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Society for Music Theory

Interacting Pulse Streams in Schoenberg's Atonal Polyphony

Author(s): John Roeder
Reviewed work(s):
Source: Music Theory Spectrum, Vol. 16, No. 2 (Autumn, 1994), pp. 231-249
Published by: University of California Press on behalf of the Society for Music Theory
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/746035 .
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Interacting Pulse



John Roeder
Rhythmic organizationin much of Schoenberg'smusic extends and even transcends common metrical practice. Innovation is evident especially in his middle-periodworks where
the texture is highly polyphonic and the often canonic voices
are saturated with a few distinct motives. Although regular pulses are fleetingly evident in these works, the surface
rhythmschange rapidly and irregularly.Constantly changing
meter signaturesapparentlypreclude the regularhierarchyof
pulses necessary for hypermeter. For example, the opening
of the Little Piano Piece, Op. 19 No. 1, reproduced in Example 1, presents a polyphony of temporally overlappingbut
distinguishable rhythmic groups, each consisting of diverse
arrangementsof accents. The irregular accents do not conform to the notated meter signatures, nor to any single regular pulse for that matter. Even in pieces that parody conventional tonal forms and phrase structures, such as the
texturally and metrically more regular twelve-tone works,
rhythmicgestures are accentuallyshaped contraryto the notated meter.1
The fragmentarytexture in this music suggests analyzing
it in terms of pitch-class sets-that is, essentially without re1See, for instance, the composer'sdiacriticsin m. 22 of the Prelude to the
Suite, Op. 25, or in mm. 3-4 of the first movement of the Fourth String
Quartet, Op. 37.

gard to accents arising from pitch order, contour, or duration within segments. However research by Harald Krebs
and Paul Johnson has revealed that Schoenberg conceived
some of his pieces primarily rhythmically, insofar as he
sketched several versions using the same rhythms but different pitches.2 Moreover in some of his theoretical writings
Schoenberg cites some complex polyphonies by Mozart and
Brahms as instances of a "progressive"rhythmicpractice that
influenced his music.3 Manifestly an analytical method is
2HaraldKrebs, "ThreeVersionsof Schoenberg'sOp. 15, No. 14: Obvious
Differences and Hidden Similarities,"Journal of the Arnold SchoenbergInstitute 8, no. 2 (1984): 131-40. His Example 1 demonstrates a "great similarity"of the vocal rhythmin the three sketched versions of Op. 15, No. 14;
he also describes a similarity in motives, and in the use of hemiola. Paul
Johnson, in "Rhythmand Set Choice in Schoenberg'sPiano Concerto,"Journal of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute 11, no. 1 (1988): 38-51, displays
sketches of three versions of the concerto's opening. The sketches use different twelve-tone "sets" but the rhythm is the same in every case. Johnson
comments: "Therhythmof the opening 35 barstook precedenceover his pitch
ideas. ... Rhythm was the primaryfeature of all the other sketches of the
opening.... It is the pitches in the final version that are adjusted, not the
rhythm" (48).
3Arnold Schoenberg, Theory of Harmony, 3d ed. [1922], trans. Roy E.
Carter (Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1978),
435-38. Also "Brahmsthe Progressive"[1947], in Style and Idea, trans. Leo
Black (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984),


MusicTheory Spectrum

Example 1. Schoenberg,Little Piano Piece, Op. 19 No. 1, mm. 1-4

Leicht, zart (J)


etwas zogernd -----------


-, _-.


4 '


p 6)

4 ^

I .--.


'r r

needed that acknowledges the essential qualities of rhythm

in his music and explains its role in creating musical form.
Two recent publications have analyzed rhythmic irregularities of this music with reference to regular meter.
Jonathan Kramer identifies the timepoints in Op. 19 No. 1
that are either strong or weak, as determined by rhythmic
repetitions, the presence or absence of attack, and accents of
contour, dynamics, and registraldensity.4He finds not a regularity of accent but a metric "fluidity"that is "gradually
clarified"toward the end of the piece by a "linear process"
involving "the emergence of a clear foreground meter."
Charles Morrison's approach to the pieces of Opus 19 also
maintains a traditional conception of meter, but he hears
irregularitiesas syncopations which, by virtue of their "dis398-441. The influencewas documentedby HaraldKrebsin "The Interaction
of Levels of Motion in Schoenberg'sMiddle-PeriodMusic"(Paper delivered
at the symposiumon "ArnoldSchoenberg:The CriticalYears,"the University
of Victoria, B.C., February1991). He finds several passages in Schoenberg's
middle-periodmusic that are rhythmicallysimilar to the passages the composer cites.
4JonathanKramer, The Time of Music (New York: Schirmer Books,
1988), 170-83.





sonance" against the meter, act "motivically" within cadences.5 Both of these interpretationsof the formal function
of rhythm conceive of meter as exclusive-that is, only one
meter may be present in any timespan-and hierarchizingthat is, all timepoints are assigned strong or weak status
within a regulargroupingof beats. This conception is shared
by many theorists, notably by Lerdahland Jackendoffin their
Well-Formedness and Preference Rules, which reflect the
metricallyregular, homophonic foregroundsof tonal music.6
But this concept of meter greatly simplifiesthe fundamentally
polyphonic character of this music.
This essay presents an analytical theory that offers a different interpretationof the accent patterns in music like Example 1. Essentially the theory represents rhythmicpolyphony as two or more concurrent "pulse streams" created by
regularlyrecurringaccents. These pulse streams are considered to be distinct continuities, not "levels" or groupings of
sCharlesD. Morrison, "Syncopationas Motive in Schoenberg'sOp. 19,
Nos 2, 3 and 4," Music Analysis 11 (1992): 75-93.
6FredLerdahl and Ray Jackendoff,A GenerativeTheoryof Tonal Music
(Cambridge:MIT Press, 1983), 68-104.

