Sunday, January 17, 2010

Schachter and the rising Urlinie, Part 3

Today's post is a summary of Carl Schachter's article on the Prelude to J. S. Bach's Eb-major Cello Suite. I will provide critical commentary in tomorrow's post.

Here is a much condensed and (necessarily) heavily edited version of Schachter's 250-word abstract (71):
The Prelude has a quick-moving and active bass line above which ^3, ^5, and ^8 initiate linear strands: ^8 is a cover tone that begins and ends the Prelude; ^5 begins a fourth-progression ending in the final ^8; ^3 descends to ^1 at the structural cadence. Among the complex interactions is a contradiction between Db and D-natural whose resolution helps to direct the large-scale harmonic structure.

In the opening, ^3 lies below ^8 and ^5: this disposition characterizes the Prelude as a whole. The descent from ^3 to ^1 occurs in the middle of the texture: the uniformity of this texture suggests that the Urlinie is first among equals rather than the governing upper voice (that is, a two-part outer~voice counterpoint has less explanatory power here).
The essay has the following sections (headings taken from the text):
The Musical Idea. Responding to a criticism that technical analysis (the analytic graphics) may not provide real insight into a work's musical idea (here, not only a motivic germ but also a sense of movement and balance), Schachter summarizes his argument by noting the striking Db in m. 3 and its resolution through D-natural
several bars later, but in the "wrong octave" and middle of the texture. This is corrected at the end of piece but is worked through dramatically in conjunction with changes in figuration after the low C# (enharmonically Db) in m. 49.
The Opening Tonic Pedal and Underlying Shape: mm. 1-10. Three upper-voice motions are possible: the one described in the previous section, an ascent from an inner voice ^5 up to ^8, or a descent from ^8 down to ^5. The first of these, which is considered boundary play by Schenker, is preferable, and because its registral shift "exposes an inner strand of the texture--Ab-G--and transforms it into the upper voice," that G3 is ^3 of an Urlinie that remains essentially "submerged" throughout the Prelude as an array of events moves above it.

The Large Structure: An Overview. Details of the preceding (multiple strands with the Urlinie in one of the middle ones) are shown.

The C-Minor Prolongation and Parallelisms: mm. 11-28. Highlights motivic parallelisms between the topmost voice at the beginning and the bass in the following section.

The Chromatic Move C-C#-D: mm. 27-52. The more important and dramatic music follows after the C-minor cadence (in the preceding) through this section that leads to a cadence in G minor. Disturbances in the figuration gradually increase, up to the point of the full stop on C#2 in m. 49.

The G-minor Cadence: mm. 49-62. Connections are made between voice leading movements here and those of the three strands and their registral positions.

From G Minor to the End: mm. 62-91. The G-minor cadence is framed by a pattern of gradually introduced sharped notes before (shaped by the circle of fifths) and a corresponding series of flatted notes after (likewise following the circle of fifths). The several strands remain; the large-scale fourth in the upper strands resolves itself in the final two measures.

The Submerged Urlinie. The lower strand, with ^3-^2-^1, rather than the large-scale fourth, is the fundamental line because (1) it "is the primary melodic constituent of the big harmonic cadences, and these cadences clearly shape the tonal movement of the piece . . .; (2) G is a far more prominent constituent of the opening tonic prolongation than the Bb; (3) in this piece, the 3-2-1 line is representative of the melodic structure that characterizes the tonal repertory at large" (68-69). Here, at least, "the contrapuntal interplay between several upper voices is important enough to reduce the explanatory power of inferring a two-voice framework."

Oppositions. "The opposition of ascending and descending motion [,] an inescapable constituent of any music with organized pitches [,] plays an inordinately great role in the design and structure of the Prelude. Indeed if the musical idea of the Prelude involves the restoration of equilibrium after an initial disturbance, it is largely in terms of the opposition of descending and ascending that the idea seems to be conceived" (69)

Symbolism? Tentatively suggests Christian symbolism: "the change of Db into C# may symbolize the redemption of fallen humanity through the crucifixion" (70). Although the focus on flatted notes in the second half "might suggest mortality and physical death, they are mitigated by the final rise to the high Eb, the saved soul's ascent to heaven" (71)
Schachter, Carl. "The Prelude from Bach's Suite No. 4 for Violoncello Solo: The Submerged Urlinie." Current Musicology 56 (1994): 54-71.