Another Little Hour I Begged - Harmonic Analysis

by John Tasker Howard, Jr.

Download the piece discussed in this article

We discover here that the proverbial gay Lothario is to be found in Russia as elsewhere, although the text of the poem places a new and quite original construction upon a familiar theme of lovers. Instead of the usual "Am I the only girl you ever loved?" or "I shall drown myself in yonder billows !", the lass vamps indifferently and the lad decides that "There are as many fish in the sea as have ever been caught."

Originality whin in print is oftentimes but a tardy reflection of formerly experienced and well-known conditions, which have always either been taken for granted or condoned: but when given the publicity of print then shines in all the freshness of novelty. In verse, prose or music it is the same. The example at present afforded by the current popular novel, "Main Street," is directly to the point. Not one of us but who known intimately every character in the book, whether we live in Boston or Oklahoma City; but it took a Sinclair Lewis to originate the piquancy of gossipy criticism and small town culture. In subscribing to the originality and authenticity of Mr. Lewis' story we also approve of this modern conception of a love song, translated from the Russian into "Another Little Flour I Begged," the composer of which has had the temerity not to close the picture with a soul kiss upon high C, as has been the custom for so manv years. We appreciate the turn.

It is to he seen here that Russia also has its lighter modern musical idiom as well as the more highly developed harmonic structure. In material there is much in common with that employed by some of our own better popular song composers, although here there is an absence of the flowery arpeggios and (we regret to say) quasi "tonsorial art shop chords" sometimes found in the native product. The simplicity of rhythmic design of this song, and its solidity of harmonic structure, show well what can be (lone better with less effort and yet be accorded assurance of greater longevity. As we have remarked often before, superlative rhythmic designs appear only in an effort to conceal harmonic poverty. Notice their absence here, except for the derisive laughing-motive of one measure at the end of the eighth line.

Although always solidly harmonic, the accompaniment is rhythmically and contrapuntall v simple. The principal tonality is F Major. A repetitive tonal figure, which is the basis of the Introduction (1), produces the mood-model. A sequential repetition of this motive (2) is employed over the double organpoint as a ground bass (15), which, I fear, would ordinarily represent a greater stolidity than either of the lovers would seem to possess, but it is musically effective, nevertheless. The broken figure (4), which follows, is nearer the rather unstable seriousness of the couple. There is a remarkable similarity, in the voice part, to occidental tune-character: in fact a total absence of the Slavic or Tartaric which we should naturally expect in a Russian song. Perhaps this is an advanced evidence of the universality of man and his like tastes. In any case, a most singable setting of the words is here given, and lyricism is found in plenty.

Familiar harmonic designs, such as Minor Subdominant (5) and modulation to the Dominant (6) always give to the listener, as well as to the singer, a sense of security. And the momentary modulation to A Minor (7) over its Tonic organpoint (8) forms the softest possible background (the Mediant, of the principal key, F) for the tenderer words of the text. Also the inherent sadness of these two lines is greatly enhanced by the suspension C over B (9 and 10). Then as the story prepares (11) to reach its first climax (12), the stepwise tonal-rising reurns to the Dominant of the principal tonality in preparation for a new mood (13), now in F (the Tonic) Minor for a moment.. Here (14) the motive of sadness (the suspension) is extensively developed over a less-motioned bass (15), which soon (Hi) assumes its former characteristics and after a touch upon the Tonic of A Flat Major leads to the return (17) of the original motive and tonality for the last verse, in its original form except for a second climax (18). A reversion to the mood-model first used in the Introduction is the material of the Coda (19), now persisting in the Tonic to the end, while we imagine the recalcitrant lover betakes himself to a more sympathetic audience. We plainly see him cock his cap jauntily over the other ear and disappear (20) around the corner.

As the late Reginald De Koven wrote, in the New York Herald, of the public performance of a work by an American (name withheld for the sake of modesty), "We American composers must learn by experience." He was dealing with the few opportunities that the native composer had in which to hear his works performed in public. Apropos, it may be said that were we American composers to write with greater simplicity and normal freedom instead of wishing ostensibly to stand in the reflection of the moods and materials of other countries, we might, soon hear ourselves in public more often. We mean that here is a song which has sufficient dignity to appear upon any artist's serious programme, or as an encore, and still it has all the elements of a teaching piece. There is nothing technical or mental in it too difficult for the student, nor anything banal which would not appeal to advanced listeners. This is a lesson that "We American composers" might learn: Not to use quite all the chord-combinations and rhythmic designs in our vocabulary every time we write a song! And also we should remember that while music for musicians is one thing, music for the great masses is entirely another matter. While in our own cloisters, we may commune with augmented triads and their major sevenths as sweet and consoling consonances; but if we would deliver a message to less tonally surfeited oars we must bow to the vernacular.

"Another Little Hour I Begged" should have the general popularity its naive and charming character deserves. It is not a great song, and no doubt the composer would not consider it his masterpiece; but it is a practical song the like of which we see all too seldom nowadays, and we have no hesitancy in predicting for it more than the usual success.