Show off your theory chops with my weekly challenge! You’ll find a new question here every Monday. Please comment to post your reply.
This week’s challenge:
Here’s one of my favorite pieces by Johannes Brahms (I won’t tell you the title just yet!). Listen carefully while you watch the score:
What is the time signature for this music?
Reply to post your answer, and check back on Friday, July 30th to see if you’re right!
ANSWER for 7/26/21
6.4: Yep, that’s right! This is the first movement of Brahms’s Violin Sonata in G Major, Op. 78. The meter is actually 6/4, compound duple, but you wouldn’t know it by just listening to either the violin part or the piano right hand! Both parts make use of the hemiola, a cross-rhythm that gives the impression of 3/2 (simple triple). But notice how the piano’s melody is completely offset from the violin’s, sounding like its downbeat is in a different place altogether. This puts the piano melody totally at odds with the barline. To make matters even more complex, both parts are rhythmically differentiated: their notes never coincide, making them interlock. All this plays out against the actual beat, marked down at the bottom of the music:
This kind of rhythmic sophistication and metric fluidity are typical of Brahms, who had extensive knowledge of 16th Century Renaissance music. He had scores from Palestrina, Lassus, Josquin, and Isaac, whose music had no barlines, and a complexity that made each part sound like it had a different meter and downbeat.
For more Brahms banditry, CLICK HERE for a fun bonus Youtube video: totally FREE!
Check out my whole series of videos on rhythm and meter in the Rhythm Module! Sign up for a monthly subscription for full access to all video lessons, worksheets, and answer keys. Also, stay tuned for new lessons in advanced rhythms. I created Breaking Barlines with one thing in mind: making music theory effective and FUN!
Corwin Skack says
6/4 1st violin Sonata
With Brahms, there are always so many hemiolas it’s hard to tell what he actually wrote! My knee-jerk reaction was 3/2 but it’s such a short selection that it’s difficult to tell whether the 3/2 bit or the 6/4 bit is the primary meter for the whole thing. I’m less familiar with the violin sonatas than I ought to be…6/4 is probably correct…
Aron Bernstein says
Without giving away the answer yet, I can say you’re definitely on the right track, Katrina! Brahms really befuddles us, not just with hemiolas but also with a polymetric sophistication that probably came form his study of Renaissance music.
6/4 the cross grouping is amazing in this one.
Aron Bernstein says
Hi David, it sure is! The violin melody and the piano right hand become completely differentiated in their rhythms, and the sense of downbeat is utterly offset between them. Together with the hemiolas, it all really defies the barlines!