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Analysis of form for Piano by Ralph Shapey.

BOTH FORM (1959) by Ralph Shapey and Form (1959) by Stefan Wolpe were composed for the same New York concert (Example 1). The circumstances for this concert were explained to me by Ralph himself. Stefan and Ralph were planning a concert exclusively of their own compositions. Stefan felt that the program was too short and suggested that they should each write a short piano piece for this concert using certain musical parameters in common. According to Ralph, they had a discussion and decided that they would both use the same parameters but write their compositions independent of one another. However Ralph no longer remembers what these parameters were. (Having analyzed both Forms, I think the parameters of a pitch series and the idea of symmetries must have been part of the plan.) This concert then was the impetus for both Forms for piano by Ralph Shapey and Stefan Wolpe. (1)

Ralph further explained that this concert was especially important to him. He was well known and respected as a conductor of new works on the New York contemporary music scene, but as a composer he had always been referred to as "little Wolpe." This concert changed all that for Ralph, and he emerged, he feels, liberated from Wolpe's shadow with his own powerful voice, recognized as important and independent of Wolpe's. Apparently, according to Ralph, Stefan came screaming to Ralph backstage at the intermission of the concert: "You are killing me, killing me with the audience." Ralph interpreted this outburst on Stefan's part as signifying his own moment of independence from Wolpe's compositional influence as heard in concert by everyone present. Ralph claims that no one in the Wolpe circle ever dared to refer to him again as "little Wolpe."

If one compares the opening of the Wolpe Form (Example 2) with the Shapey Form (score page 7, system 3, first six notes) one sees the pitch-set relationship between the two works. In both pieces, the initial pitch space is subject to rapid expansion (compare Examples 2 and 3). However, Wolpe works with six notes and gradually fills in the remaining pitch classes in a manner very different from Shapey's. And while Wolpe uses the technique of a continuous development of material through the use of highly contrapuntal textures and the alternation of the two hexachords that freely circulate and gradually interface and merge with one another, Shapey employs a more traditional format, variation form. Shapey uses 5/2/5 partitions of what I will identify as the original row in contrast to the hexachordal procedures used by Wolpe. Both composers are inspired by serial techniques, but each uses these ideas in vastly different ways. (2)

The large structure of Shapey's Form for Piano is a set of variations. However, as we shall see in the details, this is no ordinary set of variations. I shall describe each of the six sections of the variations in moderate detail followed by a few observations on Shapey's compositional strategies for this composition.

Each section has its own character as described by Shapey in the score:




4. [MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] = 100 with wild elation



One can see from the metronome markings that there is an overall shape to the whole work of "slow--fast--slow." Sections 1 through 3 are slow, sections 4 and 5 are in quick tempos and section 6 returns to the opening tempo. Sections 1 and 6 are almost identical except for very small changes. Compare score pages 1 and 2 to score page 9, system 4 and page 10, system 1. There is a classical sense of return to the opening material confirming a theme and variation form. Shapey lets the opening trichord "anchor" gesture (E, G, A) drop out earlier in section 6 (page 9, system 4 to page 10, system 1), and simplifies and condenses the gestures (page 9, system 4, compared to score page 1, system 2). He also keeps the low B under the texture in the final line for several extra beats (page 10, system 3), perhaps to create a sense of closure and a richer texture for the end of the work.

The entire composition uses the three motives shown in Examples 3; Example 4 shows variations on these motives, which highlight some of their similarities and differences. For instance, motive a retains its register while motive c retains pitch but changes in register and rhythm. These motives undergo constant transformations during the course of the piece. Example 5 shows a much more elaborate version of motive b from the second section.

The 12-tone row in Example 6 is used throughout this piece, but it is not stated linearly until page 7, system 3 of the score. The first five notes (E, G, A, B[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], and F) of this quasi-melodic presentation of the row are to be played portamento. The remaining seven are stated in two distinct groupings: A[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and F# as accented eighth notes, and the remainder (C#, D, C[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], E[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], and B[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], with the F# repeated from the previous dyad) are presented in a much more complex rhythmic pattern (Example 7). This linear presentation's tripartate division mirrors what we have seen at the beginning of the piece with motives a, band c.

I know from studying composition with Ralph that he would have looked carefully at the pitch possibilities inherent in the row itself. If you study the row carefully, as suggested to me by Robert Morris, Ralph has taken advantage of inherent intervallic properties of the row through the use of segmentation. The first five pitch classes, one through five of the row, share the same property as pitch classes eight through twelve. (3) Shapey presents this very clearly in the way he segments the melody.