InteractingPulse Streams in Schoenberg's Atonal Polyphony 233

each other, so this approach does not involve meter in the

exclusive and hierarchicalsenses defined by the theorists just
mentioned. Rather, it analyzes an irregularsurfaceas the sum
of several concurrentregular continuities, much as a Fourier
transform analyzes a complexly aperiodic sound as the sum
of periodic sine waves. In music that deemphasizestraditional
harmonic or linear processes these pulse streams may integrate the accents of local rhythmicfigures synergisticallyinto
compelling large-scale continuities. The nature and the interactions of these continuities-the synchronizationof pulse
streams and rhythmicmotives relative to each other-create
rhythmic form in the music.
Hearing concurrent pulses in music is a common experience. In one type of hemiola, for example, a half-note pulse
is superimposed over a previously established dotted-halfnote pulse. These competing pulses are simultaneously active, and extra metrical accent accrues to the timepoints at
which their attacks coincide. The passages of Mozart and
Brahms that Schoenberg cites contain similar but more complex uses of simultaneously active pulses. In more recent
music, such as Elliott Carter's, concurrent polyphonic continuities are distinguishedpartlyby their differingtempi.7The
analytical representation proposed here also concurs with
some important recent writings about rhythm. Yeston's theory of rhythmic "stratification"explores ways in which different concurrent"strataof motion" can be created, and how
one stratum can be metrically "consonant" or "dissonant"
with respect to other strata.8 Berry's and Hasty's writings
7JonathanW. Bernard, "The Evolution of Elliott Carter'sRhythmicPractice," Perspectivesof New Music 26 (1988): 164-203. A characteristic, if
extreme, example is Carter's setting of "O Breath," explained in Brenda
Ravenscroft's "Texture in Elliott Carter's A Mirror on Which to Dwell,"
(Ph.D. diss., University of British Columbia, 1992), 262-71.
8MauryYeston, The Stratificationof Musical Rhythm (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1976). Harald Krebs employs Yeston's ideas analyticallyin
"Some Extensions of the Concepts of MetricalConsonanceand Dissonance,"
Journal of Music Theory 31 (1987): 99-120.

focus on the complex processes arising from the interaction

among concurrentrhythms.9And David Lewin has proposed
a "scanning function" to represent the listener's ability to
evaluate at any given moment the relative weight of many
active pulses.10Original in this paper are the codification of
an analytical technique and the exposition of the rhythmic
processes it reveals in a set of related, important works that
are still poorly understood."1
Pulse-streamanalysis involves parsinga texture into pulse
streams then interpreting the relations of synchrony that
obtain among them, the motives, and the textural voices. A
9Wallace Berry, StructuralFunctions in Music (Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
Prentice-Hall, 1976), and "Metricand RhythmicArticulationin Music," Music TheorySpectrum7 (1985): 7-33. ChristopherF. Hasty, "Rhythmin PostTonal Music: PreliminaryQuestions of Duration and Motion," Journal of
Music Theory 25 (1981): 183-216.
"?DavidLewin, "SomeInvestigationsinto ForegroundRhythmicand Metric Patterning,"in Music Theory:Special Topics,ed. RichmondBrowne (New
York: Academic Press, 1981), 99-137. A similar computationalalgorithmis
proposed by Benjamin O. Miller, Don L. Scarborough,and Jacqueline A.
Jones in "On the Perception of Meter," in UnderstandingMusic with AI:
Perspectiveson Music Cognition, ed. Mira Balaban, Kemal Ebcioglu, and
Otto Laske (Menlo Park: AAAI Press, 1992), 429-47. In their model, independent beat agents ("oscillators")are activatedby durationalaccents, and
their informationis resolved into a solution for the meter of the given music
by "parallelconstraint satisfaction."
"The analyticalprocedureproposed here complementsthe compositional
"Theory of Rhythm" that forms Book I of Joseph Schillinger's System of
Musical Composition(New York: Carl Fischer, 1941) and is realized further
in his Encyclopediaof Rhythms (1966; reprint New York: Da Capo, 1976).
Schillingerdescribes how to derive regularlyrepeated patterns of durations
by superimposing pulses of different rates, or as he expressed it, by the
"interference"of patterns of "differingperiodicities."Elliott Carter has said
that his idea of metric modulation derived "from Stravinsky'smusic, but
probablyalso from that book by SchillingerI mentioned earlier [p. 18, where
Cartercites Schillinger'smethod as a stronginfluenceon Americancomposers
of popular music], where he mentions that a four-beat measure can be accented as if it were in three, and vice versa, resultingin a sort of polyrhythm"
(Elliott Carter:In Conversationwith Enzo Restagno for SettembreMusica
1989 [New York: Institute for Studies in American Music, 1989], 41).


Music Theory Spectrum

pulse is a series of successive, perceptibly equal timespans,

marked off by accented timepoints.12 Thus pulse is regarded
formally in this model as phenomenal. No particular pulse
is assumed (as one might make assumptions, for instance, on
the basis of the meter signature) to be present in a given
passage of music. Rather, every pulse must be consistent
with actual attacks in the passage. A minimum of two equal
timespans is necessary to activate a pulse; the greater the
number of successive equal timespans, the better established
the pulse. Preferably the musical events occupying those
timespans have some property in common-for instance, the
same pitch, or same duration, or membership in the same
series of durations, or the same timbre, or the same type of
accent (especially durational). However two attacks contributing to the same pulse stream need not belong to the same
textural voice. Schoenberg's rapidly evolving textures often
lack the long, consistent, uninterrupted accompanimental
strands of traditional music. However, rhythmic continuity
and impetus are evident when accents from discrete gestures
are heard to connect into pulse streams, even when those
accents belong to different classes. The reification of such
pulse continuities is what distinguishes this type of analysis
from a metrically oriented one like Morrison's: accents off
the notated beat are regarded not as isolated points of syncopation against an assumed and putatively regular meter,
but as collaborative contributors to a stream having metrical
At any given timepoint more than one pulse may be active,
each composed of a distinct, characteristic, repeated timespan. The independent nature of each pulse in a multipulse
12Accordingto this definition a pulse stream is not the same as a beat,
which is a series of regularlyspaced timepoints. A pulse stream is a rhythm,
but a beat is a metric for rhythm. Psychologistssometimes do not distinguish
between the two concepts; see, for example, Richard Parncutt's"The Perception of Pulse in MusicalRhythm"in Action and Perceptionin Rhythmand
Music, ed. Alf Gabrielsson (Stockholm: Royal Swedish Academy of Music,
1987), 127-38.

