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Friday, February 01, 2008

Phillip's post

First, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s lied “Nachtwanderer” is in F major, and the harmonic analysis of m. 14-17 is the following:

m. 14. I, (I42)
m. 15. vi, augmentedflatVI, I64
m. 16. viifulldim7/V, V7
m. 17. I

The eighth note-quarternote is present throughout this passage, as it is for the rest of the piece. Although the motif is present throughout the entire piece, it does not get old since it may give the listener a feeling of “Nachtwanderer,” or night wanderer. The motif feels like one is walking, wandering, to the pulse of the song. The consistent triplet eighth note motif and tremolo sections in the piano part add to the wandering feeling with its rhythmic and motion filled qualities. The F major key gives a calm feeling of the night in collaboration with the consistent flow of the tempo, a feeling that is also conveyed in the text like “I wander through the quiet night; the moon floats so secretly and gently . . .” (m. 1-6) and “. . . then again all is gray and still.” (m. 15-16), for example. Of course, the text is originally in German, so I got all the translations from pg. 121 of the anthology. Often, the piano has melodies played in response to the singer’s part (m. 27-31 for example), duet-unison parts with the singer (m. 7-8, 21-22), and interlude sections (m. 9, 11), but I feel the piano’s main function is to set the mood with things like its rhythmic triplet, eighth note-quarternote, and tremolo motiffs. Overall, the piece gives me the feeling that the singer is in thought, reminiscing, doesn’t know what to do, etc. The text strongly suggests this wistful, confused thinking with text such as “. . . the soft shuddering in the dark trees confuse my thoughts. My clamorous singing here is like a cry only from my dreams . . .” from m. 23 to the end of the piece.
In the case of m. 14-17, the piano’s stepwise motion in the exposed bass in the left hand and its effect of added richness and color to the harmonies of the piece add to the night wandering mood, especially when the flat VI, the D-flats in the bass, are played in m. 15. The D-flats along create a completely different harmony that is perhaps unexpected by listeners - an augmentedflatVI, which is indeed a mixture chord borrowed from the parallel minor key of F major – F minor. Such augmented chords are not anywhere near as common as I, IV, V, etc. Therefore, the augmentedflatVI colors “grau” in the text and makes the word extra special to help convey the music and text’s meaning to the listeners.


Scott said...

The second chord of m. 15 is probably best understood as a chromatic passing tone in the bass, though the augmented sound is rather striking as you point out.

Insert "motive" after quarter-note in your first sentence, to make it clear. Second sentence, "wandering" rather than "wanderer."

How does F major relate to nighttime?

The second iteration of "grau" in m. 16 is also colored by mode mixture, with the viio7/V. The Ab in the voice is borrowed from the parallel minor, though harmonized by the secondary leading tone chord.

Why would Hensel want to color "grau" particularly? Make the connections to your earlier statements on the "wistful, confused thinking" more explicit.

phillipblaine said...

The key F major feels calm to me. I don't know if I can explain it well, but I just feel that each key has a special color. For example, I associate B flat minor with incredible grief and sadness (Chopin's famous funeral march of the his 2nd sonata) and E major with joyful and playful spirit (Mendelssohn's 3rd movement of the E minor violin concerto). In the case with "Nachtwanderer," the chosen key of F major keeps the piano part rather low in register for most of the piece, allowing the sonorities of the rich bass of the piano(repeated triplet paterns m. 1-4, 17-18, and 38, Bass D's m.9, E's m.18, descending stepwise bass motion m. 14-17, etc.)fit the still night of the piece well.
Since I am talking about colors of keys, I'd like to take this time to elaborate more on text painting. I believe Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel is text painting with the key of D minor in m. 7-9, with the text, "often out from a dark cover of clouds." The D minor section causes both voice and piano to perform in lower registers than its relative major counterpart, F major, for the m. 7-9, in which I see the key of D minor as vital to creating cover of the dark cloud described in the text of m. 7-9.
Text painting is also evident in the soft tremelos of the piano in m. 21-33. The tremelos portray "the rushing of a stream" (text of m. 21-22) and "the soft shuderring in the dark trees" (text of m. 23-25).
Sorry, I knew the
viifulldim7/V was modal mixture; I just forgot to mention it. As for "grau," I see the the text of m.14-17 "all is gray and still" as very specific in their description of the night. Therefore, the composer chose the dark harmonies of flatVIAugmented (m. 15) and viifulldim7/V (m. 16) so the listener will unmistakably understand the definition of "grau" and "stille" for the wistful, confused nature of the singer. Furthermore, the composer uses more text painting when the motion of the piano's triplets suddenly changes to the dotted quater V7 chord of the piano at the beginning of the word stille in m. 16. Through these musical devices, I believe Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel is really trying to show the listeners and performers what she wants to be expressed in the piece.