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3.3: Maintaining Identity

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    Once a musical identity has been established, how is it maintained? Literal repetition—the same music played over and over –is the most direct way of maintaining identity.

    In this excerpt from Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, all that changes in the repetition is the dynamics.

    Popular music relies heavily on literal repetition to maintain identity:

    round is a polyphonic way of maintaining identity. In a round, the voices enter in turn, each playing the same melody. A round is the most self-sufficient musical form: The entire work is created from the melody, in combination with itself. As the imitative voices one after the other, the original line ends up creating its own accompaniment and supplying its own harmony.

    For the opening of the third movement of his Symphony No. 1, Mahler created a round based on the familiar folk melody, Frère Jacques. Mahler wrote that the inspiration for this movement was a woodcut titled The Hunter’s Funeral Procession. To depict the march of mourners, the melody is played in minor, making it more solemn

    Heterophony is a looser way of maintaining identity. In a heterophonic texture, multiple instruments or voices each perform the same line simultaneously, but each in their own way.

    In the following excerpt from Benjamin Britten’s Curlew River, the instruments join in playing the same melody, each in a slightly different rhythm. Like a caterpillar slinking forward, the melody moves sinuously, as the instruments fall in an out of phase with each other.


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