texture is emphasized by calling it a pulse stream. 13 A pulse

stream dissipates if it is not constantly reactivated by suitable
accents at the expected timepoints.14 But a well-established
pulse stream persists for a certain amount of time even when
there are no accents to reactivate it. How long a pulse stream
persists before dissipating depends on whether concurrently
active pulses in the context are activated strongly enough to
supersede it. If a pulse stream is activated then persists while
a few accents are omitted, only one or two suitably placed
accents may be sufficient to reactivate it.
In analysis, two important principles govern how the accents in diverse textural voices are allocated to pulse streams.
For the analysis to be meaningful it must be complete. Therefore every timepoint that is strongly accented in a texture
must contribute to a pulse stream. Also any accent, especially
a strong one, may contribute to two or more pulse streams
that coincide at that timepoint. This principle ensures that the
analysis can represent the intrinsically polyphonic character
of the music in terms of multiple concurrent pulse streams.
Once a passage has been parsed into pulse streams, the
analyst must interpret the interactions of the streams with
the motives and textural voices. Many types of interactions
are possible. Accents in a voice, or in a motive, or from
an ensemble of voices, may synchronize with, activate, and
strengthen a given pulse stream. When motives recur they
may create the same pulse streams, or, sometimes signifi'3The term "stream"is used in the music psychology literature to refer
to any percept of connected events; for a summaryof this research,see Albert
S. Bregman, Auditory Scene Analysis (Cambridge:MIT Press, 1990). Psychologists have been especially interested in determining conditions under
which a monophonic succession is perceived as polyphony of two or more
pitch streams, as in the polyphonic melodies of Bach's sonatas and partitas
for solo violin, but to my knowledge no research has been done yet into
streaming by pulse.
'4Parncuttdescribes perceptual aspects of pulse. See also Paul Fraisse,
"L'Anticipationde stimulus rhythmiques-vitesse d'etablissement et precision de la synchronisation,"L'Annee psychologiques 66 (1966): 15-36.

InteractingPulse Streams in Schoenberg's Atonal Polyphony 235

cantly, they may fail to. Similarlythey may synchronizewith

a pulse stream at one timepoint but not at another. A pulse
stream may be stronger at one timepoint than at others. It
may be weakened by the omission of an accent, liquidated
by its replacement by a faster pulse, or totally suppressed by
the incursion of a new pulse. A pulse stream may be heard
as synchronizedwith the pulses at one point, but not with the
pulses later on. Since pulse streamscan graduallyor suddenly
begin, dissipate, strengthen, or weaken over time, the ensemble of streams may be very different from one timepoint
to another. All these processes and relations, both of textural
voices to pulse streams and of pulse streams to each other,
can be used compositionally to distinguish and to associate
timepoints-that is, to create musicalform.15The multiplicity
of relational possibilities is constrained in analysis by the
usual imperative to coordinate observed relations into a parsimonious and complete explanation.

"-a half note apart, but its next accent is not a half note later.
Conceiving of the rhythm in terms of just one part, such as
the recitation, neglects the intrinsicallycontrapuntalquality
of the texture, in particularthe interaction of the recitation
and the seven-note motive. Alternatively, pulse-streamanalysis can incorporate all these irregularities into a broadly
operative process that is intrinsicallypolyphonic and accounts
for the many inconsistencies between the notated meter and
the motivic/accentual contents of the parts.
Just below the score is presented the rhythmicskeleton of
the passage, which displays the durations articulatedby each
voice in the texture, and which reduces the information the
score gives about contour and dynamic accents to alphabetical annotationsover the noteheads, as indicatedby the key.16
Thus each skeleton notehead marked by an A, P, or D corresponds to the vertically aligned event in the score whose

To understandthe analytical method and to gauge its potential, consider the familiar opening of the first song of
Schoenberg's Pierrot lunaire, Op. 21, reproduced at the top
of Example 2. Even a cursory examination of the score reveals problems of rhythmic analysis that are not easily resolved by recourse to concepts of meter and syncopation
based on homophonic tonal models. Judgingsimply from the
constantly changing meter signatures, there seems to be no
regularmeter. Motives, such as the opening seven-note piano
gesture, vary in their locations within the notated bars. Neither are nonmotivic textural voices metrically regular; for
example, the recitation, arguably the focus of the texture,
places its firstaccents--on the syllables "Wein"and then "Au-

'6Some assumptionsabout the nature of accent relevant to the analytical

decisions made here warranta brief exposition. Contour accent is considered
to occur at both high and low points in a contour (the formerbeing stronger);
but may not occur at the beginning and ending of a segment. See my "A
Calculus of Accent," forthcoming in the Journal of Music Theory for one
possible way of evaluating the strengths of such accents. Durational accent
is treated here as a "flow-impeding"phenomenon, as suggested by Howard
Smitherin "The RhythmicAnalysis of Twentieth-CenturyMusic,"Journalof
Music Theory8 (1964): 54-88; see also Robert Cogan and Pozzi Escot, Sonic
Design (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1976), 230-33. That is, the
onset of a long event is accented agogically if it is preceded by shorter durations, or, in the case of segment beginnings,if anothervoice simultaneously
states a series of briefer durations.Moreover segment-terminatingevents are
markedon the analyses with an (A) if there is a long pause before the onset
of the next segment, relative to the prevailingduration. Pulse-streamanalysis
does not admit registraldensity as an accentualparameterbecause it separates
the texture into voices. Lastly, in the Pierrot excerpts it is possible to hear
timepoints accented purely by the syntax and sonic qualities of the text itself;
however, owing to a lack of theory about such matters, it is assumed simply
that the notated durations of the recitation capture the rhythmicallymost
salient features of the text. Pulse-stream analysis is still possible if these
assumptionsare modified, since it only depends on the presence of accents,
not on how those accents are defined.

'5Theemphasison form in the pulse-streamapproachdistinguishesit from

Yeston's theory, which is concerned with how interactingstrata on different
levels can produce the same durationalmotives, and from "Some Extensions"
of it by Krebs, which attributesqualities of metrical "consonance"and "dissonance" to passages without providing a temporal syntax of consonancedissonance succession.


