What is your favorite few-toned theme?

I know these "favorite" questions get tedious, but I thought I'd throw one in for fun. I was driving home from an appointment today and listening to the second movement of Beethoven's Symphony 7. I'm sure most of you know that this is one of my favorite pieces (and if you didn't know, just look at how many times I list it as an answer to the "what should I listen to?" questions). But today I was really struck by the beauty of a theme that uses so few notes, and one note repeated so many times, at that.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, the main theme is from approximately 0:11-0:38 on this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBfKXHoSvDM

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That being said, what are some of your favorite pieces that use themes with either limited or repeated tones?

Also, for S&G, Yahoo suggested that I put this in Beauty and Style...

4 Answers

  • petr b
    Lv 7
    9 years ago
    Favorite Answer

    Love this question ~ it is all about music, as the phrase has it, "Made up of nothing."

    Topping any list - imho - should be the finale of Mozart's Symphony No. 41, K. 551 -- that four-pitch primary ditty then combined with four other very pitch-content limited themes being the frame and body of one of the wildest and most ebullient contrapuntal romps in all of music literature. (Haydn used that same primary four-pitch theme as the finale of one of his many symphonies, I don't recall which of the hundreds it is... but his was first.)


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    Right beside Mozart's 'Jupiter' on the top of my list is the one composed just before:

    Mozart ~ Symphony No. 40, K. 550 -- completely glued together all the way through with that minor second. The whole piece Is About That Minor Second - keep that interesting for more than a few minutes, let alone about forty (w/repeats in the Andante) and I think the musical world has to salute you.

    Symphony K. 550 Andante:


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    Your hero, Beethoven (ah, Luigi!) - Symphony No. 5, first movement is based on one interval! There's another instance of make that work for more than a few minutes, and, hats off, everyone.

    Stravinsky ~ Les Noces: the 'bell' theme, all of three ( ! ) pitches, small intervals in a narrow compass of a perfect fourth:

    B down to G#, back up to B, up to C#, back down to B.

    in this link, the apotheosis of the piece. He introduces it about half-way through the entire work. It then recurs, here and there, not 'out front' through the rest of the piece.

    The last segment, sung first @ 7'59''


    (This kind of narrow-compass melody / theme is typical of Russian folk song, and is habitually favored by many a Russian composer... N.B. 'Fiery Dog's' cited piece.)

    Elliott Carter ~ Eight Etudes and a Fantasy for woodwind Quartet.

    Each etude is based on one interval (two pitches!): the etudes are brief, a minute or so. The fantasy puts them freely (- uh, fantasia - ) together.

    All of Bartok is littered with his omnipresent signature major seconds; wouldn't be Bartok without'em....

    Bluebeard's Castle (One of Bartok's most 'luscious' scores - tail end of door 5, and door 6, with its creepy motif of that most poisonous sickly green of emotions -- jealousy.)


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    Debussy ~ Preludes, Book I, No 6: Des pas sur la niege. Major second is a lugubrious constant presence and driving force, all the rest is harmonic context in relation to the very static major second. (Great pianist here! - Monique Haas.)


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    Many composers through subsequent eras have been fascinated with the narrow compass, chromatic and unresolved, four-pitch "cluster" which were the Old Saxon's analog signature, used in his Kunst der Fuge:

    B, A, C, H (Bb).

    One later epic set of variations on it:

    Charles Koechlin ~ Offrande Musicale sur le nom BACH

    here, parts 1, 3, 4 & 13 - 16:


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    Stravinsky as 'Mr Repeated notes' ~ From the beautiful and monumental concerto for two solo pianos, I - Con Moto


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    Fun question, Thank You for enlivening Y/A classical!

    Looking forward to see what else turns up in the thread.

    Best regards

    P.s. Beauty and Style - hung out with them in my youth - they were utterly vapid, superficial, supercilious and about as substantial as a soap bubble, but they sure knew how to party!

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  • Fiery
    Lv 5
    9 years ago

    I am a sucker for the beginning motif of Rachmaninoff's 1st Symphony that James Horner ripped off from him and uses in like half of his compositions! C# D Eb D

    Just like the first few seconds: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zUjsonjLGmg

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    Good question. I honestly couldn't think of anything else so I am just going with this one. I will edit if I can think of other limited-tone themes I like.

    Interesting quote from Rachmaninoff himself about the criticism from his 1st Symphony that some people might enjoy reading:

    ("Either, like some composers, I am unduly partial to this composition, or this composition was poorly performed. And this is what really happened. [...] If the public were familiar with the symphony, they would blame the conductor (I continue to "assume"), but when a composition is both unknown and badly performed, the public is inclined to blame the composer.")

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  • 9 years ago

    The heavy baritone section from Igor Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring". The use of heavy and percussive motifs makes the musical experience more complete. That's why I'm also a fan of Beethoven. Simple, yet complete.

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  • 5 years ago
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