Table of Contents
Section 6: Bibliography
Motive, Phrase and Period
1. The study of form often begins on the smallest scale and progresses toward the larger scales of form. We will follow this convention here.
2. The motive is a small unit of music that can be identified as a recognizable musical object. Think of the opening of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, shown below. The first four notes form a motive that recurs throughout the entire composition.
3. A motive usually serves as a building block for a composition, and appears many times, often in a developed form.
4. A motive may be melodic, rhythmic, harmonic, or any combination of these elements. In the Beethoven example, the rhythmic element of the motive is used throughout the four movements, while the melodic aspect is not.
5. The Phrase is a melodic musical statement that usually can be recognized apart from the prevailing musical texture. It is often compared to a phrase in language; it may not be a whole sentence, but it is a single thought.
6. A phrase usually ends with a cadence. This sets it apart from the following musical texture and assists the listener to determine its duration.
7. The melodic period consists of two phrases that relate to one another. The first phrase is usually identified as the antecedent phrase and the second as the consequent phrase. Because these terms describe the function of each phrase, they are useful, although not all theorists use them. Some theorists refer to the two phrases as question and answer phrases, and the melodic period as a sentence. Be aware of the usage; but most important, be aware of the function.
8. The melodic period usually functions as a harmonic entity. This means that the two phrases relate to each other as two parts of a whole, the whole being defined as a harmonic progression away from tonic and back to tonic. Therefore, the antecedent usually leads away from tonic and ends with a cadence to a chord other than tonic, usually the dominant (or relative major if in a minor key). The consequent phrase usually leads back to tonic and ends with an authentic cadence (see the chapter on cadence).
9. Remember when dealing with the melodic period that function takes precedence over terminology. If you have doubt about identifying a set of melodic phrases as a period, suggest that it has some elements of a period, but differs from a textbook definition of a period.
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