Music Theory Spectrum

Example 2. Schoenberg, Pierrot lunaire, Op. 21 No. 1, "Mondestrunken," mm. 1-11


I ___Q-






-r ff





p ;



-r ,^r

Wein, den






e- der
gen nie-






nachts der Mond







Au- gen trinkt,











F 5















r f r r

r r




gen trinkt,


r ri

nachts der Mond


r~ r



Shfto- J---





Contour accents, high and low







, i

Original-r --r

Wein, den






Dynamic accent


"Agogic" accent



nie- der

Interacting Pulse Streams in Schoenberg's Atonal Polyphony


Example 2 [continued].

!Af - I




~ h1 L] ^---"-T

^i 'll'_iU
ra t
r h



aI I ~1' n




















len Ho- ri-







und ei- ne

rr' r"





len Ho-



r r


? (D




















und ei- ne






'1'--- -







MusicTheory Spectrum

onset is marked by agogic (durational), pitch (contour), or

dynamic accent, respectively. (Weaker accents that do not
contribute to pulse streams are not marked on the skeleton.)
Directly beneath the rhythmic skeleton stands the analysis
itself-a reinterpretation of the accented timepoints of the
voices as the attacks of timespans belonging to several different streams of pulse. Each of these pulse streams is composed of a series of perceptibly constant and distinctive durations corresponding to timespans articulated in the score.
The analysis illustrates the variety of ways that a pulse
stream can arise in atonal polyphony, many of which are also
characteristic of more traditional music.17 Some streams are
activated clearly by successive accents in a single instrumental
voice. For instance, the sixteenth-note pulse that dominates
the first half of the passage is established by the opening
attack pattern of the piano. Other pulse streams arise from
regularly recurring accents in several voices at once. For instance, the opening seven-note motive in the piano articulates
a contour accent on its fourth attack, and simultaneously the
violin attacks a Dt5. The fourfold repetition of the same
figure in the piano restates the contour accent every half note,
and that accent coincides each time with another attack of the
same pitch by the violin, creating a persistent half-note pulse.
(On the diagram dashed lines extend down from these coordinated attacks to half notes placed on the same horizontal
line, indicating that they contribute to a pulse stream. Parenthesized noteheads in the example indicate a persisting,
but not explicitly stated, pulse.) This example demonstrates
also that the repetition of a rhythmic motive within a voice
may activate a pulse; the same is true if the motive is repeated
in a different voice. Still other pulse streams arise more elaborately from accents in different voices. For instance, the
dynamically accented attack of trills halfway through the passage (after "nieder") revives a half-note pulse that was last
'7Yeston, 35-54.

activated by the piano/flute motive; a half note later, the pulse

is activated again by another strong accent, but this time it
is in the recitation. This last example demonstrates that the
accents creating a given pulse need not be of the same type,
nor need they arise in the same voice.
Close observations, like these, of the interactions between
motives and pulse streams reveal a close correspondence between textural form and rhythmic form. The entire first stanza
of the poem is presented in this passage. It parses grammatically as a compound sentence. The syntax of the first half
is evocatively convoluted, presenting in the first line a direct
object with its own modifying clause, then the verb and noun
in the second line. The second half of the compound sentence
rectifies the syntax, presenting the noun in line 3 and verb
and object in line 4. Rhythmically the text and the seven-note
motive, together with accents in other voices, at first activate
two distinct half-note pulse streams, labeled "original" and
"shifted" on the example, with which they respectively synchronize. During the next lines, however, the orientation of
textual accents and the seven-note motive changes with respect to these persisting pulse steams. The changes in the
orientation, along with changes in the pulse streams themselves, have both expressive and articulative functions. For
instance, the original alignment of motives and pulse streams
reappears only as the next stanza is about to begin, thereby
articulating rhythmically the textual form. The following
chronological commentary, keyed to the numbers circled at
the bottom of Example 2, will clarify further how these pulse
streams are created, and reveal other interactions between
pulse streams, motives, and text that contribute to the rhythmic form of the excerpt.
(1) A sixteenth-note pulse is initiated by the regular attacks
of the piano. (It is not shown in the analysis, as it is evident
in the rhythmic skeleton.) The rest notated at the beginning
of the score, although it may influence the pianist's concep-

InteractingPulse Streams in Schoenberg's Atonal Polyphony 239

tion of the dynamic and articulativeshape of the seven-note
motive, has no accent, so it is not allocated to a pulse stream.
(2) A quiet but persistent pulse is initiated by regularly recurringF35s in the violin; this will be referred to as the "original quarter-note pulse." An eighth-note pulse (also not
shown) is initiated by the violin's attacks. The lack of attack
at the eighth sixteenth of the piece interrupts both the
sixteenth-note and eighth-note pulses, articulatinga musical
(3) The recurring contour accent of the seven-note piano
motive, combined with the recurring D#5 in the violin, activates a pulse referred to below as the "original half-note
pulse." The eighth-note duration of the violin pulse is thus
reinterpretedas the timespan between the attacksof the original quarter-note pulse and the attacks of the original halfnote pulse.
(4) In declaiming the first line of the poem, "Den Wein, den
man mit Augen trinkt," the recitation takes up the eighthnote pulse of the violin, and indeed strengthens it by providing a contour accent when the violin is silent. After the
next statement of the piano motive, the recitation provides
another contour accent (at the onset of the syllable "Au-"),
thereby initiating another half-note pulse that is syncopated
against the original one. This new pulse will be called the
"shifted half-note pulse;" it is consistent with the notated
downbeats, which were previously occupied by rests. The
contour accents in this phrase, both high and low, activate
anotherpulse alternatingwith the originalquarter-notepulse.
This will be called the "shifted quarter-notepulse." Thus the
recitation is rhythmicallydistinct in this texture, for its strongest accents synchronize with neither of the original pulse
(5) Heralding the beginning of the second line, "giel3tnachts
der Mond in Wogen nieder," is the same brief suppression

