Length Of The Regular Phrase

Fortunately for the work of analysis,

there are certain established landmarks of forms, so conscientiously

observed, and so firmly grounded in the practices of classic writing

(because the necessary consequences of natural law), that it is

generally practicable to fix fairly regular and plausible boundaries to

the phrase, notwithstanding the freedom and elasticity which

characterize the application of the syntactic pri
ciple in music.

Therefore the student will find that a phrase, in the great majority of

cases, covers exactly four measures, and will seldom be misled if he

looks for the end of his phrase four measures beyond its beginning.

This refers, be it understood, only to measures of average size (in the

ordinary time denominations, 3-4, 4-4, 6-8 measure). If the measures

are uncommonly large (9-8, 12-8), the phrase will probably cover no

more than two of them; or, if small (2-4, or 3-4 in rapid tempo), the

phrase may extend to the eighth measure. The operation of this

four-measure rule is exhibited with striking regularity and persistence

in the Jugend Album of Schumann (op. 68); throughout its forty-three

numbers there are probably no more than a half-dozen phrases whose

length differs from this standard. For example:

It will be observed that the first (and also the third) of these

phrases consists of two exactly similar two-measure motives. This

seems to lend some confirmation to the idea of a two-measure phrase;

but the student is warned against deviating from his four-measure

standard, upon such evidence as this. Many instances will be found,

like these, in which the impression of a complete phrase is not gained

until the motive of two measures has been thus repeated; the

repetition is necessary, in order to finish the sentence, and this

proves that the two measures alone do not constitute the complete

idea which we expect the phrase to represent.

The same regularity of dimension will usually be found in all kinds of

dance music; in technical exercises (for instance, the ?tudes of Czerny

and others); and in all music of a simple or popular character.

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