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. 5a Section 5b Sect. 5c >>
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[5] Pulse-stream Analysis (continued)

[5.4] Recall that some interesting questions about the second block of material (mm. 25-30) were raised in the preliminary analysis: why are groups aligned the way they are? and what is the purpose of the changes in the material? Some answers can be given in the context of the pulse-stream analysis of Figure 2, by considering two timepoints when pulse streams intersect, timepoints, that is, that belong to more than one pulse stream.

[5.5] Listen to the following audio example (V.2), in which streams 2, 4 and 5 are doubled by cymbals, whistle, and bell, respectively. Listen especially to the stream intersections in mm. 25 and 26, marked by the simultaneous attack of two of these pulse-representatives. To start the example playing at the downbeat of m. 25, midway through the example, drag the slider below until the second score page appears, then press the play (forward-arrow) button.

(Example V.2) [click here for suggestions if the movie does not appear or play correctly]

[5.6] Let us consider the purpose of the first coincidence of pulse streams, at the notated downbeat of m. 26. The phenomenal accent then firmly establishes stream 2, as it is the third in a series of phenomenal accents separated by the duration of a whole note. But the same timepoint is heard (certainly in retrospect, after three {D3,C#3} clusters) as the beginning of a dotted-half-note pulse stream, labeled 4. Stream 4 was weakly evident as early as m. 23, as shown by the dotted vertical lines on Figure 2 extending downward from accented timepoints a dotted-half note apart, but it seizes the listener's attention at this point. The shift from one prominent pulse stream to another helps to articulate, by purely rhythmic means, the formal division between the first and second blocks of motivic materials.

[5.7] Concurrently with the dotted-half stream 4, a 5-eighth-note stream, labeled 5, begins to arise from accents of registral-density (and contour) at the beginning of each right-hand group in this second block. Its characteristic duration is articulated by the beginning of the first repetition of the right-hand group, on the second beat of m. 27. But this timepoint is also a dotted-half after the strong accent on the downbeat of m. 26. In other words, the left- and right-hand groups are aligned in this particular way in order to ensure the clear articulation of pulse stream 4--which, as we shall presently discover, is an important source of large-scale continuity in this passage.

[5.8] The second block is thus articulated by rhythmic contrast, in that its ensemble of pulse streams--featuring the durations of dotted-half (4) and 5-eighth-notes (5)--are very different from those in the first block. Nevertheless, as we have observed in connection with Example V.1, the whole-note stream 3 acts as an agent of rhythmic continuity through the otherwise disconnected blocks. This stream is sustained on the downbeat of m. 27 by the cluster that divides the first right-hand group into 3+2, then by the last attack of the upper {D,C#} left-hand dyad, that is, the same attack that definitively establishes the dotted-half stream 4. Thus another purpose for this particular alignment of right- and left-hand groups is to continue stream 3 even as it creates another stream, 4, that is "metrically dissonant" with it.

[5.9] In the complete analysis of Figure 2, the stream label 4 is used to name both the dotted-half stream and a synchronized dotted-quarter stream. This faster stream is sustained throughout the remainder of the second block, first by regular left-hand attacks up until the end of m. 29, and then, when the left hand unexpectedly fails to repeat its dyad again, by a registral-density accent in the right hand. This accent would not have arisen had the right-hand group repeated exactly. Thus it seems that one purpose for the changes in the right-hand groups is to sustain stream 4 even as the left hand is pausing in preparation for the introduction of new material.

<< Sect. 5a Section 5b Sect. 5c >>
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