[Smt-talk] Final Plagal Cadence and a Summary of Wondeful Features in the Schumann Song

William Caplin caplin at music.mcgill.ca
Mon Dec 16 07:37:53 PST 2013

Dear Colleagues,

Dimitar has drawn our attention to a wonderful, haunting song, worthy of sustained analytical comment.  I will only address some of the points that he raises in his post.

> The most important feature of Schumann's Der Einsiedler (No. 3 of Drei Gesänge, Op. 83) is its final plagal cadence - not a post-cadential "Amen" but a true plagal cadence marking the end of the genuine double period, whose first 15-measure period ends with a PAC. Notice that the final cadence of the piece (IPC) is not necessarily more conclusive than the interior but is conclusive enough to finish the musical idea in a convincing manner. 

Yes, the final harmonic progression is IV–I in F major.  But is this really a cadential moment?  This progression "ends" the third sounding of the strophe, whose previous two iterations ended with perfect authentic cadences in F (m. 15).   So by the third strophe, the listener knows how it is supposed to end.  And it could well be argued that the strophe doesn't actually bring full harmonic closure, in that the final progression IV-I is a rhythmic augmentation of the progression of m. 14 (moreover, the inner voice motion of the final bar, D-E-F, recalls the earlier m. 13/28).  In other words, Schumann doesn't give us the "final" bar of the strophe.  In order to convince us that m. 30 is the putative "end," he adds the tremolo bass and fermatas, all signals of ending, even though syntactically, the strophe is actually left incomplete.  From this perspective, the idea of a "plagal cadence" is thrown into doubt (yet again!).

> 1. A true neighboring 6/4 in m. 4 and m. 19.
> 2. Aeolian mode between mm. 1-5 and mm 16-19 (considering both melodic contour and harmony).

I initially hear this sonority as a cadential six-four in A minor, where the music seems to be heading, but gets deflected when the expected melodic G# remains G natural.  This is the second time that an expected "sharp" fails to appear: in the previous bar 3, we could well expect the melodic C of m. 3 to be C#, not C natural.  Simply "explaining" these bars as residing in D aeolian fails to acknowledge the strong implications for tonal motions that Schumann sets up, but denies.       

> 5. The Form is a genuine double period - not just a four-phrase period but two real periods which complement each other, but neither make up a binary form (because the material is the same) nor a repeated period (because the final cadences are different).

I have no idea what theoretical model of double period is being invoked here.  The text has six lines:  Schumann groups lines 1-2, 3-4, and 5-6 into three four-bar phrases.  Complicating this, of course, is that when the vocal part "ends," the harmonic process is not yet finished; it thus requires the piano part of mm. 14–15 (or, in the third strophe, just m. 14) to create harmonic and formal closure (or lack of closure in the third strophe).  How any of this fits into any traditional "double-period" model remains unclear to me.       


William E. Caplin
James McGill Professor of Music Theory
Killam Research Fellow 2011-2013

Department of Music Research
Schulich School of Music
McGill University

555 Sherbrooke Street West
Montreal, Quebec
Canada H3A 1E3

office: (514) 398-4535 x00279
home: (514) 488-3270

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