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The Double-period
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Lesson 4
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The Recapitulation
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The Necessity Of Form In Music
The Third Rondo Form

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Lesson 19

Unity And Variety

As much as opinions and beliefs may differ, among
music critics, as to the necessity of Form in music, and the conditions
of its existence, no reasonable objection can be taken to the
hypothesis that Clearness and Attractiveness are the two vital
requisites upon which the enjoyment of any art depends. The artist's
utterances or creations must be intelligible, and they must be
interesting. The lack, partial or total, of either of these qualities
neutralizes the force of the intended impression, in precise proportion
to the default.

In musical composition these two requisites are embodied in the
principles of Unity and Variety.

Unity--in its various technical phases of Uniformity, Regularity,
Similarity, Equality, Agreement, or whatever other synonym we may find
it convenient to use--is the condition out of which the composer must
secure intelligibility, clearness, definiteness of expression. Glance
at Ex. 2, and note the evidences of unity (similarity) in the rhythmic
and melodic formation of the first four measures.

Variety--in its most comprehensive application--is the medium he must
employ to arouse and sustain the hearer's interest. Glance again at
Ex. 2, and note the contrast between the two halves of the first four
measures, and between these and the following two measures.

These conditions are, of course, squarely opposed to each other, though
their interaction is reciprocal rather than antagonistic; and, from
what has been said, it is obvious that they are of equal importance.
Hence, as was declared on the second page, the great problem of the
art-creator consists in so balancing their operations that neither may
encroach upon the domain of the other. For too constant and palpable
Unity will inevitably paralyze interest; while too much Variety will as
surely tend to obscure the distinctness of the design.

* * * * * *

The workings of the principle of Unity (to which attention must first
be given, because it appears to come first in the order of creation)
are shown in the following elementary details of composition:--

(1) Music is not an art that deals with space, but with Time; therefore
the units of its metrical structure are not inches and the like, but
divisions of time, the basis of which is the beat. The principle of
Unity dictates that the beats which are associated in one and the same
musical sentence shall be of equal duration. Every musician admits the
necessity of keeping strict time--that is, marking the beats in
regular, equal pulses. The sub-divisions of the beats (for example,
the eighth or sixteenth notes within a beat) must also be symmetric.
So imperative is this law that it generally prevails through the entire
piece, with only such temporary elongations or contractions (marked
ritardando or accelerando) as may be introduced for oratorical

(2) The beats are grouped in measures of uniform duration; that is,
containing equal numbers of beats.

(3) The natural accent falls upon the corresponding beat, namely, the
first, of each measure; therefore it recurs regularly, at uniform
intervals of time.

(4) The melodic contents of the first measure, or measures, are
copied (more or less literally) in the next measure, or measures; and
are encountered again and again in the later course of the piece, thus
insuring a fairly uniform melodic impression from which the character
and identity of the composition are derived. Turn to the 8th Song
Without Words of Mendelssohn, and observe how insistently the figure

and its inversion

run through the whole number.

(5) The specific figure of the accompaniment is usually reproduced
from measure to measure (or group to group) throughout whole sections
of the piece. Observe, in the 37th Song Without Words, how constantly
the ascending figure of six tones recurs in the lower part (left hand).
Glance also at No. 30; No. 1; No. 25. Many other evidences of Unity
are invariably present in good music, so naturally and self-evidently
that they almost escape our notice. Some of these are left to the
student's discernment; others will engage our joint attention in due

* * * * * *

In every one of these manifestations of unity there lies the germ of
the principle of Variety, which quickens into life with the action of
the former, always following, as offspring and consequence of the
primary unity. Thus:--

(1) The beats, though uniform in duration, differ from each other in
force. The first pulse in each measure (or metric group of any size)
is heavier, stronger, than the following. It--the first--is the
impulse, and is what is called the accent. This dynamic distinction
it is that gives rise to the two fundamental classes of rhythm, the
duple and triple. In duple rhythm the accent is followed by one
unaccented or lighter beat, so that regular alternation of heavy and
light pulses prevails incessantly. In triple rhythm the accent is
followed by two lighter beats, creating similarly constant, but
irregular alternation of heavy and light pulses.

This distinction is so significant and so striking, that the music
lover who is eager to gain the first clues to the structural purpose of
a composition, should endeavor to recognize which one of these two
rhythmic species underlies the movement to which he is listening. It
is fairly certain to be one or the other continuously. Of duple
measure, the march and polka are familiar examples; of triple measure,
the waltz and mazurka. The regularity of the former rhythm imparts a
certain stability and squareness to the entire piece, while triple
rhythm is more graceful and circular in effect.

(2) The same dynamic distinction applies also to whole measures, and

(3) to accents. The first of two successive measures, or of two or
more accents, is always a trifle heavier than the other.

(4) The melodic contents of the first measure may be exactly
reproduced in the succeeding measure; but if this is the case, they are
very unlikely to appear still again in the next (third) measure, for
that would exaggerate the condition of Unity and create the effect of

The measure marked b is exactly like a. But c is all the more
contrasting, on account of this similarity.

Or, the melodic contents of a measure may be thus reproduced, as far as
the rhythm and direction of the tones are concerned, but--for
variety--they may be shifted to a higher or lower place upon the staff,
or may be otherwise modified.

Compare the groups marked a and b, and observe how the principles
of unity and variety are both active in these four measures, and how
their effect is heightened by the formation of c.

(5) The figures of the accompaniment, though reproduced in uniform
rhythmic values and melodic direction, undergo constant modifications
in pitch and in shape, similar, to those shown in Ex. 2. See, again,
No. 37 of the Songs Without Words and note the changes in the formation
of the otherwise uniform six-tone groups.

Next: Lesson 1

Previous: The Necessity Of Form In Music

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