\"\"
Piano Forum logo

Rachmaninov, Prelude in Db Major, Op 32 no 13 -- Harmonic analysis (Read 7869 times)

Offline Mayla

  • PS Gold Member
  • Sr. Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 6638
"The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are moving"  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

piano sheet music of Prelude


Offline quasimodo

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 880
Re: Rachmaninov, Prelude in Db Major, Op 32 no 13 -- Harmonic analysis
«Reply #1 on: June 29, 2007, 07:54:43 PM »
Seems to me that this section is not "chordal", actually. We have arpeggios figurations, indeed, but it's typical Rachmaninov's imitating a symphonic orchestra on the piano. The stress is on the top note (first range of violins) and the "arpeggio" notes are the other ranges of strings (violins 2, alto & cello). The logic is more of polyphony than harmony. The arps are not accompanying a melody, they "are" the melody.
well that's how I perceive it anyway. I'm likely to be wrong.
" On ne joue pas du piano avec deux mains : on joue avec dix doigts. Chaque doigt doit être une voix qui chante"

Samson François

Offline nolan

  • PS Silver Member
  • Jr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 81
Re: Rachmaninov, Prelude in Db Major, Op 32 no 13 -- Harmonic analysis
«Reply #2 on: June 29, 2007, 09:22:09 PM »
This is my favorite of the Preludes. It is important when doing any analysis to consider your goals, what you want to find out about the piece. You are working on a harmonic reduction, so you likely wish to understand what is going on harmonically.

In this sort of analysis, you have to distinguish which notes make up the primary harmony and which notes are passing, neighbor, chromatic, etc...basically "filler" notes. You have to look for clues to discern this information.

- Focusing on the melody line can help as it may outline the triad of the underlying harmony. In the A Major section, try and pick out the chord tones and the non-chord tones. The D#s and Ds are basically passing. In the bass, look at the motion of the quarter notes...chromatic neighbors. So after you've considered things that might be not so much the main focus, you can look at what you have left.

- At the beginning of the Allegro section (right after the A maj. section, back into Db), in the first two measures, the bass line and tremolo motion outline a lot of what is going on.

- Consider the position of the notes...do they occur in a metrically strong or weak position within the measure. Also articulation and rhythmic accents can help you figure out if the notes are more important.

- In the piu vivo section, I would focus on what is happing in the different line voicings. You are going to have a lot of passing/neighbor/chromatic action going on and I think you should ask yourself, "OK, where is this going?"

- When it looks like it switches into E at the Vivo section, consider that things could be respelled. It may help if you are trying to figure out the function of each chord. Look at the last measure before it switches back to Db at Grave. There is a huge G# (Ab?) pedal and you are going back into Db. Looks like a dominant function chord.

- At the Grave section, a lot of the notes in the left hand runs might be passing tones. Again, use the melody to guide your harmonic thinking.

- At the poco piu vivo marking, the left hand runs turn into jumping chords with bass notes...those bass notes may hint at the underlying harmony that is covered with chromatic motion.

- Through the end of the piece, I would re-iterate that the melody will probably carry most of the underlying harmonies and there is just a lot of pianistic figures covering them up.

I'd love to hear about your findings when you finish this project.

Offline ramseytheii

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2515
Re: Rachmaninov, Prelude in Db Major, Op 32 no 13 -- Harmonic analysis
«Reply #3 on: June 30, 2007, 03:09:23 AM »
I am having trouble knowing how to think in analyzing this.  The opening section in Db Major was pretty much fine -- but, once we get to the A Major section and beyond (even when returning to Db Major) I am having lots of doubts and I am feeling pretty stuck in my progress now with this.

