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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Stephen Foster, “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair”

The piece is in quaternary form, a a’ b a’’, which is typical of popular culture music. The first phrase, a (m. 1-4), is ends in half cadence in the tonic key, E flat Major, with a V7 (B flat 7) chord. The phrase lasts four measures total. For the second phrase, a’ (m. 5-8), one is likely to hear the cadence as a perfect authentic cadence in the key of the fifth scale degree, B flat Major since there is the presence of emphasis on B flat Major created by chord progressions in m. 7-8 (F43 to B flat Major in m. 7 and especially E flat Major to F864-753 resolving to B flat Major in m. 8, for example). I can see a listener as hearing a’ as ending in half cadence with a V (B flat Major) chord, although the emphasis on B flat major as stated before would weaken this perspective. This phrase is also four measures long. The third phrase, b (m 9-12), marks the bridge of the piece and feels dependent on a. The key remains in the tonic key, E flat Major, and ends in half cadence with a V (B flat Major) chord. Unsurprisingly, the phrase is four measures long also. m. 13 is a short pick up to lead in to the fourth phrase, a’’ (m. 14-17). This final phrase ends in a perfect authentic cadence in the tonic key with a I (E flat Major) chord, marking the end of the piece.

This piece is pleasant and easy to listen to for several reasons. First, the musical shaping of each phrase is short and simple, with most subphrases lasting no longer than two measures and the phrases themselves not exceeding four measures in length. Second, the notes of the vocalist’s line seem to go well with the natural speech inflection of the lyrics the vocalist is singing. Third, the piece is harmonically simple and never leaves the feeling that the tonic key of the piece is E flat Major, with the exception of the perfect authentic cadence in the dominant key in m. 7-8. Other factors include the dynamics never reaching much higher than probably mezzo forte or più forte (there are some crescendos, but no place in the score specifically writes any higher than mezzo piano) and that the piece is about dreaming of a pleasant girl named Jeanie.

The harmonies of the piece present in the piece that are most foreign to classical music are Vadd9+5 (B, D, F sharp, C) in the fourth beat of m. 13 and the IVadd97 of vi (IIadd97) (F, A natural, C, E flat, G) in the third beat of m. 16. More specifically, the presence of the add9 and the augmented 5th are not common in classical music. In the case of The F9 chord, the Roman Numeral Analysis labeling of the F9 chord does not really fit if IIadd97 is used since there is no II in major or minor keys. Harmonically, it feels like it is leading to the vi42. The bass movement of the bass from F to B flat helps make the harmony movement more convincing like a V to I movement. The relationship between the two harmonies could be interpreted as plagal, like a IVadd97 of vi.

Roman Numeral Analysis: Stephen Foster, “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,” m. 13-17
m. 13-15: V7 (V7 when counting all chordal notes in ascending scales, chord is literally ii on third beat of m. 13), Vadd9+5, I, IV64, I, V65, IV6, vi
m. 16-17: IVadd97 of vi (One may be tempted to put IIadd97, but since II does not exist in major or minor keys, I prefer IVadd97 of vi), vi42 (one may hear it as I64, but I find it unlikely with B flat only lasting one sixteenth in the third beat of m. 16), IV6, V864-753 (The 4-3 resolves one eighth note earlier than the 64 and 53 suspensions), I

The bridge of the piece, b, creates contrast from a by using different melodic material and shaping. For example, the dotted eighth note – sixteenth note motif at the beginning of measure 9 that recurs throughout the bridge is a nice contrast from the dotted half note a, a’, and a’’ begin with (m. 1 and 5, for example), encouraging more motion in the beginning of each subphrase in the bridge than what the subphrases of a, a’, and a’’ have. Also, while b remains in the tonic key of E flat Major, b still feels less bound to the tonic key than a. An easy way to notice b’s farther stretch from tonic is by observing the bass notes. The bass notes of a are more frequently fixated on E flat (m. 1-first beat of 4, m. 5-third beat of 6), suggesting to the listener a desire to remain close to tonic at all times and only use inversions of other chords. In contrast, the bridge only plays E flat in the bass in m. 10, while the rest of the bass notes in the bridge travel harmonically from the tonic chord except for the I6 in the third beat of m. 11.

1 comment:

Scott said...

M.16 third beat is best thought of as V13, or perhaps I64 as an unresolved cadential 64. Beat two is a V7/V.

You are describing your thought processes well, both in working out the harmonies and in discussing your perceptions. Don't forget to discuss performance ideas.