St. Vincent for Horn Quartet or Ensemble

Amir Zaheri


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“St. Vincent is a short, somewhat wistful piece, with traces of struggle found in nearly every phrase. The outer form is crisp: four eight-bar phrases are followed by a ten-bar digression, which leads to a recapitulatory eight-bar phrase. All of these begin and end squarely, diatonically, in A. (Analysis transposed.) Inside the phrases, however, there is an element of chromaticism, D#, which seems to struggle to reach its goal, E. It gets frustrated at every turn, whether by enharmonic reinterpretation or by outright rejection.

Phrase 1 (mm. 1–8) is entirely diatonic, not only featuring an oscillation between IV and I6, but also cadencing on the subdominant itself, instead of the V or I. This emphasis on D, rather than E, foreshadows both the chromatic drama to come as well as the final cadence of the piece, which is not authentic but plagal. Phrase 2 (mm. 9–16) opens with a tonic pedal but retains the IV in the upper voices before carrying that upper structure through through theme in parallel motion over the pedal. The upper structure’s root-position voicing offers a contemporary flair. The phrase ends in a half cadence with a 4-3 suspension. Phrase 3 (mm. 17–24) opens with the theme now supported by the root-position IV. Again the subdominant is favored over the tonic or dominant. A half cadence soon follows, this time with a 6-5 suspension. Phrase 4 (mm. 25– 32) opens with the theme over a dominant pedal, which quickly retreats to the subdominant before leading to a more conventional authentic cadence, now combining the prior suspensions into one 6/4-5/3 suspension on the tonic. One might view this phrase as a consequent phrase finally answering three antecedents.

Phrase 5 (mm. 33–42) is a ten-measure diversion, sequentially leading to the parallel minor key, in which a half cadence unambiguously asserts A minor with a flourish of neighboring C-natural and F-natural. Phrase 6 (mm. 43–50) makes a final statement of the theme, closing squarely on tonic (without suspensions).

A struggling, chromatic D# is introduced in Phrase 2 (m. 14). Here, as part of a V of V, it may be expected to lead to the dominant, E. However, it leads directly to the root, D, of a IV7 chord. This sort of sublimation of a raised 4th scale degree is not uncommon in various moments in the repertoire, but in St. Vincent it is only the beginning of the story. The D# is relentlessly negated in this piece by D, multiple times in multiple ways. In Phrase 3 (m. 21) the D# is again driving toward E, this time supporting a V6 (“add 2”), of V but is immediately, though temporarily, deprived of its goal by the cross-related D-natural in another voice. This chord, enharmonically a iiø4/3 (F-B-D-A) does lead to the D#’s original goal, the E. Sitting atop this fifth scale degree, however is not the dominant chord. It is an unstable tonic major-seventh chord. It leads to the stable dominant in measure 24, but not without yet another D#/D cross relation. This time, the D# is a 9-8 suspension in a tonicized iii chord. It’s resolution to C# is followed by a strident, key confirming D-natural in the bass. This return of D-natural is made all the more prominent by its not being connected by slur to the E that follows.

In Phrase 4, the D# is again denied but in a surprising new way. The mezzo-forte chord in measure 28 is easily interpreted as a D# diminished-seventh chord with an unresolved 4-3 (G#- F#) suspension. After all, there is a precedent. The same chord and suspension are heard at the beginning of measure 21. In that case, however, the suspension (D-C#) is realized. In this case, the G# is left lingering in the most pregnant of mid-phrase pauses. The G# does not lead to F# to form a complete diminished seventh chord, acting as yet another V (or viio) of V. Instead the G# is held, while A reveals itself as a dissonant accented neighbor. When it resolves to G#, the listener is left with a pure G# major triad. The logic behind this enharmonic twist becomes clear when this G# triad (V of iii) leads, in descending-fifths fashion to a C# minor (iii), which leads smoothly and diatonically to the authentic cadence in measure 31.

Interestingly, it is in the ensuing digression, not in the expository sections, that the D# is allowed finally to attain its resolution to E. In m. 34, the D# participates in a conventional applied dominant leading to V. Soon enough, though, the original modus operandi returns. The passage leads to a confirmation of the parallel minor by way of an augmented sixth chord (m. 40, F-A-C-D#). This heightened dissonance more strongly demands resolution to E, but is yet again denied as the D# leads not to E but to D-natural, resulting in a reprise of the iiø4/3 (F-A-B-D) heard earlier. Previously, the chord was an example of modal mixture, suggesting A minor but leading ultimately to a V in A major. But here the minor mode is not merely suggested; it is realized.”

-Amir Zaheri

Score and Parts Included: Horn in F 1,2,3,4

Additional information

Weight 5.6 oz

Included Parts

Ensemble Type