In light of last week’s
conversation about reactions to the performances of the NY Philharmonic, I thought
it might be beneficial to provide a structural analysis of Bruckner’s Ninth
symphony. Since the work’s three
movements add up to over 50 minutes of music and nearly 200 pages of orchestral
score, I decided to focus on one movement, the second of the three, the Scherzo.
So that non-music-readers can
understand the following musical examples, I will refer to moments in time of a
recording rather than sections of the written score. The recording is that of Jascha Horenstein
and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and can be found on Classical Music Library
database (go to library.duke.edu/music, under “online listening” click
Classical Music Library, enter the site, browse for composer Bruckner, (Joseph)
Anton, click Symphony no. 9 in D minor, and select the VSO recording with Jasha
Let’s call the section that begins
the movement letter A. First the
woodwinds and violin-twos (the violins of orchestral and chamber ensembles are
typically divided into two sections, violin-one and violin-two, both of which
can be further subdivided) strike a minor-sounding chord. Then, at time 0:02 the violin-ones commence
the melody, a 7-note descending line followed by a 7-note ascending line, the
latter played twice as fast. Note that
the articulation is pizzicato (the strings are plucked rather than
bowed). Echoing the violin melody is a
cello melody at time 0:06. It also is
articulated with pizzicato and possesses the same rhythmic pattern as
the violin’s, however its contour is inverted, i.e. while the violins descended
then ascended, the cellos ascend then descend.
At time 0:09, the chord changes to a major-sounding one, and the
previous melodic motives are reiterated: at 0:11 the violins play their
descending-ascending melody, and at 0:14 the cellos play their
ascending-descending one. Following
this, from time 0:18 to 0:34, the violins and cellos continue with their
back-and-forth, while the harmony tenses and the orchestra gradually increases
its volume, i.e. performs a crescendo.
Within these first 34 seconds of music, one can already hear how the
music is structured by use of the reiteration of motives and the interplay
between sections (i.e. the back-and-forth).
These mechanisms, if identified, allow the listener to grab hold of the
music, while the music moves forward by way of harmonic tension/relaxation and
dynamics of volume.
The above analysis of letter A is a
relatively close perspective of a small-scale section of music. For the remaining sections, the perspective
will be broader, in order to analyze the large-scale structure of the entire
At 0:34 the orchestra rests, then
bursts into the next section, letter B. The
volume is very loud, with the dynamic marking of ff for fortissimo. Despite the tempestuous intensity of the
section, the violin-ones’ melodic motive of letter A can be heard (at time 0:39
and others throughout the section), possessing the same rhythm and contour.
The next section, which we will
call letter C, commences at time 1:38, after another orchestra-wide rest (as at
the beginning of letter B). The timpani
(European kettledrums) beat a familiar rhythm, then, at 1:41, the violins play
an oscillating, eerie-sounding line, after which, at 1:43, an oboe solo plays a
melody, which is light and somewhat whimsical relative to the intensity of
letter B. At 1:48, this sequence is
reiterated with variations in the oboe melody.
At 2:20 the next section
begins. Hear how it is a reiteration of
letter B! The music of this section is
nearly identical until it starts to change at 2:56. Conspicuously new material emerges at the
climactic moment at 3:14. Since the
section is a reiteration of letter B but possesses important additions, we will
call it B’ (pronounced B prime). It ends
at 3:36 with another grand orchestra-wide rest.
At time 3:40, a new section, with a
new, quicker tempo, begins. A major-sounding
harmony is established by the strings, and at 3:43 a lighthearted melody is
introduced by the violin-ones. The
articulation is staccato, i.e. each note is played pointedly is detached
from the others. Another characteristic
of this section is the coloristic highlights provided by the woodwinds, e.g.
the flutes at 3:45. Also, note the legato
(continuous, opposite of staccato) violin melody at 4:06.
The next section, letter E, begins
at 4:40 with the aforementioned legato violin melody, now played in the
lower-register (deeper sounding) cellos.
This section, though brief, can be characterized by its heaviness and
overall texture of smoothness, contrasting with the lightness and pointedness
of letter D.
At 5:10, letter D returns, and is
iterated exactly like before, with slight changes in color provided by the woodwinds
and brass, not enough to warrant calling the section D’.
At this point in the movement, as
indicated in the score, the orchestra plays from the beginning until the point
at the end of letter B’. Therefore, all
of the music played from time 0:00 until 3:36 is repeated.
To summarize, the overall structure
sounds like this:
Letter A (0:00), B (0:34), C
(1:38), B’ (2:20)
D (3:40), E (4:40), D (5:10)
A (6:10), B (6:47), C (7:50), B’
Hopefully this analysis will help the listener to perceive the
structure that supports the music of the scherzo movement.
A few side notes: According to the
website of the New York Philharmonic, the orchestra-wide rests pointed out
above serve a unique purpose: “as an accomplished organist, Bruckner was
familiar with the grand spaces of churches in his native Austria and with the
interaction of organs with these resonant spaces…Bruckner may have wanted to
recreate that effect in his orchestral works.”
Also, I found this video
of a youthful Glenn Gould performing the piano part of Beethoven’s Piano
Concerto no. 1. I think his body
language is strikingly different than that of Lang Lang. Also, notice Gould’s Baroque, contrapuntal
rendition of the movement’s final cadenza (at time 4:57), as opposed to
Lang Lang’s grand, Romantic rendition (performers can choose which musical
material to present during the cadenza).
Finally, this video
of an older Gould performing J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations (26-30) portrays
one of the most beautiful images of the physicality of music that I have ever
seen, particularly at the very end.