Composing-out / Elaboration / Prolongation

(all. Auskomponierung, angl. elaboration, compositional unfolding, composing-out; all. Prolongation, angl. prolongation)

Any tonal work takes its origin in the harmony of the tonic, which at first must be considered an abstraction without duration. The transformation of this abstraction into a real composition consists in writing it in time, in duration, and so doing bringing it to the conscious perception of the listener.

This process is often described as prolongation in modern (American) Schenkerism.

Schenker himself, however, uses the German word Prolongation (which is not unknown, but not particularly common in German) in a somewhat different meaning, perhaps inspired by juridic terminology: Prolongation, for Schenker, is the extension of the application of rules or laws, in this case those of strict counterpoint, to a larger domain of application, that of free composition. It is in this sense that his “prolongation tables” first show a primal structure in two-part “strict” counterpoint, then its developments in a more and more ornated writing. These tables usually concern the analyzed piece as a whole: they show how “prolongation” is achieved, i.e. how freedom is taken with respect to the laws of strict writing. Prolongation, in this, appears to denote the passing of one level to the next.

The processes by which these results are obtained are described rather as Auskomponierung, of which the prefix Aus– denotes a meaning similar to that of the Latin e(x)–, meaning here a change of state and an achievement (and, to a lesser extent, a distance or an exteriority). It is in this sense that one finds the English translation of Auskomponierung in composing-out, where out expresses Aus. It would of course be impossible to imagine an English translation of the type “e-composition”, to which is preferred here elaboration, it being understood that the “labor” implied in the word is a work of composition.

Elaboration, therefore, denotes the set of means by which prolongation is realized, i.e. by which the abstract primal structure (the tonic harmony) is inscribed in duration. To the extent that the primal harmony forms the “tonal space” of the work, the means of elaboration are in first instance means of filling in the space: passing notes, resulting in linear progressions, and neighbour notes. But they also include all other means of ornamentation and diminution described in Schenkerian analysis, including interruption, register transfer, coupling, initial ascent, lines between voices, unfolding, reaching over, mixture, etc.

As an example, let us consider how Schenker presents the prolongation of the Little Prelude in C minor, BWV 999, in Der Tonwille, vol. 5 (1923), p. 3. This is the first occasion when Schenker proposes an image of this type, which shows the prolongation in three successive stages, marked a), b) and c). The line of numbers prefixed by the letter T., on top of the image, refers to the measure numbers. The bass part appears only at stage c): at this time (1923), Schenker still bestowed a paramount importance to the melodic line, the “primal line”.

One charactersitic of this Prelude is that it ends on the dominant. The primal line therefore is ^5–^4–^3–^2. Schenker explains that the V chord of a half cadence must normally be major. The first level of the prolongation, shown at a), consists in anticipating the major chord, that appears only in m. 34, by the minor chord in m. 13. The major third, B natural, is not introduced by an ascending chromatic move from B flat, but by a line descending from D, as can be seen in b). This is a line to an inner voice, as D, ^2, implicitly is maintained to the end, even if it only reappears in m. 42; this upper voice shortly climbs to G, mm. 42-43. The last part of the figure, in c), shows a further elaboration: two melodic archs, the first, mm. 17-32, that goes up to C5, then down to B3; the second, mm. 35-41, with a shorter path, climbing to A4 and descending back to Eb4. The writing of these movements in thirty-second and in sixteenth notes stresses their decorative character, recalling “those rapid fioriture with which keyboard writing is also apt to ornament individual tones (as in J. S. and Emanuel Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, etc.).” The bass shows the principal harmonies, I–#IV–V. The word Teiler indicates the “divider at the fifth”, i.e. the ornamentation of the G chord by that of its fifth, D major. The last level of prolongation, that which leads to the score itself, is represented in a “Table of the primal line”, in an unfolding figure that is not reproduced here.

These successive steps form prolongations in the sense indicated above, increasing freedoms taken with respect to strict writing; the means to achieve them are elaborations.


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