Specifically, I am trying to do a "Harmonic Reduction" (meaning, I am just trying to break the work down into what is harmonically represented in each beat/part of beat/measure -- and I am entering this into finale notepad and making a special score just for this) for this work (as with all of the works I am currently studying) and I am not sure how to make sense out of it.  What I am finding is that there are *so* many chords that could be 9ths, 11ths, 13ths ... that I feel like I am either conceptualizing it wrongly, or, perhaps I ought to split the chords up between the hands and think of them as juxtaposed with each other (however, that doesn't always work).  Maybe a number of the notes should be considered as "passing notes" or "neighbor notes" instead of part of the chords...  :-\

The specific section I am working on is the "piu vivo" section which in my edition (schirmer) is page no 3.  There is a copy of this score here on PS, too.

Any help is greatly appreciated :).


Thanks,
Mayla

Im not at home and don't have access to my scores unfortunately, because I would love to try and help.  However I just wanted to suggest that you don't do the "juxtaposition" business because that suggests bitonality, definitely not a feature of Rachmaninoff's music!

Always start from the ear.

Walter Ramsey

Offline Mayla

  • PS Gold Member
  • Sr. Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 6638
Re: Rachmaninov, Prelude in Db Major, Op 32 no 13 -- Harmonic analysis
«Reply #4 on: June 30, 2007, 03:50:34 AM »
.
"The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are moving"  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Offline steve jones

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1380
Re: Rachmaninov, Prelude in Db Major, Op 32 no 13 -- Harmonic analysis
«Reply #5 on: July 06, 2007, 05:41:39 PM »

Its also worth considering that often in this kind of music, highly chromatic, dissonant chords can come out of 'goal orientated' voiceleading. This can make a functional analysis difficult (and pretty useless). Take the 'omnibus progression' for example. You find this isn a lot of romantic music, and it makes not one bit of sense when analysed functionally.

Im not sure which prelude this is, so Im going to get the score and an mp3 and see if I cant make some sense out of it.

SJ

Offline ramseytheii

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2515
Re: Rachmaninov, Prelude in Db Major, Op 32 no 13 -- Harmonic analysis
«Reply #6 on: July 09, 2007, 05:38:34 PM »
I think it bears pointing out that this piece doesn't seem to have an A major "section" at all.  Wouldn't we all agree that a three-sharp key signature with a pedal point on f-sharp and suggestions of C-sharp chords is more indicative of f-sharp minor than A major?

Incidentally, the only A major chord I can find in the middle, is in the four-sharp 'Vivo' tempo beginning at the rit into the return of the 'Grave,' and is not even heard as an indication of A major being the key, but it is the start of a bass phrase which quotes his first prelude in c-sharp minor.  A-G#-C#(here D-flat).  So that has to be heard as the beginning of something, rather than the end of something.



In this sort of analysis, you have to distinguish which notes make up the primary harmony and which notes are passing, neighbor, chromatic, etc...basically "filler" notes. You have to look for clues to discern this information.

That's true.  Don't forget that most of our technique for analysing music comes from analysing Classical music.  There are in this later music, not only passing notes, but harmonies which don't lead anywhere; coloristic harmonies that don't serve structural functions.  The analysis we learn in conservatory is functional analysis, but it fails us when we try to analyse music with the richness of Rachmaninoff and many others.

In the 'meno mosso' for instance, there is really only one harmony, f-sharp minor.  Everything else is a deviation from it, but structurally inconsequential.  It is a meditative passage with more emphasis on poetic effect than harmonic plan, and should be analysed as such.  Passages should be analysed not according to rules derived from one style of music, but according to the way they were written.


Quote
- In the piu vivo section, I would focus on what is happing in the different line voicings. You are going to have a lot of passing/neighbor/chromatic action going on and I think you should ask yourself, "OK, where is this going?"

True.  This question is also important: is it going anywhere at all?  In the first bar under piu vivo, the chord is given very clearly: a dominant seventh on b-flat.  For that bar, and the one following, that is the only harmony worth notating in Roman numerals.  All the chromatic decoration of the upper syncopated quarters is more emotional than structural; the B-flat pedal point is the most important structural thing, along with the phrase that he repeats over and over: G-flat, F, B-flat, preparing the way for the eventual full quotation of his first prelude; the middle notes would seem to suggest a dominant seventh built on F, but I say they are mainly coloristic, and since it always returns to the B-flat, you don't need to notate every beat as if it was an independent harmony.

