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MENC: The National Association for Music Education

Motivic Development Is How a Piece Moves

Author(s): Edward Levy
Source: Music Educators Journal, Vol. 56, No. 2 (Oct., 1969), pp. 30-34
Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. on behalf of MENC: The National Association for
Music Education
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3392583
Accessed: 27-12-2017 16:14 UTC

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Is How
a Piece Moves
by Edward Levy

the "linked thirds" and their char-

N A large part of the aim of intro- tour defined by a succession of
ductory or general music courses is
acteristic upbeat-to-downbeat mo- pitches causing a succession of
to help students achieve greater
tion is easily recognized as the characteristic intervals (referred to
understanding of musical forms and (Example 2). And the two here as the "pitch contour"); and
procedures and deeper insight simultaneous
into melodic lines that the shape created by a succession
the ways musical elements are occur
or- in measures nineteen through of note durations (referred to here
ganized. Concentrating on twenty-two
such are clearly identified as
as the "rhythmic shape"). Motivic
forms, procedures, and methods of
variations of this motivic opening development consists in varying
organization improves their line
per-(Example 3). either or both of these traits in any
ception of music, and hopefully in-
The proper appreciation of ex-
number of ways-subtle or obvious,
creases their esteem for and sensi- tended musical works is largelycomplex
a or simple-with the only
tivity to music. Most courses in consequence of the acute and ac- requirement being that the motive
music "appreciation" and most texts curate perception of motivic devel-
remain recognizable throughout
for such courses spend some time opment. In simpler pieces, where (to sufficiently perceptive auditors).
defining and discussing the smallest motives are used at all, there is little Analyzing for motives, therefore,
unit of form in music, the motive, motivic development. But a longer is not merely searching for certain
and its role in organizing and con- work, like the movement of a sym- melodic identities; it is discovering
structing a total musical work. The phony, cannot unfold by simple the process of melodic growth. In
motive is the basic musical shape. repetition of its basic musical ideas.
the Mozart and Brahms works cited
It is the smallest combination of Rather, in order to generate sub- above, techniques of variation that
notes, usually successive, thatstance that determines the length, today seem relatively simple and
functions as a characteristic unit inthe work must develop ideas. And straightforward are used to achieve
the generation of melodic activity,just as harmonic motions are the this growth. In Example 1, the
harmonic activity, rhythmic activ-expansion, definition, and expres- rhythmic shape remains fixed, the
ity, or any combination of these, insion of the key of a tonal piece, pitch succession is always in steps
any given work. motivic development is the expan- and half-steps, and the first two
The motives in certain well- sion, fulfillment, and expression notes
of of the motive, the shorter
known works remain rather easily a work's core melodic aspects. Mo-ones, are always less accented
identifiable throughout. In the tives exist in order to vary; they
metrically than the third and longer
first movement of Mozart's Sym- must be recognizable but not con-note. In Example 3, the violins in-
phony in G Minor, K. 550, for ex- tinually identical; their viability
crease the rhythmic activity by
ample, the three-note figure, with depends on and results from theirduplicating in an adjoining octave
its characteristic rhythm, metric ability to retain some essential the notes of the motive, thereby
placement, and scalewise motion, aspect of themselves while at thechanging neither the essential pitch
generates almost the entire melodic same time exploring the possibili-
contour, basic rhythmic shape, nor
line of the first two phrases and ties for their own growth. A mo- characteristic upbeat-to-downbeat
then becomes the featured genera- tive's capacity for growth makes metric
it placement. The instruments
tor of all the melodic activity in the
usable and meaningful to the com-that play the flowing eighth-note
development section (Example poser;
1). and the awareness of this
line simply fill in the space be-
Similarly, in the first movementgrowth
of makes the work coherent tween the notes of the motive
Brahms' Fourth Symphony, Op. and 98, evocative for the auditors. with passing tones and neighbor
The author is Assistant Professor of
Fundamentally, only two aspects notes (Example 4). The subtle fea-
of motives can be varied: the con-
Music, Yeshiva College, New York City. ture of this latter variant is that the