In section 1, the piece opens with E, G and A held as long notes with a short dotted eighth note B Bb on top. These first four pitches act as a registral anchor, I believe, for they remain constant amid the wild register shifts that happen almost immediately. These notes--stated in the middle register in the most closed position possible--comprise motive a. Immediately after a thirty-second rest, the big lea p from A in the treble clef to F in the bass clef articulates motive b. The B[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] over the A still refers to the opening B-flats (Example 3, motive b). Motive c is the grouping of notes under the quintuplet bracket which states all the remaining pitches of the 12-tone row: F#, G#, C#, D, C[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], and B[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Ralph brings back the E, G, A anchor notes as part of this gesture and doses this first statement (page 1, system 1 of the score) with ten repeated Bb thirty-second notes and a reiteration of the A[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

Therefore, three different gestures are associated with motives a, b and c: a is a cluster; b is a wide-register quick dyad leap; and c is a grouping of dyads and single notes. The opening B[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] to the high E[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in the treble spans two octaves and a perfect fourth. From the E of the opening to the first B[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in the bass also spans two octaves and a perfect fourth. From motives a to c we find a wonderful symmetry in the sweeping register expansion, which holds the three opening gestures together despite their obvious diversity. (4) This opening symmetry quickly presents us with a wide canvas for projecting the rest of the piece. Fourths and symmetries are also implicit in the row and motive c. If we examine the row (Example 6) we can find three P4s present between adjacent row members (B[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] to F, F# to C#, and B to E from last to first note). Motive c demonstrates a symmetrical articulation not present in motive a or b. Observe that the F# and the G# are each positioned at the same distance of a P5 above and below the C#, and the D and C[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] are each at the same distance above and below the preceding C# (a minor ninth). Interestingly, the only interval not represented adjacently in the row is the tritone, but Shapey includes this interval in the opening in the span of the tetrachord from E to B[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

I will dwell just a bit more on section 1. On score page 1, system 3, we find again the three-note anchor of E, G and A, a single Bb dotted eighth note, and the complex interaction of a triplet figure and the dotted rhythm so frequently found in Shapey's compositions. Motive b is presented as before in system 2, but motive c is now stated non-symmetrically in a lower register of the piano with E[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and B[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] now more distant from one another in time (score page 1, middle of system 2, middle voice to last note in the bass clef). This indicates that Shapey is fashioning his "theme" by varying it.

On page 1, system 3 of the score, motive a and the retrograde of motive c are stated starting with the low Bb and ending with the F#. Then follows a more elaborate version of c with the inclusion of trichords and the addition of the F and A against the ten repeated B-flats. Motive b is presented now as a major third dyad at the end of score page IL, system 3. The third is held into score page 2, system 1. A second major third follows in short repeated notes, a reference now to the initial B[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] part of the opening motive (B[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and G[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). After this, motive b is slightly modified and motive c starts on the low register F# and ends with the B[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in the bass clef. Score page 2, system 2 presents the decuplet B-flats twice within the b motive stated under the end of the repeated B-flats. The F of b in the low register moves to the B[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in the same registral space. A final, very tightly condensed version of motive c is realized under the quintuplet bracket, rhythmically twice as slow as before (score page 1, system 1), which now ends section 1 of the piece. The E and G are left ringing (the A disappears quickly as a local resoution of the B[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) to resolve this first large section. The IF and the B[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in the low register expose the interval of the tritone, the distance covered by motive a at the very beginning of Form.

Section 2 (score page 2, system 3) is to be played "with tautness." Shapey achieves this by employing greater activity and a much more restrained registral presentation. The rhythm is more complex, tightly constrained, and controlled. The repetition of the opening material of the composition in this section pits the thirty-second note figure, which now comes before the b motive, against the dotted sixteenth figures in the bass part (score page 2, systems 3 and 4). Shapey begins section 2 with the B[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and A played together as triplet thirty-second notes followed by a presentation of motive c, more tightly rhythmic and reordered starting with the low B[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. The dotted rhythm (dotted sixteenth and thirty-second notes) presented in score page 1, system 2 is played against the repeated F-sharps (score page 2, system 3). Against the ten repeated G-naturals in the treble clef (score page 3, system 1), we find motive b. At the end of this system, against the octave repeated E-flats we find a new reference to the opening trichord with the B[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] sounding against the second repetition of the ten E-flats. The range has been quickly expanded in both directions, bursting forth from the opening registral constraints. This expansion of range progresses to a low F# a perfect fourth lower than the previous B[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] of section 1 while reaching to the high E[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] established in section 1. At the end of section 2 (score page 3, system 3) there is a return to motive c, nearly identical to its initial presentation, but with the addition of the pitch E#. Against a low G# (score page 3, system 3), the opening motive a anchor returns (the B[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] dotted eighth and the long held trichord of E, G and A). What is missing is any reference to the b motive. This section finishes with the opening motive a anchor against ten repeated B-flats in the middle register asserting a strong sense of return to the opening material.

