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Tiered Polyphony and Its Determinative Role in the Piano Music of Johannes Brahms

Tiered Polyphony and Its Determinative Role in the Piano Music of Johannes Brahms Tiered polyphony describes segments of music that manifest rhythmic/metric layering (Lester 1986) in the presence of polyphony. This texture, though a hallmark of the baroque era, is capable of generating a variety of musical effects over many style periods. This article establishes three categories of the texture based on degrees of metrical dissonance: weakly, moderately, and strictly tiered polyphony. The last form is special not only for its rarity but also for the extreme independence of its lines, which create supermetrical dissonance through pitch cells and/or pitch-interval cycles. Strictly tiered polyphony figures prominently in Brahms's piano music, where it lends passages an aura of extreme drive and inexorability. Importantly, awareness of this texture can provide insights into Brahms's works unavailable through conventional approaches. The analytical portion of this article examines the Two Rhapsodies, op. 79. The unusual harmonic structure of the G-minor rhapsody is read in light of 1-cycles present within the opening tiered polyphony. In the B-minor rhapsody, the content of three concurrent cycles at the opening—a 4-cycle, 1-cycle, and 5/7-cycle—is respectively reflected in the hexatonic organization of mm. 1–67, in the A section's stormy chromatic transitions, and in the cadential gestures that permeate the B section and coda. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Journal of Music Theory Duke University Press

Tiered Polyphony and Its Determinative Role in the Piano Music of Johannes Brahms

Journal of Music Theory , Volume 52 (2) – Sep 1, 2008

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Publisher
Duke University Press
Copyright
Duke University Press
ISSN
0022-2909
eISSN
1941-7497
DOI
10.1215/00222909-2009-018
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Tiered polyphony describes segments of music that manifest rhythmic/metric layering (Lester 1986) in the presence of polyphony. This texture, though a hallmark of the baroque era, is capable of generating a variety of musical effects over many style periods. This article establishes three categories of the texture based on degrees of metrical dissonance: weakly, moderately, and strictly tiered polyphony. The last form is special not only for its rarity but also for the extreme independence of its lines, which create supermetrical dissonance through pitch cells and/or pitch-interval cycles. Strictly tiered polyphony figures prominently in Brahms's piano music, where it lends passages an aura of extreme drive and inexorability. Importantly, awareness of this texture can provide insights into Brahms's works unavailable through conventional approaches. The analytical portion of this article examines the Two Rhapsodies, op. 79. The unusual harmonic structure of the G-minor rhapsody is read in light of 1-cycles present within the opening tiered polyphony. In the B-minor rhapsody, the content of three concurrent cycles at the opening—a 4-cycle, 1-cycle, and 5/7-cycle—is respectively reflected in the hexatonic organization of mm. 1–67, in the A section's stormy chromatic transitions, and in the cadential gestures that permeate the B section and coda.

Journal

Journal of Music TheoryDuke University Press

Published: Sep 1, 2008

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