This project is devoted to establishing criteria for creating a convincing hypermetric analysis of Brahms’ music by examining the first movements of the Clarinet Sonata, Op. 120, No. 1, the A Major Violin Sonata, Op. 100, and the Piano Quintet, Op. 34. Hypermeter can be ambiguous because of the continuous nature of the harmonic and melodic aspects of the writing; this phenomenon was referred to by Arnold Schoenberg as “developing variation.” Walter Frisch, in his discussion of metrical displacement in Brahms’ music, notes that this generates “a highly flexible, fluid metrical universe” resulting in acceleration and deceleration.1 Analysis of the hypermeter in this music reveals frequent moments of overlap between phrases, which causes difficulties in identifying a unified hypermeter.
In order to determine the beginning of a hypermeasure, sufficient evidence and reasoning should exist to support a decision. However, the musical language often implies multiple groupings, making it difficult to determine definitive criteria. Moments of uncertainty can arise from many factors, including harmonic tension, melodic elision, motivic echo, and interrupted phrasing. Even when analytical principles are devised with this in mind, it is often difficult to approach Brahms’ works with a “one size fits all” approach. In these scenarios, we have presented several options for the reader to consider. By exploring these aspects of the hypermeter in the first movements of the Clarinet Sonata, Op. 120, No. 1, the A Major Violin Sonata, Op. 100, and the Piano Quintet, Op. 34, we seek to observe trends in pacing, points of ambiguity, and how these trends affect the formal roles within these works. We chose to go in reverse chronological order because the hypermeter in both Op. 120 and Op. 100 was more discernible than in Op. 34.
Hypermeter has been discussed at length by many analysts and theorists. Several of these texts have acted as precedents to our work and have informed our decisions by comparing the evident criteria used by each author. They have also caused us to refine or expand some of their analytical methods. In his book Phrase Rhythm in Tonal Music, William Rothstein gives the reader terminology, examples, and exceptions concerning hypermetric analysis. While he is not the first scholar to spend time with phrase rhythm and hypermetric analysis, he provides a more comprehensive understanding and vocabulary to deal with the complex issues that arise through the analysis of Brahms’ works. The concepts of phrase linkage and phrase expansion are especially helpful in diagnosing ambiguous hypermetric passages.
Passages with moments of elision can cause ambiguity in establishing a convincing interpretation of the music. Hypermetrically, this results in an X=1 scenario. According to Rothstein, “two phrases may be said to overlap when the last note (or chord) of the first phrase acts simultaneously as the first note (or chord) of the second phrase.”2 An example of this can be seen within the first two hypermeasures of the Sonata No. 1, Op. 120 with the designation of 5=1 in m. 5. The F minor arpeggio there both resolves the previous four-bar hypermeasure as well as instigates the next hypermeasure. This technique was used by Brahms in each piece studied for this project.
As Rothstein states in his book, phrase expansion can occur internally and externally.3 External expansion is the most common occurrence and can either be considered a prefix or a suffix. A prefix “often takes the form of an accompanimental figure that sets the stage for a melodic entrance,” while a suffix “may simply elongate … [the] closing harmony, or may stretch it out while embellishing it in some way.”4 A clear example of a prefix can be found in the Quintet for Piano and String Quartet, Op. 34: while there is a phrase overlap leading into measure 33, there is also a two-measure introduction that serves as a prefix to the melodic entrance at measure 35. Suffixes occur in the echo sections that appear in the five-bar hypermeasures in the opening of the A Major Violin Sonata; in m. 5 of Op. 100, the violin echoes the piano line from the previous measure. What Rothstein terms “internal expansions,” meanwhile, cause hypermetric ambiguities that can be more difficult to distinguish. Expansion can occur by repetition within the phrase, which includes sequential repetition.
Sections in the music with tonal instability, such as transitions and development, tend to also destabilize hypermetric regularity. While certain criteria can aid a musician in making hypermetrical decisions, Rothstein presents a concession that there may never be an all-encompassing theory of hypermetric analysis:
An irreducible residue of personal opinion remains in any metrical analysis of a piece which… lends itself to more than one plausible interpretation…perhaps the government might one day appoint a Commissar of Metrics who will decide such matters for us. Before that day arrives, however, we shall have to live with these disagreements as best we can.5
Similarly, he notes that “any musician would rightly suspect an analysis that could be performed without hearing, feeling, and thinking.”6 Hypermetric analysis, therefore, can help shape a personal and unique interpretation of a piece of music.
