, is how it SOUNDS (after all, when just listening to the passage it matters little how the chords are spelled). When I play the preceding measure and this one, I confess that I mostly base my decision on the way it sounds - to me it just doesn't sound like the harmony is changing, even momentarily - the two D's in the bass just SOUND like passing tones to me. I hear a measure and a half of ii, but it's so very cool to be aware of that enharmonically spelled V Aug. of ii - ii sound. I am not saying I am right and you are wrong, though, Cosmic - just how I hear it!

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#1455857 - 06/13/10 04:06 PM Re: Composition/Harmonic Analysis Question Romanitic Composers [Re: JerryS88]
Kevin Nolan Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 06/11/10
Posts: 4
Hi -

I realise I'm replying to a post which is very old. However, I find JerryS88's analysis of page one of Clair de Lune to be incredibly enlightening and very important (certainly to me).

I wonder - is JerryS88 still a member of this forum? I have just joined the forum, and hope that JerryS88 would be willing to consider analysing other parts of Clair de Lune in the manner of page one? The score - chord analysis provided by Jerry is very good, but I'm very keen for answers to the following and wonder Jerry if you'd oblige (while other posts are enlightening, JerryS88's analysis is astounding clear and I've been searching for such an analysis of Clair de Lune for some time):

1. Bars 15- 18: You indicate that bars 15-18 are all based on one harmony - II7add9. What is the significance of this? Why do you think Debussy realised this section this way? and - why on II? Is this to give the melody a lift; and to keep it away from I?

2. Bars 22 is IV6 and not VI - is this a substitution? Otherwise - why IV6?

3. Bars 31- 33: What do you make of the chord progression from bar 31 - 33? Why has he chosen V-IV-III-II? Again - I'm wondering Jerry if you can 'make sense' of this for me?

4. Bars 41-42. What makes these bars sound so 'enigmatic'? Is it that F#min connects the C#m to the following Dbmaj keys?

Overall , Jerry, even if over a long period of time, I (and I'm sure many others) would be incredibly grateful for your insight/reasoning into the 'why' of Debussy's harmonic choices across the rest of Clair de Lune, and where possible, I'd be very grateful for your understanding of the link up between the harmony and the melodic nature of this piece, and the use of rhythm, the reason for using 9-8 time and the use of duplets.


thanks most sincerely,
Kevin.

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#1456028 - 06/13/10 09:33 PM Re: Composition/Harmonic Analysis Question Romanitic Compose [Re: Kevin Nolan]
JerryS88 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/15/06
Posts: 638
Loc: Ringwood, NJ
Hey, Kevin - what a surprise - guess you never know when something you post almost 3 years ago will resurface! I'll be glad to look at your questions, but I'm afraid it will have to wait a few days - I have jazz lesson on Tuesday night and have to dedicate any available "music time" till then to practicing. I also should warn you that I am not a musicologist - not even close, so I can't promise I'll have the answers, but I'll give it a go. :-)

Just glancing at your first 2 questions, I just want to point out that when I do analysis I like to distinguish between major and minor chords by using upper case Roman numerals for major chords, and lower case for minor. So I prefer to refer to the chord in measure 15 as ii7 add9 (instead of your II7add9) - this is just a matter of preference - I know that some theory books do not use this system. Also, regarding your second question, I see I marked IV6 in measures 21 and 23 (not 22)* - measure 23 should have been IV6/4 (Gb Major SECOND inversion, not first) - a hasty mistake on my part (I'm writing this in haste again - hope my correction is correct - I'll double check later). As to why IV6 and not VI (vi) in measure 21, that's because it's a Gb Major chord (IV in the key of Db). It would have to be a Bb minor chord to be a vi chord in the key of Db. I'm guessing you're asking because of the big fat Bb in the bass! When doing analysis you can't just look at the bass notes. The rest of the measure spells out the Gb major chord - so the Bb in the bass here is acting as the 3rd of the Gb major chord - hence Gb major (IV) in first inversion (3rd of chord in bass).

Again, I'll try to look at the score later this week - have to re-familiarize myself with it!

*Hmmm - It just occurred to me that you might be referring to measure numbers in your own score rather than the ones I wrote in by hand - they may be off by a measure depending on what is labeled as measure one - some only start numbering with the first FULL measure. We'll sort it out.

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#1456259 - 06/14/10 07:11 AM Re: Composition/Harmonic Analysis Question Romanitic Compose [Re: JerryS88]
Kevin Nolan Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 06/11/10
Posts: 4
Hi Jerry -

Thanks most sincerely for your reply. I'm an amateur pianist and aspiring composer; and I have to say that your analysis of Clair de Lune has been incredibly enlightening - I've learnt a huge amount from it already and anything you can provide will be a bonus - thanks!

