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CASM 4 Analysis

Prelude in C Minor Frederic Chopin


The piece that I am analyzing exists in a tonality of C minor, with
multiple modulations throughout. These modulations, as the primary
harmonic technique apparent in this score, give the composition
direction, and clearly identify the movement of the harmonic
progression. This technique combined with the varying contours of
the bass line further emphasizes the movement of this piece, whilst
fully realizing each tonal modulation.
The first two bars of this excerpt feature the same melodic and
harmonic contours, with a modulation from the tonic C minor to the
6th, Ab Major. This technique of sequencing helps to maintain the
motif while highlighting the harmonic development. The chord
progression for bar 1 features a i IV V i movement, ending in a
perfect cadence, while the second bar contains a I IV V I
progression. The technique of perfect cadences clearly establishes
the tonality of each bar, and with the first and last beat of each bar
featuring the tonic chord, the harmonic direction is more absolute.

While the second bar features a modulation to Ab Major, the use of


the Db major chord on the second beat, which acts as the IV of Ab,
also exudes another harmonic technique, the Neapolitan 6th, which is
the major triad of the b2nd of C minor. This chord is used to both
continue the harmonic contour seen in the first bar, while
emphasizing the transition between chords with chromatic
movement.
A technique used throughout the piece, primarily in the bass, is that
of chromatic descent. This technique is used to contrast the almost
arpeggio-like movement seen in the bass part during the first four
bars, and this transition helps to emphasise the change in direction,
more noticeably highlighting the contour of the phrase.

This descending pattern reflects the direction of the melody, which


also features a descent with various chromatic movement, but while
the melody features occasional leaps, the bass continues its
descending pattern, anchoring the phrase in its direction.

The contrasting movement in the bass, which is featured in bars 1-4,


exists as chords in root position moving by 5ths. This clearly defines
the tonality of each bar, and helps to solidify the center of each
tonality. The exclusive use of root position chords further
emphasizes lack of ambiguity in each tonal modulation, while the
movement of 5ths creates a strong harmonic development.

From bars 5-8, the tonality of the phrase develops some ambiguity, as
seen in bar 5 with the transition from the dominant chord to the
minor dominant.

This technique is used to emphasise movement, as the phrase begins


an extended descending pattern, in which the harmonic structure is
expanded. This contrasts with the phrases of bars 1-4, as they
features microcosms of this structure, with more defined tonalities,
anchored in each bar.
While the harmonic progression is the primary feature of musical
manipulation in this composition, a technique which highlights this
development is that of a uniform rhythm. The rhythmic pattern
remains exactly the same in every single bar, minus the last chordal
fermata. This constantly repeated rhythm obviously emphasizes the

harmonic progression, as the familiar rhythmic pattern allows us to


focus on the developing harmonic structure. The entire bass part
exists as crotchets, which effectively establishes a solid foundation
for each chord, while highlighting the direction of the phrase. These
octave crotchet notes in the first four bars exist as the roots of the
chord, and, as previously stated, move in 5ths, giving a very strong
definition of the movement and tonality of each phrase.
The rhythm remains the same from bar 5 to the end of the piece, but
with the contrasting chromatically descending movement, the bass
plays an entirely different role. While it still has some bearing on the
direction of the phrases, this comes not from its anchoring as the root
note of each chord, but in an unwavering descending pattern,
emphasizing the harmonic structure of a larger scale.
The melodic and chordal rhythm of the right hand part also features
a constantly repeated rhythm throughout the piece, but with a
slightly more complicated rhythm, which clearly highlights the
melody.

The only real difference in rhythm from the bass part is the addition
of a semiquaver pick up to the 4th beat of each bar. This change, while
very minor, drastically emphasizes the movement of the melody,
particularly when heard in the rubato performance style in which the
piece is composed for. This extra note is most often used as a passing
note between chords, which creates a very strong transitional effect,
and eliminates the otherwise block chord movement.
Throughout the piece this constant rhythm is a technique which is
extremely effective for a piece which features harmonic
development.
From bar 7 to the end of the piece, the manipulation of inversions is
the technique used to most effectively convey the harmonic direction.
The chord progression in each two-bar phrase is repeated until the
final tonic chord, and exists as a I6 IV - V6 I, VI bII - V7 I
progression. This again features the Neapolitan 6th in a similar
capacity as the opening bars, as well as featuring both tonic chords
on the first and last beats of each bar. Each phrase is also completed
with a variant of the perfect cadence, which truly solidifies the
tonality of each movement. The use of variant inversions is what
truly highlights the harmonic progression in this section of the piece,
as the transition between inversions and root position chords, as

seen in the bass part of bar 7 between beats 1 and 4, aids the
harmonic contour, and the transition to a root Neapolitan 6th
emphasises its use both as a substitution and as a transitional chord.
While this piece features a somewhat limited variation of chords, the
manipulation of various harmonic techniques in order to execute
them effectively is extremely prudent.
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