of eighth-note and sixteenth-note pulses that articulated the

first musical segment just after (2). However the suppression
is more remarkable here because the dynamic accent in the
flute had just reinforced the eighth-note pulse, and because
the shifted half-note pulse and the shifted quarter-notepulse,
which were only recently established, are also denied. The
expected repetition of the piano motive fails to materialize,
raising the possibility that the original half-note pulse, which
the motive activated, will be denied as well. However, the
flute (which earlier entered synchronouslywith the original
half-note pulse) mimics the duration and accent patterns of
the beginning of the seven-note motive, leading to a durational accent that does indeed reactivatethe originalhalf-note
pulse. The second attack of the recitation, on "nachts,"therefore falls on this accented timepoint. Next, a contourdurational canon of stepwise-descendingeighth notes develops between the recitation, piano, and violin, as suggested
by the diagonal lines on the example. Just as the second
attack of the recitation coincided with an accented attack in
the flute, the voices imitating the recitation are situated such
that their second attackscoincide with accented attacksin the
recitation. Also the top voice of the piano twice imitates the
sixteenth notes of the flute at intervalsof a quarternote. The
regularly spaced accents, reinforced by the parallelisms, revive the shifted quarter-note pulse that was initiated by the
recitation, but that had been briefly suppressed.
(6) The greatest durational(and by some measures, contour)
accent in the recitation reactivates not the shifted half-note
pulse, as earlier vocal accents did, but the original half-note
pulse; so the recitation is syncopated accentually against the
pulse it originally created. The same accent associates with
the last strong recitation accent (on "Au-") and the very first
accent of the piece to activate a slow, five-quarter-notepulse,
shown at the bottom of the pulse-stream analysis. There
is another compositional detail here which has no obvious


MusicTheory Spectrum

explanation in pitch-oriented approaches to this music. The

crescendo in the recitation, on "gieBt nachts der Mond in
Wo-," does not peak until the eighth after "Wo-," at timepoint (7).
(7) The dynamic accent produced here coincides with the
reappearanceof the original violin motive, which revives the
original quarter-notepulse. The concluding seven sixteenths
of the piano gesture mimic, first in contour then in pitch, the
seven-note motive of the beginning, so together the violin
D#5 and piano project an accent. However, this accent reactivates not the original half-note pulse, as earlier piano/
violin accents did, but the shifted pulse; so the motive, like
the recitation, is now syncopatedaccentuallyagainstthe pulse
it originally created.
(8) As happened at (5), the motive is withheld, and the flute
mimics its beginning. Given the events between timepoints
(5) and (8), this parallelism augurs another shift of accents
againstthe established pulses. In fact this shift occurs at timepoints (9) and (10), which introduce similarlythe next phrase
in the text.
(9) The trills, septuplet sixteenths, and triplet eighths have
a specifically rhythmic function-to interrupt and partially
dissipate the previously persistent sixteenth-note pulse. (Explaining them as an increase of textural density is not very
satisfactory, for any rapid rhythmic values would do the
same.) The dynamic accents are placed to revive the shifted
quarter-note pulse (5) instead of the original one.
(10) At the first accented attack (on "Spring-")of the next,
conjunctive text phrase, the recitation strongly reactivates
both the five-quarter-note pulse and the shifted half-note
pulse, thus returningfor the moment to the same orientation
it had with respect to the pulse streams duringits firstphrase.
Confirmingthis reorientation, its attacks subsequently reinforce the shifted quarter-note pulse until (15).

(11) Simultaneouslythe sixteenth-note pulse, the first to be

establishedand the most persistentup to the interruption(9),
is restored, also recalling the opening of the piece. Now,
however, it takes on greater weight, for two voices in the
piano state it canonically.With respect to the locally effective
slower pulses, this counterpointhas an asynchronousquality,
due partly to its textural allusion to the syncopatingcanon at
(5), but more concretely to the clever coordinationof contour
accents with the temporal interval of imitation. That is, the
high contour accents of the dux coincide with the low contour
accents of the comes to produce a local cross-pulse (shown
as dotted eighths in the analysis) that coincides only with the
otherwise neglected original half-note pulse.
(12) The tail of the canon combines with a sudden reappearanceof the originalviolin eighth-note figureto mimic the
opening motive. However this version reinforces the shifted
half-note pulse, not the original one as it did at first and as
might have been expected from the temporaryreorientation
of the recitation at (10). Concomitantly,
(13) the recitation strongly activates the original half-note
pulse, so that both motive and text are out of synchronization
with their original state. The trills and triplet eighths of (9)
also recur here, coinciding with the original half-note pulse,
rather than with the shifted one that they first activated.
Again they disruptthe eighth-note and sixteenth-note pulses.
(14) On the word "stillen," then, the relation of voices to
streams differs in most significantrespects from the relation
at points (1) to (4). The sixteenth-note pulse is thoroughly
dissipated. The last appearance of the seven-note motive,
and the accents of the recitation, emphasize half-note and
quarter-note pulse streams opposite to those they activated
at the beginning. (The affective quality of these shifts can
easily be experienced by beating the two half-note pulses- or
the two quarter-note pulses-with different hands while lis-

InteractingPulse Streams in Schoenberg's Atonal Polyphony 241

tening to the passage up to this point.) However, the largescale rhythmic momentum is maintained by the recitation's
accent at this timepoint, which reactivates the slow fivequarter-note pulse. Subsequently, as a transition, subtle accents in the recitation and piano reactivate the original
quarter-note pulse.
(15) The flute finally plays a complete version of the motive,
modified in pitch but not in contour. The sense of beginning
again, appropriateto the stanzaic division at this point in the
poem, is due not merely to the recapitulationof the motive,
but also to the restoration of the original sixteenth-note and
half-note pulses, which the motive activated at the beginning
of the first phrase, and to the realignmentof the motive with
the original half-note pulse.18
Example 3 summarizes these observations. It shows that
the accents in the recitation and in the seven-note motive
change their orientation with respect to the two half-note
pulse streams according to the syntactical form of the text,
as explained above. Along with these changes in orientation,
the activation and suppression of the eighth-note and
sixteenth-note pulse streamsdefine the most importantpoints
of musical articulationin the sentence. The rhythmicform of
the excerpt divides into four stages, correspondingto the four
lines of text. In the first stage, the motive and the recitation
help activate, and synchronize with, the original and shifted
half-note pulse streams, respectively. The two faster pulses

'8However, the situation is different from the beginning in one important

respect. Although the seven-note motive realigns with the original half-note
pulse, it is not aligned in m. 11 with the five-quarter-notepulse it initiated
in m. 1. Subsequently the music fails to realize the implication of recapitulation. Instead, the five-quarter-notepulse, which was the most consistent
source of continuity in mm. 1-11, is itself dissipated-the accent necessary
to maintain the pulse is omitted as the notated downbeat of m. 13, then
withdrawnby the ritardandoin mm. 14-15.

