John Roeder, "Pulse Streams and Problems of Grouping and Metrical Dissonance in Bartók's 'With Drums and Pipes,'" Music Theory Online 7.1 (2001) << Sect. 1 Section 2a Sect. 2b >>
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[2] Analysis of Grouping and "Metrical Dissonance"

[2.1] The passage to be considered is taken from "With Drums and Pipes," the first movement of the suite for piano, entitled Out of Doors, by Bartók. The music has close affinities to the first movements of Bartók's Piano Sonata and Piano Concerto No. 1, which were composed in the same year, 1926. The score to the passage is shown in Figure 1, containing mm. 20-69. (This and subsequent Figures require the Adobe Acrobat Reader.) Clicking here (Example II.1) will bring up a window with an example that presents a complete performance, along with a scrolling score. Mm. 22-69 contain the substance of the piece. They are preceded and followed by simpler, more regular music that features a series of short melodic segments, usually a whole-note in duration, accompanied in repeated eighth notes in the very low register of the piano, as suggested by the cadential material in mm. 20-21. At m. 22 the register rises, and there unfold numerous irregularities of accent and group length. The simpler opening material returns in m. 68, so it would appear that the latter half of this central passage is designed to make this return possible and convincing.

[2.2] During much of the polyphony in mm. 22-69 we can distinguish two distinct concurrent streams, and so this passage is well suited for studying the aspects of grouping and accent in polyphony that I raised in section 1. For the performer these streams correspond to left- and right-hand parts, although the hands do not play "voices" in the sense of melodic lines with different timbres and registers. Indeed they both often play clusters, sometimes in immediate succession (as in mm. 22 or 39) and sometimes alternating with single pitches (as in mm. 26 and 56), and in register they vary considerably and overlap. Despite the occasional similarity of the two streams, however, one can indeed hear them as distinct motivically, registrally, and by how their materials group, as we shall see.

[2.3] Along with its potential for illuminating certain questions of rhythmic theory, however, the unusual nature of this texture itself merits close analysis. What is the function of this particular arrangement of these percussive materials, aside from simply evoking the beating of drums? Is this restricted texture particularly well suited for particular, form-creating musical processes? What analytical tools--what ways of hearing the music--can best elucidate its design?

[2.4] The remainder of this section of the paper will suggest some ways of answering these questions. It presents a detailed analysis, using annotated excerpts and audio clips, of the motivic material and grouping in the passage. It is intended to help the reader become familiar with the passage, and with theories of grouping and metrical dissonance that have the potential to explain it. Readers who are sufficiently familiar with the music and those theories may wish to skip ahead to Section 3, where the results of this close analysis, along with certain inadequacies of the theories, are summarized.

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