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8ve transfer 8ve transfer


2nd violins Ist violins 2nvi~ins Ist violins

violas oboe

(19) clar ne21) c

(and bassoon a --
8and net -)
8ve lower) 8ve higher)


violas clarinet oboe clarinet

EXAMPLE 5. ---


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interval of a third, before this oc-
curring between separate state-
ments of the motive (see the brack-
ets in Example 2), is now attached
to each respective preceding state-
ment of the motive so that the state-
ments continuously overlap and
A rr create unending motion, thus realiz-
AV - L-I - - -- c
ing the implied linked thirds con-
struction of the opening thematic
statement. Clearly, then, the entire
line here is the most economical
and fullest expression of the base
In these examples, then, the mo-
tives and the variations they un-
dergo are more or less readily
EXAMPLE 7. apparent. But a typical problem
arises in another part of the Mozart
work. The source of the shape that
is used as an extension and varia-
(1) major 3rd (3) minor 3rd (7) minor 2nd tion of the "first theme" (see meas-
ures 30-33), and that later (meas-
ures 193-216) becomes the subject
of a large fugal development, is not
readily perceivable. This new
shape, however, is clearly derived
from the opening statement (Ex-
(25) augmented 4ths
ample 5). Although it is a more
EXAMPLE 7A. subtle and consequently less ap-
parent variation, it is no less mean-
ingful than the kind cited above.
Instruction about motives is in-
(59) sufficient, therefore, without illus-
perfect 5th perfect 5th trations of what Arnold Schoenberg
called "developing variation.'" An
understanding of this technique
allows one to perceive the subtle
but cogent melodic relationships
that make for an integrated, con-
tinuously growing work. Schoen-
berg describes developing variation
(63)L L as the development of new melodic
material from a variant form of
EXAMPLE 8. minor 2nd previous material, and uses the first
perfect 5th perfect 4th ,downward movement of Beethoven's Fifth
Symphony as his example. Schoen-
berg's explanation of this technique
may not be completely convincing,
(3) major 2nd because he substitutes, without
(2) upward
obvious justification, one note of
a chord for another. Such sub-
EXAMPLE 9. stitution seems to present the me-
lodic line as merely the surface
layer of a given chord progression,
without any recognition of this
line's own definition, unique con-
struction, or influence on the har-
monic direction. With a more un-

usual chord progression such sub-
stitutions might be convincing; but
the chord sequence in the Bee-
thoven work (Example 6)-I-V7,
1Arnold Schoenberg, Style and Idea.
Dika Newlin, trans. (New York: Philo-
sophical Library, 1950), p. 200.