Complex hypermetrical analysis is dealt with in the second chapter of Ryan McClelland’s book, Brahms and the Scherzo: Studies in Musical Narrative. The author explains that Brahms’ use of “metric dissonance” develops throughout his early scherzos.7 Straightforward groupings with few moments of elision occur in Op. 2 (composed before the Op. 1 sonata), while highly intricate groups that include parenthetical insertions, varying hypermetric groupings, and frequent elisions can be found in the Op. 5 sonata. McClelland uses his analyses to draw conclusions about the development of Brahms’ compositional style, noting that in his earliest works metric dissonance does not directly relate to hypermeter and they “tend to be relatively free from the metric dissonance that is characteristic of his mature style.”8 We found it useful to compare McClelland’s hypermetric decisions to our own; this allowed us to make note of discrepancies in moments of hypermetric ambiguity and decide whether or not his criteria were more valid and applicable to our own analyses.9
Austin T. Patty discusses the way pacing scenarios and musical climax offer another way to look at phrase structure. Although he does not specifically address hypermeter, his ideas are useful for treatments of acceleration and deceleration.10 A climax generally consists of three parts: intensification, climax, and abatement. Through his pacing scenarios, Patty proposes that not all climaxes are approached by acceleration in the intensification phase and deceleration in the abatement phase; the approach to the climax is also the result of the interaction between several musical parameters—specifically, harmonic and melodic streams that he measures in ‘events per bar’ (e/b). The type of pacing scenario that occurs is therefore a “net result of changes within one or more parameters.”11
Patty’s four general pacing scenarios are as follows: The surge scenario is an acceleration toward the climax, while a struggle scenario is a deceleration toward the climax that creates tension. His other two scenarios, tumble and settle, occur after a climax. A tumble scenario results from acceleration after the climax, while the settle scenario is a deceleration following a climax. The steady scenario, referred to later in his article, is a steady pace of events before or after the climax.
Patty defines “streams” as melodic and harmonic events that occur at different levels within the music; simultaneously occurring accelerations and decelerations in different streams may counteract each other or trump one another. This important idea has consequences for hypermetric analysis, since determining hypermeter in Brahms’ music can be difficult when climactic moments do not occur alongside tonal goals. Patty’s argument usefully highlights the way musical dimensions—such as harmony and melody—work with each other to determine hypermeter as well as making apparent the complexities that arise when they do not align.
Walter Frisch’s “The Shifting Bar Line: Metrical Displacement in Brahms” discusses Brahms’ systematic use of metrical displacement during his period of first maturity. During this time, he begins manipulating meter in a similar manner throughout his music. Frisch believes that this has two functions in Brahms’ music—namely, formal articulation and motivic development. These normally occur at the end of the exposition or the retransition.12 Brahms often utilizes motivic development to create a sense of metrical displacement by introducing thematic material on the weak beat of a measure.
We used Variations Audio Timeliner to visualize trends between the first movements of the Clarinet Sonata, Op. 120, No. 1, the A Major Violin Sonata, Op. 100, and the Piano Quintet, Op. 34. These graphs provided visual evidence that the hypermeter in the primary theme (P) tends to be more regular than the secondary theme zone (S) (or third tonal area—TTA—in the clarinet sonata). Hypermeter in the transitions and the development tends to be more asymmetrical. In general, there tends to be a longer hypermeasure before a new formal section to provide closure as well as to provide stabilization before a new section launches. Similarly, during the codas of each of the movements, the groups tend to elongate and ultimately normalize as the music comes to a conclusion.
1. Walter Frisch, “The Shifting Bar Line: Metrical Displacement in Brahms,” in Brahms Studies: Analytical and Historical Perspectives, ed. George S. Bozarth (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 139.
2. William Rothstein, Phrase Rhythm in Tonal Music (New York: Schirmer Books, 1989), 44.
3. Ibid., 68.
4. Ibid., 68-73.
5. Ibid., 100.
6. Ibid., 100.
7. Ryan McClelland, “The Early Minor-Mode Scherzos: Ghosts of Schumann and Beethoven,” Chap. 2 in Brahms and the Scherzo: Studies in Musical Narrative (Surrey, England; Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate, 2010), 27-47.
8. Ibid., 27.
9. It is interesting to contrast some of the issues we have encountered in our hypermetrical analyses with McClelland’s hypermetrical boundaries. Take, for instance, the excerpt from the Op. 5 sonata (pp. 44–45). The opening measures, taken from the start of the trio section, are grouped in two eight-bar hypermeasures; however, these could arguably be grouped into two sets of four bars, since differentiating between hypermeter of four and eight bars can often be ambiguous. Like many other decisions, the choice is largely dependent on context. In this case, McClelland seems to have chosen an eight-bar hypermeter in the trio in order to draw a distinction between the pronounced four-bar hypermeasures within the scherzo. Another interesting decision is made by the author in m. 172. The C♭ major chord is the resolution of the G♭ dominant-seventh chord in the previous measure, both harmonically and melodically; however, the author chooses to start a new hypermeasure in m. 172 without any overlap, which in this case would be notated as 7=1 if it were included. Why is m. 172 more distinctly the start of a new, independent hypermeasure, while an elision is indicated at a similar moment in m. 123? As in the previous example, the decision must ultimately be based on the “feel” of the music, along with largely subjective reasoning. Perhaps McClelland decided that the V7–I harmonic movement provides a more conclusive start to the hypermeasure at m. 172, but the decision is debatable at best.
10. Austin T. Patty, “Pacing Scenarios: How Harmonic Rhythm and Melodic Pacing Influence Our Experience of Musical Climax,” Music Theory Spectrum Vol. 31, No. 2 (Fall 2009): 325-367.
11. Ibid., 331.
12. Frisch, “The Shifting Bar Line,” 154.