In the third bar, the pedal point remains, but the harmony moves up a notch in intensity, suggesting G-flat major, which comes rather easily from a dominant seventh on B_flat.  The same principals apply for this 6/4 bar.

This is how I would approach analysing music of this sort.  You have to think in much, much larger terms, harmonic movement over the span of bars, not just beat by beat or even bar by bar.  it's not possible.  Imagine analysing op.39 no.1 with every eighth note denoting a different harmony.  It is enough to drive a person mad, and is sure not the way Rachmaninoff composed the piece.

My next point may seem insufferably pedantic, but I object to referring to a collection of bars in this sense as "sections."  You mention the piu vivo "section," but there is no such section in musical terms; it leads into the Vivo without relenting in intensity, all the way to the return of the Grave and the culminative bass quotation of his first prelude, and the return of the first theme of this prelude.   It may be more appropriate to designate the piu vivo all the way through to the Grave as one 'section.'  maybe even the meno mosso. My point is: think larger.  That is the only way to understand such music.

Quote
- When it looks like it switches into E at the Vivo section, consider that things could be respelled. It may help if you are trying to figure out the function of each chord. Look at the last measure before it switches back to Db at Grave. There is a huge G# (Ab?) pedal and you are going back into Db. Looks like a dominant function chord.

Think larger: there can't be a G-sharp pedal point because it only happens where you mention it for one bar; the same length of time as the whole-note A which precedes it.  This is one phrase, the quotation of his first prelude.

Quote
- At the Grave section, a lot of the notes in the left hand runs might be passing tones. Again, use the melody to guide your harmonic thinking.

More appropriately the bass!  In the piu vivo bars, the melody doesn't tell you anything about the harmony; it all comes from the bass, and the other parts' relation to it.  The same here, with a tremendously long pedal point on D-flat.  The harmony is essentially unchanging, Rachmaninoff has just colored it with chromaticisms and richness of ornamentation. 

Quote
- At the poco piu vivo marking, the left hand runs turn into jumping chords with bass notes...those bass notes may hint at the underlying harmony that is covered with chromatic motion.

In this case, they don't just hint, but "hit" you over the head with it. :)  All the chromatics in the left hand are just decorations over the pedal point, and they always return to it, with unchanging rhythmic regularity!


I emphasize a more liberal approach when analysing music.  It is too conservative to suggest that everything should be notated by Roman numerals, or to arbitrarily divide bars into sections, or to give equal significance to all parts, no matter how much or little they contribute.  Music has to be analysed according to the way it was composed, not according to rules we learn from other styles.

Walter Ramsey

Offline Mayla

  • PS Gold Member
  • Sr. Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 6638
Re: Rachmaninov, Prelude in Db Major, Op 32 no 13 -- Harmonic analysis
«Reply #7 on: July 09, 2007, 06:08:23 PM »
.
"The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are moving"  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Offline ramseytheii

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2515
Re: Rachmaninov, Prelude in Db Major, Op 32 no 13 -- Harmonic analysis
«Reply #8 on: July 09, 2007, 06:25:25 PM »

Right now, what I am trying to deal with is in knowing how "far back" I need to go to be able to make sense out of this.  For example, in dealing with the meldoic analysis, which I felt became something I needed to do before dealing with the harmonic analysis, I am feeling like suddenly I have no idea how to define a melody at all, in terms of phrasing, I suppose.  And, that keeps happening with everything until I just feel completely stuck -- which is where I have been at for years, I think, though I didn't admit it.

I think it is exactly your feelings which are holding you back.  You should listen to your feelings less, and your ear and brain more.  Can you justify analysing a melody without harmony, with any other reason except you felt it was right?  No melody should ever be analysed without its harmony and rhythm, that can be taken as a general rule.  How can a melody be phrased if not for harmony and rhythm?  It is just impossible.

