Three Romances Without Words, op. 17, no. 3 (Romance sans paroles)

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3 Romances sans paroles, Op.17 (Fauré, Gabriel)

The second melodic idea is contrasting with the first, consisting of an eighth note rhythm with three eighth-notes to the dotted-quarter unit no longer in duplets and a less directional motion. The second melodic idea tends to be fairly static or unidirectional. These two melodic ideas sometimes occur as two halves of a phrase of text, as in mm.

The contrasting melodic ideas provide both structure and meaning to the vocal line. In mm.

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In the conclusion of the poem, in mm. Coupled with the change of register a drop of an octave in m. As will be discussed further later on, the harmonic language is built on a functional tonal structure, but exhibits some elaboration or expansion of that structure through the use of harmonies with greater cardinalities and some ambiguous harmonic progressions. The last eight measures of the piece, however exhibit a very unambiguous cadence in the key of G-flat major.

Figure 2 shows the cadential progression that harmonizes the last two lines of text. The two harmonies that appear before the C-flat major harmony IV in the key of G-flat major are forms of two significant pentachords which will be discussed later on. The motion from these pentachords which do not function tonally to the predominant harmony which eventually leads to a cadence in G-flat major signals an abrupt switch in the last two lines.

The sense of closure and repose in the final measures is connected to the textural changes in the piano and vocal parts as well. Motivic cell A returns in m.

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Figure 2 Concluding cadential progression mm. These cells typically last for two measures that are immediately repeated.


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The striking change in successive cells serves denotes clear segmentation boundaries. Parks defines form-defining parameters as levels of discontinuity in meter, tempo, successive attacks, harmonic density, harmonic resources, motivic resources, repetition, textural quality, orchestration, register, and loudness.

Parks also notes that the recurrence of earlier material can also signal the end of a previous structural unit and the beginning of a new one, as in the repetition of motivic cell A in mm. The use of the duplet, a defining feature of the first melodic idea and motivic cell A, creates a sense of metrical ambiguity.

This two-against-three rhythm creates a sense of continuous motion in the melody and motivic cell A that increases the contrast of the arrival of motivic cell B. The arrival of motivic cell B has a harmonic significance as well, which will be described in greater detail later on. The continuous motion and metric ambiguity emphasize the weary, love-struck desperation of the speaker and the sense of urgency and anxiety that it creates.

Appendix B shows a diagram of the harmonic rhythm throughout the piece.

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The rate of harmonic change is generally very slow, with only two occasions in which the harmony changes more than once in a measure mm. The harmonic rhythm of the A section is 21 Richard S. Parks, The Music of Claude Debussy. Yale University Press, , This further emphasizes the state of weariness and fatigue. In the B section second stanza of text , Debussy employs text painting in the piano.

Debussy pairs these motivic gestures with the increase in harmonic rhythm in order to increase the energy and motion of the B section. The harmonic rhythm of the piece also serves the harmonic hierarchy that helps to structure the pitch content. There are three crucial harmonic elements that comprise the A section of the piece. The first is the A-flat minor triad that occupies the first eight measures.

The second is a pair of closely- related pentachords, one of which is especially significant because of its inherent symmetry. The 22 Wenk, Claude Debussy and the Poets, These three elements are labeled in the first annotated score in Appendix A. The expansion of the minor ii of G-flat adds another level of musical ambiguity, this time to the mode of the piece. The most significant use of pentachords is as the harmony of motivic cell B mm. The first pentachord is a member of set-class In this case, the downward neighboring motion occurs in the upper four voices as the bass leaps up a perfect fourth.

The alternation of the symmetrical 5- 34 pentachord with the more dissonant pentachord demonstrates the tension and unease that underlies his commitment. These may allow for multiple possible hearings simultaneous within the same harmony, the same way that a symbol in Symbolist poetry allows for multiple possible interpretations.

It is also possible, however, to hear this harmony as the pitch-class set whose intervallic content includes that of all of the above mentioned reductions.


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  • Part of the significance of the pentachord, is its symmetry, which allows multiple possibilities for harmonic succession following the symmetrical harmony. Because it contains other triadic and seventh-chord subsets, the resolution of this chord has multiple possibilities. This is significant because it gives the composer many choices as far as the harmonic direction that will follow it. In this piece, the pentachord leads to a closely-related pentachord usually and progresses to another harmony within a close voice-leading proximity.

    Figure 3 shows these three measures.

    Faure - Romance sans paroles, Op. 17, No. 3

    Notice that at least three of the voices move by step from the pentachord, to , and again to the German sixth. Figure 3 Resolution of symmetrical pentachord on mm. This time the pentachord motion acts as a transition back to the opening A-flat minor material that starts the return section of the binary form. In this case, the pentachord resolves to a pentachord, which then leads to an F-diminished triad, another symmetrical chord. The F-diminished triad is not a chord within close voice-leading proximity to the pentachord, but a subset of it.

    This progression is shown in Figure 4 below. The appearance of the pentachord progression in m. The interruption of the pentachord progression perhaps thwarts the expectation of leading directly back to A-flat minor and leaves an important impression on the line of text which it sets as well. Just as the first appearance of the progression in m.

    Up until this point in the poem, the imagery has been either natural or physical. The return of the original material of the A section in m. Wenk explains the appearance of this chord as a complication of the resolution of the dominant to the tonic at the end of the A section. The resolution of the D-flat major to G-flat major 24 Ibid. Wenk addresses the connection of consonance, dissonance and expectedness in our understanding of the poetic affect. We can clearly see this motion, however, if we reduce the harmonies to major and minor triads and place them in the harmonic space of the tonnetz.

    This motion is often symbolic of functional tonality. In this case, the tonnetz provides an image of the underlying harmonic structure that stems from tonality, but is extended, or transformed through the use of chromatic harmonies and closely-related pentachords. The harmonic space is a species of pitch-class space which represents pitch-classes as triadic or possibly seventh-chord harmonic sets; these are represented graphically by the tonnetz.

    Transformations show the type of motion in one, two, or three of the members of a major or minor triad that create the next adjacent major or minor triad. For further definitions of these transformations, see Cohn, 29, 31, , This reduction shows a perfect fifth intervallic relationship within the two pentachords and fits the key of the presumed underlying tonal structure of the piece.

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    The R transformation transforms a triad to the relative major or minor triad and the P transformation to the parallel major or minor. The L transformation retains two common tones that form a major third. The triads that are related by chains of L and R occur on the same horizontal plane and are fifth-related.

    I am willing to argue, however, that these fifth relations are only the underlying structure upon which Debussy builds a much more complex pitch structure.