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Friday, March 21, 2008

harpsichord ... yaaaay .... =o/

Ahhh ... yes. The soothing sounds of the harpsichord. A tried, tested, and proven instrument that forever adorns an array musical genres from the sweet melodies of nighttime lullaby's to the triumphant fanfares of a proud nation. The harpsichord is timeless, and it is surprising if you a selection of modern popular music that does not feature the enchanting sounds of the harpsi .... oh wait. My mistake. I was thinking of every other instrument BUT the harpsichord. Not to be too harsh, I do, AT TIMES appreciate the sound of the harpsichord and the unique texture it brings to various orchestrations, and even as a solo instrument. And it was the instrument that Handel chose to feature his Chaconne from Trois Lecons. Yes ... Handel ... ever heard of him?

Due to the lack of dimension in the piece from an orchestration or multiple instrument perspective, it is imperative to look very closely at the subtleties the Handel features in an unassumingly simple piece. Take for example the foundation and development of the rhythmic pattern throughout the piece. From start to finish, the rhythmic durations get gradually smaller. As the piece moves from one variation to the next there is a definite steady decrease of rhythmic durations. In addition, the hand in which the various rhythms occur shifts from variation to variation. A very clear indication of this is the shift from variation I to II in which the rhythms shift from a combination of eighth notes in the right hand and half and quarter notes in the left, to the same combination of notes only in different hands, the left taking the eighth pattern and so on. In addition, the clear development of the rhythm into smaller durations is seen in variation III when a quicker triplet rhythmic pattern is introduced and so and and so forth as variation IV sees another switch of hands and variation V introduces a still quicker sixteenth note pattern.
The variations can also be grouped into pairs, threes and fours all bound under the major musical feature of similar rhythmic hand exchange and similar note value selection. As previously stated, variations I and II are a great example of a pair of variations grouped together with these standards where variations 19 20 21 are a good threesome and 5 6 7 8 would do well in a game of four square. Harmonically, the variations that are grouped have a relative similarity in the types of inversions implemented and whether the mode is minor or major, and in the abundance of chromaticims, often affected by tonicizations that occur between key changes.

Harmonic analysis: G Major
m. 1 I
m.2 V6
m.3 vi7,V7/V
m.4 V
m.5 I6
m.6 IV,I6,vii o6
m.7 V64-53
m.8 I

Variations 1-8 features the use of relatively the same chord with major, if not the strong majority of the textural variations occurring because of the rhythmic variations and not the change in harmonics. The shorter variations in the rhythm however, give the variations a bouncier, faster, more upbeat feel that gives the performer a lot of opportunity to bring the energy up as the piece seems to move into a naturally excited feel.

Variations 9 10 14 16
m 1 i
m 2 v6
m 3 iv6
m4 V

Variations 11 12 13 15
m 1 i iv6
m 2 VII III6
m 3 VI ii6
m 4 V ii6

The descending bass line in variations 9 10 14 16 is a simple descending bass line in the minor key from do down the so fa and so forth. The other group of minor variations however, features a bass line that jumps around far more and almost resembles a some sort of vocal warm-up going down the moving back up only to go furhter down, almost to suggest the confusion or disarray of this later section of grouped minor variations.

Form: Rounded Sectional Binary.

Neapolitans: m. 102, m. 110,
Secondary Dominants: m. 131, 132, 133
Secondary Leading-Tone Chords: m. 85
Minor Fives: m.74, m. 82, m. 130, m.133

The continuous material is mainly found in measures 1-8 in which the harmonic structure does not change, modulate or seem to move in any matter. The sectional material is almost as obvious in the form of minor variations in different keys, and the basic fact that there are 21 variations that are all treated as different sections in the piece thereby breaking it up.

In regards to the sound of this piece: I find it simplistically peaceful, yet curiously fulfilling. The simplicity and rustic sound of the harpsichord hearken back to the days of old and remind me of how well we have it now and the amenities we take for granted on a daily basis. The speeding rhythms also seem to represent a defeat of a problem or a moving away from slower, less memorable times in ones life and always looking to the future. The performer of this piece obviously only has so much room for personal expression, but perhaps amidst all the variation there is room for ones own flare.

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