are also activated. A momentary suppression of the faster

streams articulates the beginning of the second line of text,
which is characterizedrhythmicallyby a reversal in the orientation of motive and recitation with respect to the slower
streams. A longer suppression of the fast streams signals
the beginning of line 3, the second half of the compound sentence in this stanza, which is characterized by yet another
orientation-still differentfrom the originalstate-of the motive and recitationwith respect to the half-note pulses. During
line 4, the faster pulses are further disrupted and motive and
recitation are again reoriented, resulting in a combination of
pulse streams and textural orientation to them that is most
different from the original state. Restoration of the original
orientation of the motive and pulse streams signals the end
of the stanza. Thus, with hardly any reference to specific
pitches, pulse-streamanalysiscan reveal much of the musical
The analysis also helps clarify the distinction between the
pulse-stream representation of this passage and its notated
meter. The latter constantly changes, and so obscures longterm regularities such as the two half-note pulses and the
five-quarter-notepulse.19Such regularities link phenomenal
accents that cannot be eradicated by the shadings of dynamics, tempo, and duration that performerstypically employ to
project the notated meter. The alternating half-note pulses
can of course be interpreted as a consistent duple metrical
grouping (contraryto the composer's notation). But by keeping them polyphonicallydistinct, the analysis shows the variable strengths of the streams, rather than treating one as
always stronger than the other, and relates them to specific
components of the musical texture.20
19Althoughthe five-quarter-notepulse is eventually evident notationally
in the repeated pairing of 3 and 2 measures, its first attack is notated to the
contrary in the middle of m. 1.
20Parncutt's"The Perception of Pulse" similarly regards pulses as possessing varying degrees of "salience."


MusicTheory Spectrum

Example 3. Rhythmicform in the first stanza of "Mondestrunken"

Line 1 (object)

Line 2 (verb+ noun)

Den Wein,den man mit Augen trinkt,

gief3t nachts der Mond

in Wogennieder,

Motive aligns with:

Recitation aligns with:




Shifted J-






P pulses


Original J stream





motive and recitation
with pulse streams

Although some of the rhythmic structures revealed by

pulse-streamanalysis resemble the interactions among strata
revealed by Yeston's theory, they are not hierarchical. In
Yeston's theory the composite attack rhythm of a given passage is designated as "foreground";this foreground is segmented, often metrically, by rhythms of events belonging to
the same pitch-structurallevel, which are accordingly considered to be "middleground"strata.21Pulse-streamanalysis
assumes no pitch-structuralhierarchy, so it does not distinguish the relative structuralimportance of pulses.
The next analysis treats the following number of Pierrot,
"Columbine,"which is presumablyrelated to "Mondestrunken," although its texture is more complex. This example will
help clarify how the analytical method describes musical
form, but it will also show how the method can be used to

21Yeston, 55-65.

Line 4 (verb+ object)

schwemmtden stillen Horizont.

(end of stanza)




Line 3 (noun)
und eine Springflutuber-


) and ,


pulses disrupted

(another canon)

Original o




Another reorientation
of recitation
with pulse streams

And another.
Motive, recitation, and
pulses most different
from their originalstate

Originalstate restored

compare different pieces as well.22The opening sentence of

"Columbine"parses grammaticallyas two metaphoricalnoun
phrases, followed by a verb phrase and a subjunctive ejaculation. Each of these syntacticalunits occupies a line in the
stanza. In the rhythmic skeleton of Example 4, the text is
displayed under the rhythmof the recitation. The rhythmsof
the violin and piano parts, which remain timbrally distinct
from each other and from the recitation, are also notated. As
in Example 2, some durationsin the skeleton are markedwith
symbols to indicate the kinds of accents that are projected at
their onsets.
Below this rhythmic transcriptionappears an analysis of
the rhythmsinto pulse streams, following the guidelines mentioned earlier. Before launching into a specific commentary
on the analysis, let us orient ourselves to some of its general
22This analysis subsumes some informal observations about this piece in
David Lewin, "Vocal Meter in Schoenberg's Atonal Music," In Theory Only
6, no. 4 (1982): 12-36.

InteractingPulse Streams in Schoenberg's Atonal Polyphony 243

features. It identifies two pairs of related pulses at the beginning: the dotted-half pulse in the violin (labeled A) that
is later slowed to a synchronized dotted-whole-note pulse
(labeled A'); and a half-note pulse (B) prominent in the
recitation that synchronizes with a whole-note pulse (B').
Midway through the analysis new half-note and dotted-halfnote pulse streams (labeled C, D, and E) are established that
are out of phase with the originals. The rhythmicform of the
excerpt arises from the interaction of these various pulse
streams with each other, and from the changes in how the
textural voices and rhythmic motives are oriented to them.

(4) A half-note later, another accent is produced, again by

both the violin and recitation. The beginning of the word
"Wunder"here marks an important change in the grouping
of the recitation and the violin. The accent suggests that the
violin is going to start aligning its accents with the half-note
pulse stream B of the recitation. However, at

(1) A dotted-half-note pulse (A) is established by the opening attack of the violin, the recitation's attack on the word
"bleiche," accented by duration and contour, and the piano's
{D4,G#t4}. This dyad takes accent partly because it ends
a brief gesture and because no piano event follows it for a
relatively long duration, as if it were durationally accented.
Also, since the piano is imitatingthe rhythmof the recitation,
as suggested by the dashed-line boxes on the analysis, this
dyad is placed within the piano's rhythm analogously to the
accented attack of "bleiche." Quarter-note and eighth-note
pulses (not shown) are also quickly established.

(6) the recitation withholds an accent entirely. The piano

alone supports the half-note pulse at this timepoint. From
here to the end of the phrase the piano's texture, which
started out homophonically, is elaborated into polyphony.
This textural enrichment will prove to have a rhythmic
function-the new voices compensate for the recitation's
abandonment of the half-note pulse B.