I don't disregard totally a blind trust of the emotions, but almost totally.  Technique in anything, be it piano technique or theoretical technique, will come from a willing application of brain work.  If ever you find your information goes against your feelings, go with your information, not your feelings.  Feelings are the result, not the cause!

Walter Ramsey

Offline Mayla

  • PS Gold Member
  • Sr. Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 6638
Re: Rachmaninov, Prelude in Db Major, Op 32 no 13 -- Harmonic analysis
«Reply #9 on: July 09, 2007, 06:32:21 PM »
.
"The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are moving"  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Offline ramseytheii

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2515
Re: Rachmaninov, Prelude in Db Major, Op 32 no 13 -- Harmonic analysis
«Reply #10 on: July 09, 2007, 06:55:28 PM »
ha ha... well, that's just it.  That is exactly what I am realizing is happening.  I have taken what a "melody" is completely for granted, but now I am realizing that it is intrinsically tied to everything else -- which I didn't spell out before, but there it is.  And, I start not "feeling" up to going there mentally.  I will get over it (evetually), though.

And, btw, just because I wind up feeling a lot of things doesn't mean I am not using my brain -- however, I will admit that my feelings do tend to get in the way of my pianistic/musical study, it seems.  They can be good for character, but not for this stuff.

Anyway, this is interesting to me considering you have used the term "emotional" when speaking of harmonic progression.  I actually wanted to ask you what you mean by this, but I forgot.

Thanks !  :D


I don't mean to imply that you weren't using your brain, since everybody uses their brain.  Only that we have to trust objective information over emotional significance.  Since emotions are a result of a cognitive framework, they are dependent on either split-second or long term intellectual understandings.  Emotions change based on the amount of information we have, in other words.  That's why they always have to be given second place when there is a dispute between reason and feeling.

My comment about emotional harmonies was part of my larger point about how we analyse music.  A lot of times in music from the times of Rachmaninoff for instance, harmonies don't have structural significance, only poetic, or emotional significance.  In Beethoven, one would be hard pressed to find such a thing.  It comes up occasionally in Schubert (for instance the beginning of Am Meer as one of the most famous examples).  But in Rachmaninoff it happens all the time! 

And I think the music should be analysed as such: the way it was written.  If passing harmonies don't have structural significance, they should be analysed according to their subjective emotional content.  That's another reason why I object to the word "sections": the word is objective past the point of banality.  Why don't we say, instead of the "f-sharp minor section," the f-sharp minor meditation; or instead of the "piu vivo section," the piu vivo intensification; or something, anything, to relate it to a visceral feeling, rather than a bland building block.  Because that is the way he composed it; his music is frankly not sectional, and I think it is objectively wrong to refer to it as such.

None of this is intended as personal criticism, but a general sort of complaint.

Walter Ramsey


Walter Ramsey

Offline Mayla

  • PS Gold Member
  • Sr. Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 6638
Re: Rachmaninov, Prelude in Db Major, Op 32 no 13 -- Harmonic analysis
«Reply #11 on: July 09, 2007, 07:03:26 PM »
.
"The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are moving"  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Offline nolan

  • PS Silver Member
  • Jr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 81
Re: Rachmaninov, Prelude in Db Major, Op 32 no 13 -- Harmonic analysis
«Reply #12 on: July 09, 2007, 09:03:24 PM »
Walter, great points all around...I'm probably not the best person to be giving analysis advice, I'm still a student, but I love exploring these types of things. You've opened my eyes a bit more to analysis. Thanks!

Offline Mayla

  • PS Gold Member
  • Sr. Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 6638
Re: Rachmaninov, Prelude in Db Major, Op 32 no 13 -- Harmonic analysis
«Reply #13 on: July 09, 2007, 09:16:23 PM »
.
"The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are moving"  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes