TCS > Volume 2, Number 1


Firm Footing in the Heavens and Faltering Steps on Earth: Harmonic Language and Structure as Word-Painting in
Johannes Brahms's Gesang der Parzen (pdf)

  by Gregory W. Brown


Johannes Brahms's Gesang der Parzen [Song of the Fates], op. 89, utilizes harmonic structure and language to express textual ideas at both middleground and background levels. Consideration of the more localized, middleground harmonic features includes discussions of the following: non-functional, parsimonious voice-leading, which is explored using concepts from neo-Riemannian analysis; rhythmic displacement in relation to traditional harmonic relationships; and harmonic reinterpretation as an expression of the text. These localized features are bolstered by deeper structural features which work to undermine the stability of the piece as a whole. Though the piece can be understood as a rondo, a closer examination reveals subtleties of the harmonic structure working against the expected harmonic relationships that generally accompany rondo forms. To that end, a quasi-Schenkerian analysis illustrates that the underlying tonal framework is in fact an unstable augmented triad.