This page serves as a “make-up” for classes cancelled or missed due to a winter storm on March 7, 2018.

Handouts from class:

The lesson below covers all material from the in-class lecture that was shortened or cancelled because of weather.

You may ask questions in the comments section on this page as you would any other online discussion and I will respond daily, through Tuesday evening. If you came to class on March 7, you may also find this online lesson a helpful reinforcement. I will count participation in this lesson’s discussion (100 if you participate) towards your in-class grade for today but will not count non-participation against you—this grade can only help your average.

-Dr. J.


In class this week, our task is to engage in the process of musical analysis. Analysis (in any subject) boils down to:

Description + So what

In music, this means 1. Describing what you hear, and 2. Saying why the details you’ve described matter. The task of analysis requires listening to a piece of music several times and doing so a in a focused way.

Let’s begin!

Some basics about the piece at hand in this lesson:

  • Composer: Franz Schubert (1797-1828). He’s Austrian and from Vienna.
  • Text: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). He’s German and the most-respected author of his time.
  • Title: Gretchen am Spinnrade (Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel), Op. 2 (1814)

The text

This piece has a text (words that are being sung), so let’s start there. Read this text—it’s in German with the English translation side-by-side. (You may also find it helpful to print a version of this text as well so you can follow along with the structure of the poem and keep track of where in the piece different sounds happen: 06 Schubert Gretchen text)

First, approach this text as you would any poem in a literature class and ask yourself the following questions to familiarize yourself with it:

  1. Poetic structure: Are there any phrases that are repeated? Why do you think they’re repeated?
  2. Text analysis: What vivid or surprising word choices jump out at you? What mood do they convey, or what imagery do they bring to mind?
  3. Dramatic questions not explicitly state in the text (do some reading between the lines!): Who is speaking? Who are they talking to? Who are they talking about? Where are they located?
Meine Ruh ist hin,
mein Herz ist schwer;
ich finde, ich finde sie nimmer 
und nimmermehr.
My peace is gone,
my heart is heavy;
I’ll never, I’ll never find peace,
never again.
Wo ich ihn nicht hab,
ist mir das Grab,
die ganze Welt
ist mir vergällt.
Where he is not
my world like a tomb.
The whole world
is bitter to me.
Mein armer Kopf ist mir verrückt,
mein aremer Sinn ist mir zerstückt.
My poor head is confused.
My poor mind is torn apart.
Meine Ruh ist hin,
mein Herz ist schwer;
ich finde, ich finde sie nimmer
und nimmermehr.
My peace is gone,
my heart is heavy,
I’ll never, I’ll never find peace,
never again.
Nach ihm nur schau ich zum Fenster hinaus,
nach ihm nur geh ich aus dem Haus.
For him alone do I look out the window.
For him alone do I go out of the house.
Sein hoher Gang,
sein’ edle Gestalt,
seines Mundes Lächeln,
seiner Augen Gewalt,
Und seiner Rede
Zauberfluss,
sein Händedruck,
und ach, sein Kuss.
His lofty bearing,
his noble figure,
the smile on his lips,
the strength of his gaze,
and his conversation’s
magical flow,
the press of his hand,
and, ah, his kiss!
Meine Ruh ist hin,
mein Herz ist schwer;
ich finde, ich finde sie nimmer
und nimmermehr.
My peace is gone,
my heart is heavy,
I’ll never, I’ll never find peace,
never again.
Mein Busen drängt sich nach ihm hin.
Auch dürft ich fassen und halten ihn!
und küssen ihn, so wie ich wollt,
an seinen Küssen vergehen sollt!
My poor heart races to feel him near.
Ah, just to clasp him and hold him here!
And kiss him and kiss him again
In his kisses I would be lost!
O könnt ich ihn kussen, so wie ich wollt,
An seinen Küssen vergehen sollt!
Oh if I could kiss him,
in his kisses I would be lost!
Meine Ruh ist hin,
mein Herz ist schwer!
My peace is gone,
my heart is heavy!

Do you feel like you have a sense of how this poem goes? OK, then it’s time to listen!

Listening #1: The scope of the piece, or how it goes

The singer on this recording is Renée Fleming, an American soprano who was born in 1959. Along with the voice, you’ll also hear a piano played by Christoph Eschenbach.

Listening #2: Focused listening, one element at a time

To figure out how a piece works, or, to figure out what musical details it contains that we can analyze and use to form the basis of a meaningful interpretation, we’re going to break the piece down into its musical elements. For each, try to notice what happens, describe what happens, and interpret it (decide why it’s meaningful to you).

All the musical elements we’ve been studying so far in class can help us figure out what a piece of music means:

  • Melody
  • Rhythm
  • Harmony
  • Texture
  • Dynamics
  • Tempo
  • Form
  • Instrumentation

This is a good time to quiz yourself about what these terms mean and the ways that we can describe them in a piece of music!

(I’ll wait.)

OK! Let’s start with dynamics: how loud or quiet the music is. Listen to the piece again and mark on the text where the dynamic is quiet, getting louder, and very loud.

As you listen in this focused way, one element at a time, you’re taking the first step towards analysis: noticing what’s happening, where it changes, and how it changes. You can listen just focusing on dynamics as many times as you like.

Listening #3: Focused listening, a second musical element

Let’s focus on rhythm this time around: pulse and duration. As you listen, notice that the piano for the most part is playing a steady rhythm of quick notes (6 notes per beat or pulse, if you’re keeping track of that sort of thing). Also try to figure out 2 things:

  • What notes are especially long (duration) in the vocal line? Where?
  • Does the piano’s accompanying rhythm ever change? Where?

Listening #4: Focusing on a third musical element

Let’s focus on texture this time around. Think about all the ways we can describe texture, aka the fabric of the music:

  • Vocabulary words (monophonic, homophonic, homorhythmic, polyphonic)
  • How the different layers (melody, accompaniment) interact with each other
  • Style of playing (staccato, legato)

What’s the best texture word to describe this piece?

Are there any moments when the texture changes? Do you hear both the voice and the piano all the time, or do you sometimes only hear one of them? Where? Does this sync up with any changes you noticed in the piano’s rhythm in the previous step?

You now know the “map” of how this piece unfolds musically based on the changes that take place in the dynamics, rhythm, and texture of this piece. Notice how the loudest dynamic, longest note in the voice (rhythm), and biggest change in texture (no longer hearing both players at the same time) all happen at the exact same moment (Start the media player at around 1:38 to hear this moment). Where does this happen in the text? What words are being sung?

Back to the text!

Let’s go back to the text, particularly your dramatic or reading-between-the-lines interpretation of the words and make sense of the all the sounds we’re noticing.

Who is singing? (Think about the title of the piece!)

  • Link to the music: Why is this piece sung by a soprano (woman)?

What is the person singing doing? (Think about the title of the piece, and take a look at this if you’re stumped.)

  • Why does the piano play a repetitious rhythmic figure that repeats and repeats and repeats throughout (almost) the entire piece?

Who is with the singer? How do you know if she’s alone or not, based on the text?

  • Link to the music… see next section!

Listening #6: One more musical feature

How about harmony? The biggest difference we should notice in Mu 101 is the distinction between major and minor harmonies. Harmony is usually the musical feature that reveals subtle feelings, subtext, or inner thoughts.

This piece begins in a minor key. Why do you think Schubert chose to do that? (Think about the text at the beginning of the piece).

But what about when the text reads…

Sein hoher Gang,
sein’ edle Gestalt,
seines Mundes Lächeln,
seiner Augen Gewalt,

In English…

His lofty bearing,
his noble figure,
the smile on his lips,
the strength of his gaze,

…is this section still in a minor key?

Skip to 1:20 in the media player to hear this portion of the piece:

Why do you think the composer (Schubert) chose to do this?

In the previous section, I asked you to think about where the character singing was, what she was doing, and if anyone was with her… No, she’s alone, and the man she’s describing isn’t there with her. But we get a sense of how she feels about him because of the change in harmony that coincides with her descriptions of him. The music lets us sense how thinking about him makes her feel!

Putting it all back together

And what happens after she starts describing “him”? Look back at your notes about rhythm, dynamics, and texture… They all converge at a pretty spectacular climactic moment when we hear the words “sein Händedruck, / und ach, sein Kuss” (“the press of his hand, and, ah, his kiss!”, around 1:38 in any of the media players on this page).

In intense moment, we hear the loudest moment of the whole piece, a note of exceptionally long duration, and the piano drops out (the texture changes!). It’s a musically significant moment. Why would Schubert choose to do that here, instead of anywhere else in the piece? What has happened to the character singing that we can infer from both what she’s saying and what’s happening musically?

  • (If you’re stuck, think about what happens to you when you daydream, and put yourself in this character’s shoes…)

After the high long note in the voice, the piano tentatively gets going again, slowly picking up steam and getting back into the groove it had before.

You may have noticed some other features that I glossed over above, all of which we can interpret and add depth to our understanding of the character depicted in this piece:

  • The dynamic level at the beginning and end of the piece is pretty quiet: What does this tell you about the character’s thought process or feelings?
  • The same melody returns with the passages in the text that repeat: Why?

Thinking bigger!

In thinking about this piece, we can also reach beyond the scope of the song itself: What questions or ideas does analyzing this piece of music set in motion, or how can we connect our insights about this piece to the larger world? For example,

  • Romantic relationships, and the way that men and women stereotypically behave
  • Mental states and emotional turmoil
  • The confines of domestic life and “women’s work”
  • How Schubert was able to achieve insight into how this character feels?
  • What other pieces like this did Schubert compose?
  • What was Schubert doing at the time that he composed this piece?
  • The technique or skills involved in piano playing or singing
  • Other pieces of music for voice and piano: Is this piece typical, exceptional, or special in some way compared to others like it?
  • How is this piece typical of music in the 19th century? How is it typical of music made in Vienna?
  • Other musicians who have used texts by Goethe for their songs
  • Etc. etc. etc.!

 

The would-have-been end write for today’s class—if you can do this, you’re on track

Explain musical analysis to someone who’s not in Mu 101 (friend, family member, significant other) – How do you do it, and what’s the point?

2 thoughts on “Snow day, March 7

  1. Musical analysis is breaking down and studying how a song or piece of music is made. From how loud or soft the song sounds to how fast or slow the song is. Every single portion of a song or piece of music is done for a reason by the artist or composer. For example; when breaking down the second listening posted above, the opera singer uses the dynamics of increasing and reducing the volume of her voice to add effects or depth to the musical piece. The musical piece sounds or even feels dramatic just from adjusting the volume of the singer’s voice. Analyzing why and how each verse, each beat, each instrument is chosen is musical analysis.

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    1. Analysis is more than just “breaking down” — it’s also saying why the details you’re broken down matter. By itself, “breaking down” is just a description, but in answering the “why” that goes along with the details you notice, you have to put yourself out there: What do you think about what you hear?

      Also note that this piece is not an example of opera: no orchestra, it’s not part of a larger plot, and it’s not performed in costume or acted on a stage.

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