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Friday, February 08, 2008

Die Mainacht - does it really need to be in F#...

Brahm's Die Mainacht is a really woeful piece of music, and is a love-sick first person account their woes. The song is set in a large metaphor of nature. In the second stanza of the text the 'pair of doves' are literally a couple (in love). The 'rosy dawn' (9) seems to represent the speaker's hopeful lover. The interesting thing about Brahm's use of the sun metaphor is that the sun inevitably rises each morning. We can infer that the speaker's chances are quite high because of this usage of text. This may be responsible for the general major-qualities of the piece, including the major postlude. 

Brahms prolongs a deep sense of longing and anguish by avoiding the kind of cadences that we want. Furthermore, he even goes to avoid root position tonic triads to stretch out the piece and thus depict the character's restlessness. With the use of a wide palate of voicings and chords (bVII, bIII, viio, etc.) Brahms manipulates the mood of this piece very carefully. In m5 he uses a I6 chord that, while it isn't a real cadence, helps depict the character's longing. In measure 14 we feel like there should be some sort of root position tonic triad also, but Brahms instead begins a transition with mode mixture to the next phrase. The only bits and pieces of a root position tonic triad are the smooth 3-2-1 resolve in the soprano, and a V64-53 that almost goes to I but goes to V64 again. aaaaarggg! While this unsatisfying phrase ending taunts my expectant ears, it exemplifies text painting.

Given the current text, the character is wandering, and has not yet found their lover/soul mate. It is only proper that Brahms mimick this in his music by transitioning. If I were performing this piece, I would honestly build up (even exaggerate) the V64-53 figure as if it would resolve into the I. I think it is really important to convey these subtleties and make them the focal point of this piece. It is clear that the soprano resolves the phrase correctly while the piano does not. Because we know that what is really unique about this piece is its use (abuse?) of mode mixture to toy with our expectancy.

The most frequent rhythm is the quarter quarter quarter eighth eighth.  I chose to break up the true phrases based on an analysis of this rhythm. Measure 14 seems to be the end of Phrase 1, unfortunately unresolved in the midst of mode mixture during the transition to the second phrase in D major. The second phrase ends at measure 26, and Phrase 3 continues until the end of this small work. 

Considering the tempo of this work, these are quite long phrases. It is obviously going to be quite difficult to convey the arc of the phrase over such a long period of time. However, it is important to notice that there are intermediant places to basically 'refresh' your arc because of false-resolutions (m.8 in phrase 1). This piece will likely demand a keen understanding for the nuances in each phrase. 

In measures 9-14 the mode mixture plays a crucial role in transitioning into the key change at measure 15. The bVII7. and bIII chords in measure 10, the i in measure 11 (2nd beat) and the i on the 3rd beat of measure 14 are all examples of mode mixture used in this passage. To me this feels kind of sequence-ish especially in measures 10-11 which helps to give the listener an idea of different keys. Given this introduction of strange keys, Brahms can smoothly slide into the D major phrase 2. 

As I mentioned earlier, text painting plays a large role in connecting the singer's text with the feeling of the music in what the pianist plays and the pitches of the soprano line. 'trauerig' in m. 11 is on a ii half diminished 7 chord which is very tense and grating. The soprano sings down a diminnished ii triad also. This occurs on the word 'sadly' which, given the feeling of the ii chord, fits appropriately. 

'Taubenpaar' in m. 17 is linked up with a very consonant background in the piano and soprano line. Given that 'Taubenpaar' is a pair of doves (or two lovers), there is no confusion that this is a pleasant thing, though it occurs only in passing, as the character moves on unsatisfied. 'Turn away' in measure 22 is actually my favorite instance of text painting. The dissonance, coupled with the flurry of ascending triplets in the piano really accurately paints the swift turn of the character. 

Looking at the piece in general, it is clearly a lament. The character is unhappy because they are alone, and in the presence of lovers who are quite happy to be together. Brahms uses text painting coupled with mode mixture to cause and release tension throughout the piece. However, the piece concludes in F# major. This offers a bit of foresight into the matters of the character. We may infer that the character will soon find their mate someday. Also, Brahms uses the imagery of a "rosy dawn" (9) as a metaphor for the characters future lover. As the sun always rises, we may sleep soundly knowing that one day, this love-sick person will find the right person. 

1 comment:

Scott said...

Avoid having the words "woeful" and "woes" so close together.

There is a cadence at 14, but in beat 3 rather than beat 1 and on the minor tonic chord. Good performance ideas. There is a half cadence at m. 8, and the third part has cadences at m. 32 and 38. Good point about the transition to the new key.

Nice thoughts about poetic interpretation.