William Renwick on Rossini's Preghiera

  • Teresa, I think, has accurately defined the character of the introduction as establishing the title's meaning of "prayer" ". . . by the chordal and reverential qualities implicit in the opening "hymn"."
  • The introduction is unusual in that it doesn't really set forth the principal melodic note, C#. On the other hand it does introduce the main harmonic and motivic elements, the shift to A major and the semitonal motions G-F# and B#-C#. (Note the incorrect usage of the Neapolitan, where the doubled root causes parallel fifths with the next chord!) (The intro is base on the descending third A-(G#)-F#.)
  • The fact that the introduction is not connected thematically or texturally to the main body sets it aparts, and demands its return at the end in order to complete the piece. That is, the introduction has an independence about it that can only be justified through the kind of repetition that creates "bookends" for the piece, in the manner of some of Mendelssohn's "Songs Without Words".
  • Harmonically the piece consists of the oscillations such as I-IV-I (mm. 5-6), V-I-V (mm. 8-9), and V-I-V of III (mm. 10-11). These oscillations seem to me to have a yearning characteristic, in contrast to some other types of progressions. (This is very subjective.) The body of the song is structured around the sequential movement to III and the subsequent return to I through the subdominant. The cadence is delayed by a gorgeous upward motion of a fourth ((C#)-D#-E#-F#), which provides the climactic tension. I wonder if this is set as an opposition to the descending fourths that characterise the previous portion of the music. I suppose the despair of the first part is contrasted with the imploring heaven in the second part.
  • In Schenkerian terms, the C# of m. 5 appears as the head-tone of the fundamental line. The motions to G# would be motions to an inner voice. By mm. 11-12 the C# has move to the B over the E chord, but this harmony is on the way to A#/F# as V of IV (m. 13). Mm. 14-15 present the first cadence gesture as B moves to A and G#. But the resolution is not acheived. Instead an ascending fourth progression ((C#)-D#-E#-F#) prolongs the retained C# (5) before making the second cadence gesture. The whole process is repeated before making the final close. I believe that it is important to understand the voice-leading origin of the melodic D# (m. 15), as an understood C# of the V harmony at that point. These delays are not really interruptions in the formal sense, since the head-tone is not restored again before going on. A glance at the final cadence of the choral part will clarify the voice-leading of the fundamental line. (A glance at the first phase of the chorsu part also illustrates the descending path of the Urlinie and shows how the opening motive is related to the descending fourths that follow. In this way, the chorus almost serves as an analysis of the piece. Of course, the chorus does represent the underlying "chorale-style" voice-leading.)
  • It may be noted that over the cadential B chord the "4" is not particularly in evidence. You should know that very often at just this point a "6" appears as a substitute for the "4" in the melody in order to produce a better outer-voice counterpoint of a tenth instead of an octave.
  • The motivic life of the song, the way I see it is principally in the ascending and descending semitones set forth in the introduction. This is most evident in the vocal line through the C#-D-C# in mm. 5-6 (note that the E is an appogiatura). Much of the expressive content of the piece comes out through the judicious use of the semitone in both the melody and the bass. The D-C# relationship is also emphasized in the chorus part at the end, and at this point it makes a very interesting structure, for the D# of the ascending solo line "splits", one part continuing up to E# and F#, and the other retreating to D-natural, and back to C#. A poetic reading of this passage would emphasize the way that this dual motion reflects both imploring (that will not be realized) and despair. You may also note the way that the chorus serves toi emphasize the F#-G-F# upper neighbour in m. 30.
  • I think that one can make a good case for a rather systematic development of motivic and harmonic resources in this piece. But to make the step to a Schoenbergian Grundgestalt, one has to somehow condense all the material into a single germ that can suggest both the motivic and the harmonic content of the piece. I am concerned that if one were to suggest perhaps the interval A-C# with the upper neighbour D, which in a sense captures the harmonic and motivic essences, one would be in danger of belittling Schoenberg's theory, since that is the same Grundgestalt as that found by Partricia Carpenter in the Appasionata! Alex seems to have come to a similar conclusion!
  • I appreciate Jennifer's idea of signification through more broadly and contextually understood topics that Ratner's.