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date: 25 July 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Like so many foundational music-theoretical terms, “phrase” has been adopted in divergent ways, sometimes unreflectively. Notions of phrase are necessarily contingent upon styles, genres, historical and cultural contexts, social functions, and ties to syntax, cadence, and form. Although no global definition is feasible, commonalities among appropriations of the term emerge. This chapter explores the ineluctable association of phrase with text and punctuation, from Western medieval chant to Stravinsky; but conflicting theories of phrase functions and cadences raise questions for non-texted music. Influential eighteenth-century definitions of phrase and phrase expansion suggest the strong, regularizing influence of galant dance. The young Beethoven flaunts the ever-increasing potency of phrase repetition and expansion; Schumann shows how to undercut the emerging problem of “foursquareness”; excerpts from Messiaen, Ligeti, and Ghanaian Agbadza music demonstrate that phrase is not reliant upon tonaltity. Just the same, composers, listeners, analysts, and especially performers depend upon the perception of “phrases” implicated in so much music of different styles, eras, and cultures.

Keywords: text setting, punctuation-form, resting points, temporality, beginning-middle-end, cadential progressions, phrase functions, hypermeasures, syntax

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