"Octatonic" voice leading and diatonic function in the Allegro molto from Elgar's String Quartet, Op. 83

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Oliver Chandler


In this paper, I focus on a short, two-bar passage from the end of the Allegro molto's development section, which explores smooth, octatonic voice-leading relationships between seventh chords. Despite its brevity, it is one of the most harmonically adventurous passages in all of Elgar's music. I look to ascertain whether it can be heard to form part of a larger, coherent tonal gesture or if it effects a change of syntax which swaps the movement's predominantly diatonic frame of reference for an octatonic one and thus establishes a moment of disjuncture within the form. My answer to this question is informed by analysis both of the passage in question and of earlier (albeit less piquant and transparent) instances of octatonic voice leading in the exposition.

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