Please feel under no pressure time wise - I'm happy to wait weeks or months for any insights you might bring; however brief they may be due to time constraints.

I did use your posted score for bar numbers. And I'm delighted to follow the roman numerals system - as you point out it give excellent insight into the harmonic story going on.

My question re. the use of IV rather than VI is because on each of the two occasions Debussy uses "V of VI" which I'd expect to resolve to "VI" but in each case resolves to a IV chord instead, and I'm wondering if there's a reason for that. Please also view my questions as broad pointers to my interest - I'm particularly curious as to the reasoning for the use of static (ii) harmony around bar 15; and I have always been intrigued by the "power of the fall" portrayed by the F#min section over bars 41-42. Just why does it sound so enigmatic? But any further thought you might have on Clair de Lune, particularly around the sections I mention, would be appreciated.

As said - please feel under no pressure or obligation - I have studied your analysis since discovering it a few weeks ago and you have given better insight into how Debussy uses harmonic progressions than I have read anywhere else; so I'm incredibly grateful for that and any new insights will be a bonus.

Kind regards,
Kevin.

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#1459561 - 06/19/10 11:20 PM Re: Composition/Harmonic Analysis Question Romanitic Compose [Re: Kevin Nolan]
JerryS88 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/15/06
Posts: 638
Loc: Ringwood, NJ
Hi Kevin.

I finally got a some time to look at your questions - thanks for being patient. I had intended to respond to all of them, but just answering your first one took some time, so please forgive me if it takes some time to get to all of them.

Originally Posted By: Kevin Nolan

1. Bars 15- 18: You indicate that bars 15-18 are all based on one harmony - II7add9. What is the significance of this? Why do you think Debussy realised this section this way? and - why on II? Is this to give the melody a lift; and to keep it away from I?


I’m not sure there is any right answer to to this question. It seems to me that a composer composes music out of some combination of the intellectual side of the brain, which would include all the theoretical knowledge he or she has amassed, and the aesthetic side that simply makes decisions based on the sound and its emotional impact.

Theoretically, it might be useful to consider that the diatonic chords (I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi, vii˚) can be categorized into three harmonic functions, Tonic, Dominant, and Subdominant (Notice that here we are using the words Tonic, Dominant and Subdominant as names of FUNCTIONS):

I, iii, vi = Tonic Chords
V, vii˚ = Dominant Chords
ii, IV = Subdominant Chords

This is probably an over-simplification, but...

Tonic chords can be defined as being “at [some degree of] rest.”

Dominant chords can be defined as “needing to resolve”

Subdominant chords can be defined as “moving along” or “in between tonic and dominant."

Significant to my analysis is that while a Subdominant chord doesn’t have the need to resolve that a Dominant chord does, it is not as “at rest” as a Tonic chord is.

Kevin, notice the harmonic rhythm (the rate at which harmonies change per measure) in the first 14 measures of this piece. The harmony changes once per measure in measures 1-4, twice per measure in measures 5-8, then back to once per measure in measures 9-14. (I encourage you not just to read my remarks, Kevin, but to play along to HEAR what these things sound like!)

Then what happens in measures 15-18? Debussy suddenly slows down the harmonic rhythm to a standstill! For 4 WHOLE MEASURES, he sits on a "Subdominant-function" chord – the ii chord – "a chord that neither feels completely at rest, nor is a chord that feels like it needs to resolve." This is a “double whammy” of suspended sound, Kevin! Do you hear it? It’s like being suspended in air. Then, almost as a result of having been suspended so long, like a roller coaster briefly slowing down at the height of one of its peaks, what follows is not just a sudden return to the original harmonic rhythm of one harmony per measure, but a harmonic progression that grows and grows in intensity (like the roller coaster accelerating down from its peak!) as a result of its being based on a chromatically rising bass line (play measures 19-24 and listen to the bass line!).

So, this is one possible analysis of the ii chord, Kevin - Debussy manipulating harmonic and rhythmic pacing to create a soundscape that moves along and then pauses, only to resume its original pace - something that almost mimics something in nature - a wind blowing lightly, then subsiding, then growing in intensity, etc, or perhaps ebbing ocean waves (Debussy was fond of water!). Yikes - I'm probably going to get clobbered for crossing the line into suggesting something programatic - but I'm not - not in a concrete way, but just to suggest a possible connection between some ebbing movement in nature and the rhythmic movement in this music.

As I’ve said before in this thread, Kevin, two different people may have two different analyses of the same piece, and again (!) I am NOT a musicologist, so I don't mean to suggest that my take on this chord is definitive, nor what Debussy actually had in mind. It's just one possibility.

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#2264169 - 04/19/14 04:45 PM Re: Composition/Harmonic Analysis Question Romanitic Composers [Re: Kreisler]
ASLevelMusicTheory Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 04/14/14
Posts: 1
Can you link your analysis to me please? smile

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