(2) The attacks of the longer syllables in the recitation, which

group a repeated dotted-quarter-plus-eighth-notemotive,
however, activate a half-note pulse, B.
(3) By the repeated patterns of accent and duration in the
recitation and piano (solid-line boxes), it becomes apparent
that the half-note pulse B subdivides a slower whole-note
pulse, B'. At this timepoint the violin also reasserts the
dotted-half pulse A with the attack of a relatively long pitch.
The coincidence of the whole-note and dotted-half-notepulse
streamshere marksthe beginning of the second noun phrase,
and associates the word "weiBfen"with the word "bleiche"
that appears at the previous point of coincidence (1).

(5) exactly the opposite proves to be the case-the violin

produces an accent that is stronger than the one it just stated
at (4). This accent keeps the violin aligned with the dottedhalf pulse A; and just where one would expect the recitation
to reactivate the half-note pulse B with another accent,

(7) That abandonment is doubly manifest here as the recitation produces a strong durational and contour accent a
dotted-half after its previous accent, and as its rhythm, indicated by the diagonal lines, imitates the dotted-halfgrouped rhythm of the violin. The durationalpattern setting
"Wunderrosen"establishes a new dotted-half pulse that is
out of phase with the original one. It is notated and labeled
C near the bottom of the analysis. A dotted-half later, however, at
(8) the recitation does not continue this new dotted-half
pulse. This omission articulatesthe syntacticalboundary between noun and verb phrases. In the piano, however, agogic
and dynamic accents do reactivate the pulse. Next, there is
some ambiguityin the orientation of the texturalvoices to the
pulse streams, for another half-note pulse stream, shown and
labeled D on the very bottom line of the analysis, is activated



0 .=



-> -- - ---










-- --- - -------- r----





| ^

, _


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-----------------.q-L]^3'- 1-----:







-----1 -


-. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .



xr1"- o


- ->C



.. . .



O ,--......














- -----------4

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i- -











--- ....

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S2r)I x7







by accents presented by each voice in turn-violin, recitation,

piano, then violin again at the next timepoint.
(9) The violin accent here is also coincident with the original
dotted-half pulse (A)-so again a coincidence of attacks in
different pulse streams marks the beginning of a text phrase.
However, since there was no accent a dotted-half before (9),
the violin must be heard activating a slower, dotted-wholenote pulse, A', which is shown to begin at (5). Pulse A' will
be graduallyreinforced during the remainderof the passage.
(10) The "Wunderrosen"pulse C is reactivated by the piano
and the recitation. Although the piano took over this pulse
at (8), its accent here is relatively weak. A more noticeable
durationalaccent in the recitation has an importantprospective function-it initiates a twofold statement of the dottedquarter-plus-eighth-notemotive, which recalls the opening
recitationrhythm. This rhythmsounds different from the way
it did at the beginning, however, because its accents align with
a half-note pulse D that is syncopated against the original
half-note pulse B.
(11) The Hauptstimmein the piano continues imitating the
dotted-half-grouped motive that the violin initiated at (3).
But now the durational accent of the motive falls not a half
or a dotted half after the previousone, but a whole note -that
is, exactly at the point where it can reactivate the original
whole-note pulse B'. Unlike the beginningof the piece, then,
the piano and recitation here are accentually out of phase.
(12) The violin reactivates the dotted-whole pulse A' with
durational and dynamic accents. As at (8), the coincidence
of pulses A' and D marks a syntacticalboundary, the end of
the verb phrase. But, also as at (8), the recitation unexpectedly withholds an accent. This omission augurs a period of
irregularityfor the singer, and, together with the interruption
of the eighth-note pulse just after (12), it articulatesthe syntactical boundary between the two sentences in the stanza.

(13) The piano's durational accent stalwartly maintains the

original whole-note pulse B', which has been constant until
now. However, during the next phrase, this pulse will be totally submerged. A whole-note later, for instance, no accent
is provided in any voice. Instead, at
(14) the piano and recitation produce an accent that may be
heard to continue a new whole-note pulse D' that includes
the syncopated half-note pulse D. Only an eighth-note later, at
(15) the piano and violin both give an unexpected accent. This
moment of accentual uncertainty seems appropriate to the
recitation's subjunctive tense.
(16) The expected rearticulationof the dotted-whole pulse A'
is withheld in its characteristictextural voice, the violin. Instead the pulse is continued by the contour-accented attack
of a high D6 in the piano, which associateswith the same pitch
at (12). The recitation's rhythm from (14) to this point has
been recalling the motive (dotted-quarter-plus-eighth)that it
stated at (1), but here it does not repeat the motive immediately, nor provide another accent, to activate a half-note
pulse. Rather, at
(17) the recitation accents a timepoint a dotted-halfafter its
last accent, activating a new dotted-half pulse, E, beginning
at (13), that replaces the whole-note pulse B'. Ironicallythis
dotted-halfpulse is activated by the repetition of the dottedquarter-plus-eighthmotive that previously activated the halfnote pulses B and D.
(18) The piano reactivates the new whole-note pulse D'. A
rhythm started at (14) by the violin, which recalls the initial
piano rhythm, is aligned with D' exactly the way that the
opening piano rhythm was aligned with the original wholenote pulse B'. This congruence brings the disorientation of
the recitation, mentioned at (17), into strong relief. Just as

InteractingPulse Streams in Schoenberg's Atonal Polyphony 247

the piano imitated the recitation at (1), as indicated by the

dotted boxes, so the violin imitates the recitation here, as
indicated by similar graphics. The imitation is so exact that
the surprisingsilence in the recitation at (16) is repeated by
the violin just before (19), as indicated by the diagonal line.
This silence is only the second disruption of the eighth-note
pulse in this piece, and it prefiguresa longer silence a dottedquarter later.
(19) As the texture thins cadentially, a durational accent appears in the recitation, then a contour accent in the piano.
The latter weakly continues the new dotted-half pulse E,
while the former activates a half-plus-eighthpulse, labeled F
on the top line of the analysis. The function of this new pulse
suddenly becomes evident at
(20) where the half-plus-eighthpulse F, the new whole-note
pulse D', and the dotted-whole-note pulse A' all coincide.
The violin recapitulatesits rhythmof m. 1, startingwith a D6
that continues the dotted-whole pulse, and reviving the original dotted-half pulse A.23
(21) The lower voice of the piano recapitulatesthe recitation's
rhythmof m. 1; the durationalaccent produced here activates
the new dotted-half pulse E, but also revives the original
whole-note pulse B' that pulse E supplanted.The upper voice
of the piano also recalls the original piano rhythm of m. 1,
as indicated by the bracket. Thus all the original rhythms of
the piece are present, and two are exactly aligned with the
originally active pulse streams. But the piano reprise of two
23ArthurWeisberg and Jan DeGaetani's recording (Nonesuch H-71251)
takes an untextualritardandojust before (20). In light of the present analysis
such a delay could be criticized as weakening the effect of the coincidence
of the three pulse streams. In general, however, tempo changes can interact
positively with pulse-stream processes. In Op. 21 No. 3, for instance, a ritardando stretches the durations between points in one pulse stream just
enough to make it coincide with another slower pulse.

