Music for a While

  • Created by: kamna03
  • Created on: 13-12-18 20:00


A solo voice accompanied by harpsichord, lute and bass viol. Our recording sounds a semitone lower than the written pitch of A minor, as it was made using Baroque instruments tuned to Baroque pitch.

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The texture is melody and accompaniment/melody-dominated homophony. The accompaniment is provided by the ground bass in the left hand of the harpsichord and the bass viol. The right hand of the harpsichord is an elaborate realisation and provides some counterpoint with the vocal line.

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The soprano line has a range or compass of a ninth (apart from the ornamental G in bar 36) from the lowest note of E just above middle C to F just over an octave higher. Much of the music is conjunct or stepwise. Passing notes are frequent. For example, the E and C on beat 4 of bar 5 are non-harmony notes and do not belong to the chord but link to notes from the chord. Any leaps are small and generally no greater than a perfect fourth (e.g. bar 7). Rests are used to break up phrases. There are some descending sequences (e.g. bar 20). There is extensive use of ornaments in both the soprano line and the right hand of the harpsichord:

Trills (e.g. bar 13), Appoggiaturas (e.g. bar 35), Grace notes (e.g. bar 6), Upper mordents (e.g. bar 22), Lower mordents (e.g. bar 1).

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There is no tempo indication but a slow tempo would be appropriate for this piece. The metre is 4/4 quadruple time. The piece uses a wide variety of rhythms but quavers and semiquavers are the most predominant. Dotted rhythms are sometimes used in the vocal part (e.g. bar 10) but used more extensively in the right hand part of the harpsichord. There is only occasional syncopation (e.g. bar 20) and off-beat rhythms (e.g. bar 24). The ground bass is presented entirely in quavers.

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The music is in A minor (coloured by a Tierce de Picardie). The tonality, however, is sometimes ambiguous due to the chromatic and non-diatonic nature of the ground bass. The central section modulates to closely related keys. These include E minor (bar 14), G major (bar 16), C major (bar 21), A major (bar 23), E minor (bar 27). The music returns to the tonic key of A minor in bar 28 until the end. Modulations are confirmed by perfect cadences.

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Chords are diatonic and functional. Perfect cadences are achieved from the chord V at the end of the ground to the chord I at the start of the next playing of the ground bass (e.g. bars 3–4). This is a Ic–V–I cadential 6– 4. Suspensions are used very occasionally. For example, there is a 4–3 suspension in bar 3 beat 4½ in the harpsichord part. Dissonances are infrequent but examples can be seen on the word ‘pains’ in bar 12 with a D in the bass against and E in the voice and on the word ‘eas’d’ in bars 13–14 where there is dissonance followed by resolution at the start of each repetition of the word. Another type of dissonance used is false relation, which can be seen in bar 1 with an F♯ in the ground bass and a F♮ in the right hand of the harpsichord (although strictly not adjacent to each other, they do colour adjacent chords).

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This piece follows a ground bass structure. This is a short, recurring melodic pattern in the bass part that acts as the principal structural element, whilst melodic parts above change. It is also known as a basso ostinato and was developed into forms such as the Chaconne and Passacaglia. It was a common device in the Baroque period and Purcell is regarded as a master of the ground bass and used this technique extensively. His best-known ground bass aria is ‘Dido’s Lament’ from the opera Dido and Aeneas.
Features of the ground bass in ‘Music for a While’ include:

  • It is three bars long. 
  • It consists entirely of quaver rhythms. 
  • Its melodic shape is arpeggio based. 
  • It makes use of semitone intervals. 
  • It has a rising line, starting on A then moving up to a B, C, D and E before falling at the end of the phrase. 
  • At the end of the ground, there is a characteristic fall of an octave. 
  • The ground sounds incomplete as it ends with chord V but a sense of a perfect cadence is achieved with chord I at the start of the next repetition of the ground bass. 
  • The Ground bass is heard 4 ½ times in the Tonic key before it starts to modulate in bar 14, using motifs from the original ground bass. The ground returns in the original key in bar 23 beat 3 for a three-bar reminder. It returns, complete in bar 29 and is heard a further three times before the close of the piece.
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Henry Purcell

Henry Purcell (1659–95) was an English Baroque composer and is widely regarded as being one of the most influential English composers throughout the history of music. A pupil of John Blow, Purcell succeeded his teacher as organist at Westminster Abbey from 1679, becoming organist at the Chapel Royal in 1682 and holding both posts simultaneously. He started composing at a young age and in his short life, dying at the early age of 36, he wrote a vast amount of music both sacred and secular. His compositional output includes anthems, hymns, services, incidental music, operas and instrumental music such as trio sonatas. He is probably best known for writing the opera Dido and Aeneas (1689). Other well-known compositions include the semi-operas King Arthur (1691), The Fairy Queen (1692) (an adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and The Tempest (1695).

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