Assignment Outline. Write an analytical paper of 1,000-1,400 words about the Nocturne.
In addition to your prose you will include a synoptic formal diagram, which should
identify occurrences of thematic material, keys, and phrase structure. You will also
create and include at least two analytical music examples or figures of some sort (about
which more below). These figures may be embedded in the paper at an appropriate
location or they may be appended to it and referred to by number.
Procedure. You may submit the papers electronically or in hard copy. If you create your graphics digitally, feel free to attach them to the same email; if you make hard copies, you can hand them to me or put them in my mailbox.
Organization, etc. Your paper may either make a single, well-argued claim about the
Nocturne, which you will support by using technical evidence from the piece’s different
musical parameters (e.g., phrase structure, form, harmony, melody, etc.) or it may make several different claims about each of these parameters individually. Either way, you will do this primarily by selecting technical aspects of the composition to analyze in detail and show how these aspects relate to the piece as a whole.
If you choose to make a single claim about the piece, e.g., “this piece is about [x],” or
“embodies [x, y, and z] expressive states,” or “moves from a state of [x] to a state of [y],”
or “is an effective work of music because of the composer’s innovative use of [x],” or “is
confusing because [y],” then be sure to state that interpretive claim early on. If you
choose to present a series of claims about the music’s different parameters (e.g., “the
Nocturne’s harmony is …”), then this information should be conveyed cogently,
probably in the first sentence of the paragraph that will deal with the issue at hand.
*NB: A measure-by-measure recitation of technical details is not an effective way of
organizing a music theory paper; better to proceed from discussion of large-scale aspects to the selected smaller-scale details you plan to analyze—from argument to evidence.
Examples and Figures. Your paper must include one diagram of the overall form of the
piece which includes key areas, thematic materials, and cadences, and also identifies any other points of formal or harmonic interest that are salient to your argument. It also must include two analytical musical examples which may consist of either (a) a few measures of the score of the piece itself, annotated with any analytical symbols you want to use (phrase “arcs”, Roman numerals, figured bass, re-barring, anything you think is pertinent); or (b) other notated musical analysis, such as harmonic or rhythmic/metric reduction (to clarify voice leading or meter), re-composition (one hopes for purposes of the same), etc.
Below you’ll find some strategies for developing an argument and some salient
aspects of my hearing of the piece, just in case.
Some strategies for developing an argument.
First, do a complete harmonic and formal analysis of the piece. You need not resolve ambiguities at this stage: simply taking note of them is a good start. Then you will be in a position to ask yourself questions like the following, helping you to develop an interpretive claim.
What general mood is established by the piece’s various sections?
How do these moods relate to each other—can a middle section be seen as a “response”
(either positive or negative) to an earlier section, or as an “escape” from an earlier
section, and so on?
Do the individual sections seem to have goals or trajectories of any kind? Are those
goals achieved or not?
At any point does some clearly expected event (harmonic, formal, etc.) fail to appear?
What appears in its place? Does the expected event occur later, or is it permanently
Are any events in the piece surprising?
When music is repeated, what relationship does it bear to its earlier appearance? Even if
the music itself is unchanged, should we interpret it differently in light of what other
music we have heard in the mean time?
Some (!) salient material, to help if you’re in doubt:
How is the opening of this piece unlike a sonata? Think about pianistic figuration,
tempo, dynamics, etc.
The first phrase contains a pedal. How does this connect to tradition? Does it muddy the
harmonies? Does the pedal occur where you would think it would metrically?
Does the first phrase modulate? Where, how, and to where? Is this modulation
“accepted” by the following music?
Where does the second statement of the first phrase material (mm. 7, 8…) end?
What is the chord in measure 13, beats 3 and 4? Does it look like anything we’ve seen
this semester (several ways of attacking this)? Is it related to anything that has happened
before in the Nocturne? Anything that happens after? Is the restatement of this thematic
material at m. 17 clearer? Different? Are there any other statements of the type of chord
featured in m. 13? Where?)
How is the repeat of the A material at m. 19 different from its first presentation in terms
of harmonic rhythm? In terms of texture?In terms of harmony?
Does the A-section cadence? Where? If not, why?
What key is tonicized in mm. 45 to about 48? Does that connect to an earlier tonicization
of that key? What, ultimately, happens to it—how is it left, where does it lead, etc.?
What is the quality of the dominant chord in m. 51? (In my reading Bb and Db are part
of a double neighbor figure.)
What is the status of Ab as a tonality (mm. 49-52 and possibly further)? How does this
treatment of that key area connect to most other formal traditions (sonata, etc.)? How
does Chopin play with our expectations regarding how it should behave?
Make a harmonic reduction of mm. 52-65. Interpret.
What is going on harmonically between mm. 65 and 83? How does Chopin move from
Db major to C major?
The final calando passage is characterized by a series of suspensions. Show a reduction