original voices excludes the already disoriented recitation,

and the singer falls silent.
As in the "Mondestrunken"excerpt, the interaction of
pulse streamsis essential to the rhythmicform of this passage.
During the first noun phrase the half and dotted-half pulses
are established. They are subsumed into whole and dottedwhole pulse streams during the second noun phrase, and the
pulse stream interaction is enriched by a complex imitation
among all three textural voices that seems to activate first
a half, then a dotted-half, then a whole-note pulse. By the
verb phrase, this imitative activity has settled into a violin/
recitation presentation of a half-note pulse that is concurrent
with, but out of phase with the original whole-note pulse,
which the piano faithfully maintains. During the last phrase
of text, this original whole-note pulse is supplantedby a new
dotted-half pulse, while the original dotted-whole pulse is
maintained. Finally, the original rhythms and pulse streams
are restored, and realigned, to signal the beginning of a new
Just as a consistent five-quarter-note pulse undergirded
the irregular interactions of faster-paced pulse streams in
"Mondestrunken,"so a regularfour-bar(dotted-breve) pulse
provides continuity in "Columbine."The slow pulse, labeled
G on the analysis, is activated by the onset of streams A at
the beginning of the piece, D and A' at (5), D' at (12), and
the restoration of A at (20). It is reinforced by the other
changes in pulse-stream activity. In the first four bars pulses
A and B become active; in m. 5, new pulses D, C, and A'
are initiated; and four bars later pulses D' and E begin. Perhaps this large-scale regularity G is intended as an ironic
parody of the four-barphrase structureof a waltz, which the
texture and rhythmicmotives dysfunctionallymimic; musical
parody is a governing principle of the Pierrot cycle.
A further comparison of "Mondestrunken"and "Columbine" based on this pulse-streamanalysis permits a summary


Music Theory Spectrum

Example 5. Schoenberg, Op. 19 No. 1, mm. 1-4: rythmic form




1. .





|I B -L!







J.:---W -- W
II------I -,




I j.






Contour accents, high and low

Dynamic accent

of Schoenberg's rhythmic style. These works begin similarly,

by using accents in different polyphonic voices both to create
and to synchronize with two or more pulses, although "Columbine" presents a more complex ensemble than does
"Mondestrunken." Each point at which pulse streams coincide articulates a syntactial division in the text, or highlights

<y "Agogic" accent

an important word.24 In both pieces, the alignment of rhythmic patterns with the pulse streams is significant. Both pieces
241n"Der Dandy," Op. 21 No. 3, a whole-note pulse and a five-eighth-note
pulse that are not synchronizedat the startof the piece coincide at the attack
of the first noun, "Lichtstrahl."

InteractingPulse Streams in Schoenberg's Atonal Polyphony 249

establish a certain relation of motives to pulses. Canon is used
in both pieces to dislodge rhythmic motives from their original alignment with the pulse streams, and to activate new
pulse streams by motivic repetition. And the transitions between the large musical sections setting complete stanzas typically involve the dissipation of conflicting or syncopated
pulses, followed by the reorientation of voices and motives
with their original pulse streams.
The interactions of pulse streams identified in this essay
are observable in other works by the same composer. (Interested readers may wish to try the method on the beginning
of the next Pierrotnumber, "Der Dandy.") Example 5 shows,
in a format similar to that of Examples 2 and 4, how a pulsestream analysis could contribute to an understandingof the
rhythms of the piano piece cited at the outset of this article.
The method is not well suited to demonstrate meter, because
it does not identify regular accentual grouping in the composite rhythm. But it does identify regularityin several concurrent pulse streams: a half-note stream at (1), an eighthnote stream at (2), and, beginning at (3), a stream featuring
the dotted-half note as its characteristic duration. These
streams give rhythmicdirection and structureto the first five
measures. Just after the dynamically and durationally accented melody note at (4), which marks off the characteristic
duration of the dotted-half stream, an obfuscatory series of
accents enters the syncopationwith the previouslyestablished
eighth-note stream, activating a new quarter-note pulse.
However, the coincidence of the half-note and dotted-halfnote streams at (5), just before the high melody resumes,
lends that timepoint a quality of restoring the original pulse.
Imitation of durational motives among the voices, repre-

sented in the diagram by diagonal lines, suggests other new

pulses. Then at (6), just where one would expect the dottedhalf pulse to be reactivated, there is silence, inducing a largescale formal articulation.
Apart from any explicative advantagesthis type of analysis
may offer for particularcompositions, it offers a context in
which some importantand occasionally neglected musical dimensions can be accommodated and reconciled. Example 2
showed that certain otherwise inscrutable details of contour
and dynamics have rhythmic import. Pitch variations in the
motive kept the contour invariantin order to produce accents
at the same locations; the durational separation of canonic
voices was coordinated with the contour of the voices to ensure and maximize regular accents; and a crescendo peak
following an attack reactivated an established pulse. More
controversially,perhaps, the analysisexplains the function of
trills and tempo changes in this context as a way of canceling
established pulse streams, and it values the tonally imprecise
Sprechstimmemore positively as an effective means of projecting contour accents.
This essay presentsa rhythmicanalyticaltheoryfor Schoenberg's
music.It representspolyphonyas concurrent"pulse
streams"createdby regularlyrecurringaccents,andshowshowthe
relationsof synchrony
texturalvoicescreatemusicalform.The theoryis used to analyze
fromPierrotlunaire.Theanalyses correlate pulse-stream processes to the syntax of the songs'
texts, and reveal similaritiesof rhythmicdesign in these pieces. They
also accommodatethe contributionsof some often neglected musical
dimensions, such as contour and dynamics, to form.