Among the most significant features in section 3--marked "with whimsy" (see Example 5 and score pages 3 to 5)--are the many short rests introduced into the score. Once again this section is registrally constrained until the end of score page 4, system 4, where the register begins to open up again in the bass. Shapey brings this variation to a close with the return of the opening trichord A, G, and E now in open position in the treble clef (page 4, system 5). The ten repeated B-flats answer in the bass clef in the low register this time as though responding to the new open disposition of the opening trichord. This section closes with a very brief statement of the opening trichord leading into the bracketed quintuplet with the register condensed from before, with only the Bb stated in the low register against the low B b. This section closes with a strong reference to motive c from the closing of section 1 (score page 2, system 2), now changed in some of its features, but still very recognizable.

The most characteristic feature of section 4, "with wild elation," is the wide and fast-moving thirty-second-note descending and ascending arpeggios in groups of fives and sevens moving against triplets (Example 8 and score page 5, system 2). One could say that the triplet figures are a transposed variation of motive c. Notice that part of motive a is retained in the repetition of the repeated groups of three thirty-second dyads that occur between flourishes throughout this section. The high C# at the top of score page 6 and very low Bn of score page 5, system 2 in the bass clef comprise the register span for this section. (The Bb also links sections 3 and 4.) Section 4 ends with a reference to section 1 (and the end).

Tempo I, [MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] = 60, returns on score page 7 in the middle of system 1. We now find an altered version of the opening anchor with F# in the bass clef and F, A[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], and B[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in the treble presented in long note values. The three repeated thirty-second note F-sharps are followed by a reference to motive b, and this section closes with a now transposed version of motive c still presenting its symmetrical pitch traits (Example 9). The final gesture is ten repeated B-flats in the bass clef to remind us once again from whence we have come.

Section 5 (score pages 7 to 9) is marked "with joy," and is presented at the fastest tempo found in Form. It begins by announcing the solo line in the middle register that introduces the row (Example 7). As I noted before, this three-part, 5/2/5 division delineates motives a, b and c.

At the end of the third system, score page 7, the row is stated in the bass clef in contrary motion, but the pitches remain in the same order and rhythmic presentation while they are spread over a much wider pitch space. Against this row presentation we now have accompaniment figures which include tills, fragments of motive b, and several new rhythmic patterns. The row functions as a sort of cantus firmus, repeating itself a total of five times. Each repetition is slightly different, but pitch-class order is always maintained. The final appearance of the row ends as it began, very simply in quarter notes, reversing itself after the first seven notes to end on a low E, G and B[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], once again a reference to the very opening (score page 9, systems 2 and 3).

Section 6 functions as a return to section 1 with just a very few minor changes as mentioned above.

In Form, Shapey works with tone rows and motives, but with great freedom. On the one hand, intervallic structures are of primary importance, and he tosses these around with great abandon but never randomly. On the other hand, he is not afraid to use exact repetitions. Shapey's rhythm is complex and delineates the character of each section even more than tempo. But perhaps it is primarily register that makes this piano piece so colorful and full of contrasts, offset by symmetry to create moments of internal balance. In addition, Shapey uses motive a as a set of notes to mark the formal structure and to provide coherence. Like Wolpe's, his compositional canvas is rich and powerful.


(1.) The concert date was May 22, 1959 at Carl Fischer Concert Hall. The compositions on the program by Shapey were * Form for Piano (1959), * String Quartet No. V for Voice (1957-8), * Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano (1953-5), * Rhapsodie for Oboe and Piano (1957), and the compositions by Wolpe were * Form for Piano (1959), Quartet for Oboe, Cello, Percussion and Piano (1955), * Enactments for Three Pianos (1951-3), * Quartet for Tenor Sax, Trumpet, Percussion and Piano (1949). (Asterisks denote first performances.)

(2.) See the analysis of Wolpe's Form in Dora Hanninen's paper "Understanding Stefan Wolpe's Musical Form? (this journal).

(3.) Each of those five-tone sets can invert onto itself, suggesting Shapey's 5/2/5 grouping for the row. The set of notes B, G, A, B[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], F inverts around G onto itself C#, D, C, E[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], B inverts onto itself around C#. The opening six pitches of Form by Wolpe are A[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], F, B[MUSICAL NOTES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], A, G, E (Example 2), which are the first six pitches of the Shapey row presentation in section 5 (page 7) in retrograde.

(4.) If we compare the Shapey and the Wolpe Forms, symmetry and wide leaps are very much a part of both compositions.

PATRICIA MOREHEAD, composer/oboist is Co-Artistic Director of CUBE Contemporary Chamber Ensemble. She is on the faculties of the University of Illinois--Chicago. Columbia College. Chicago College of the Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, and the Merit School of Music. She has been commissioned to compose a tuba concerto for the Shanghai Symphony for the 2003-4 season.
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Author:Morehead, Patricia
Publication:Perspectives of New Music
Article Type:Critical Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2002
Previous Article:Understanding Stefan Wolpe's musical forms.
Next Article:Stefan Wolpe's dialectical logic: a look at the Second Piece for Violin Alone.

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