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V7-I, with Eb as the temporary When we teach developingthe technique of developing varia-
tonic-is so common that note ex- tion.
variation, we are de-
changes coupled with a rhythmic The newly arrived-at variant is
change, which is the way Schoen- scribing music as what it now used sequentially as the motive
berg derives the new theme (Ex- is - the organization of throughout the rest of the intro-
ample 6a), could result in the free sounds moving in time. duction. As shown by the analytical
and virtually unlimited substitution reduction (Example 9), this se-
of millions of other tunes for the quence has a direction; its goal is
one Beethoven actually used. mately concluded that the "intro-the note A, the dominant. This note
Although Schoenberg's explana- duction . . . [is] thematically unre-is the terminus, in measure 14, of
tion offers little insight into lated to the rest of the movement.'" the upper line, the one descending
Beethoven's choice of thematic The melodic material of the entire from the D of the first violins in
work, not only of the first move- measure 3, and also the conclusion,
material, his example does assist
ment, is derived from the same in measure 11, of the lower line, the
understanding' if explained dif-
source: the motive that begins the one ascending from the low D of
ferently. This other explanation
would focus on the motive's char- introduction to the first movement. the second violins in measure 3. The
acteristic mode of developing. The The first measure consists of a introduction, therefore, is formally
rhythmic impulse and metric place-statement by the whole orchestra of equivalent to, because it is an ex-
ment of the motive in Example 6an easily remembered figure. (Afterpansion of, the opening two mea-
remain fixed, but its intervallic this figure is repeated in the secondsures. The total pitch contour of the
makeup is constantly changing (Ex- measure, it can be identified as aintroduction equals the original mo-
ample 7). This motive is recog- motive.) The last note of the re- tivic intervals and realizes its
nizable because of its constant peated motive is an octave lower harmonic implications. The upper
rhythmic shape, even thoughthan its in the first statement, so that line fills in the descending fourth
pitch contour is in a statethe offifth becomes inverted to a from D to A, and the lower line
perpetual variation. The asso- fourth (Example 8). In the third fills in the ascending fifth from D to
ciation of the intervals Bb-Eb and measure, the second violins, sup- A. This space-filling is accomplished
F-Bb with this rhythmic-metricported by the lower strings, vary through having the motivic variant
motive (Example 7) cannot ap- this motive. They repeat its rhyth- articulate, in sequence, the notes
pear inconsistent, since all the other mic shape but state the first pitch between the terminal
smaller intervals have been asso- twice instead of three times and pitches (Example 9a). Note also
ciated with it previously. Because move to the next pitch scalewise that the original motivic shape and
of the perfect fifths they define, instead of by a skip of a fourth or dynamic level appears three times,
these pitches are a logical culmina- fifth. In that same measure, the emphasizing D, F, and A, thus de-
tion of Beethoven's intervallic de- fining the tonic triad of this intro-
first violins play a figure dissimilar
velopment of this motive. And the both rhythmically and intervallic- duction.
fact that the new thematic material ally to the original statement, but The theme of the Allegro is a
(Example 7b) uses exactly the clearly related to the new variant, further example of developing vari-
same pitches in exactly the same for it moves scalewise, this time ation, for it is built of a succession
order with exactly the same focal downward, so that it is a contourof filled-in descending perfect
interval (the perfect fifth and its inversion of the second violin fig- fourths or the inversionally related
inversion, the perfect fourth) draws ure. Therefore, the first two state- ascending perfect fifths (Example
together this new material and the ments of the motive (measures 10). 1 This theme thus clearly derives
immediately preceding horn state- and 2) are inversionally related, as from the opening motive, where
ment in measures 59-62. The horn are the second two variants of this these intervals were originally
statement, therefore, is a definitemotive (measure 3). Also, the rela- stated. Further, this succession of
link between the opening themetion of repeated to nonrepeated motivic variants defines as struc-
and the new material and is, as notes is progressively changing, turally important (Example O10a)
Schoenberg so acutely perceived, from three plus one to two plus the tonic triad (in the major
an example of "developing varia- two to one plus three. The motive, mode), just as the introduction did.
tion," the continuous creation of then, is progressively developing Further, the variant that comes im-
new but closely related shapes from variants, not of the original motivic mediately after the theme (Exam-
variants of the original motivic shape, but of its variants. This is ple 11) is another form of the orig-
shape. 2Martin Bernstein and Martin Picker, inal motive, stressing D and A and
Or consider the first movement of An Introduction to Music (Englewood
Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., incorporating the upper-neighbor
Haydn's Symphony No. 104 (the Third Edition, 1966), p. 75. embellishment of the A occurring in
"London"). At first, the opening the third and fourth measures of
motivic statement does not seem to the theme. And the segment that
The proper appreciation
relate in any obvious way to the follows (Example 1la) expands
rest of the introduction, and neither of extended musical and embellishes this new shape,
the opening statement nor the in- works is largely a con- utilizing developing variation once
troduction as a whole seems to re- again.
late to the rest of the movement.
sequence of the acute and
Throughout this entire process,
But just because the relationshipsaccurate perception the motive remains recognizable to
are not obvious, it cannot be legiti-of motivic development. the perceptive listener. If he under-


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(17) (20) (24)

upper passing upper passing passing upper

neighbor tones neighbor tones tones neiqhbor

(30) (32)


(17) (18) (19) (21) (22) (23) (24) (24) (32)


(32) (36)



An As_. .

stands the concept of developingment can be observed, and the role such labelling is what is important
variation, he can sense the of thecoher-
motive as a generating forcein experiencing music. When we
ence of the movement, can whatever
be explained. teach developing variation, how-
variations, extensions, andBut embel-
the implications of teachingever, we are describing music as a
lishments may be used to develop
developing variation may be even process of growth; we are describ-
the basic motive. Without this
more con-
important than the concept ing music as what it is-the or-
cept, the organic wholeness itself. of
If we teach "motive" as if it
the ganization of sounds moving in
movement can be attributed were a stable
only unit, we are most time. This is the conception music
to its harmonic scheme; likely withimparting
this a static conception educators should stress-that music
concept, the correlation between
of music, a conception that allows moves, that this motion makes
harmonic motion and melodic us to divide it into stationary music evocative, that this dynamic
events can be comprehended, the and easily labelled compartments. process gives music its form and,
Worse, we may be implying that therefore, its meaning. A1
developmental growth of the move-


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