Night, Florence Price 1946

Continuing in music I’ve been practicing (both voice and piano in this case). Below is a youtube video of a performance, and the score is available for purchase here. (I will be showing chunks of the score that I engraved so that I could change the key, so the music font will be different than the published version.) Text by Louise C. Wallace.

This piece is mostly tonal, with some strong chromatic chords. Quick overview/middle ground: The tonic expansion lasts thru m. 6. then moves to a Dominant motion for 3 bars. There’s a brief reiteration of Tonic (2 mm), before a tonicization leading to a huge Dominant pedal from m. 15-20, which resolves deceptively. Finally, some more cadential motion before resolving to a very standard C major tonic.

More detail:

Night, mm 1-6

The green marks are C major, the blue are A flat major.* The Tonic expansion is accomplished by a move to a chromatic third down (recall that the third down in major is Tr: the relative minor, and a third down in minor is no longer the relative key, so I’ve notated it tV: a major chord that stands as a tonic function, via the minor tonic of the key.)** Staying in C major, bar 5 is mostly f minor ish, minor predominant, but then bar 6 is kinda weird. If we think of the whole line as tonicizing A flat, it’s more straightforward. This chromatic third is the relative major (R) of the parallel minor (t). Pretty far, tonally speaking, from our start in C major!

I think all the chromaticism helps underscore the sensuality of nighttime and maybe the enveloping embrace of the Madonna the poet is imagining, using the slow unfolding chords to paint the picture of night falling.

Night, mm 7-9

After our C flat excursion, we go straight back to C major harmonies. This helps highlight the text because of the sudden change. Also, this text metaphor “Rose red her mouth” seems more standard to me, so standard harmony.

I feel the bass pitch very strongly, so I hear mm 8-10 as all Dominant, even tho the leading tone doesn’t show up till m. 9. We could also mark the voice leading motion in m. 7 as 8/6/4 to 9/6/4, but I think that saying Tonic relative over Dominant is more concise. You could also see that as a neighbor prolongation, if you like that kind of terminology. I’ve marked some of the inner voice leading, but basically, we hear the Dominant of the low G in the bass and expect tonic next.

Night, mm 10-15

Since Price doesn’t tend to go from so ti re Dominant to Tonic, I could see how at first glance this piece doesn’t really look tonal. But even tho the Dominant in m. 10 is substituting 6 and 4 for the usual 5 and 3 above the bass, we still feel the functional movement from Dominant to Tonic in the next bar. I’ve labeled this as Tonic with added flat 7, but in another context this might sound like Dominant of the Predominant (F). However, since we’re not going to F, and the addition of the flat 9 the next bar preps us for another chromatic mediant. I hear this as a chromatic Tonic expansion. (Might be cool to look at this chunk with Neo-Riemannian if that’s your jam? Seems like a lot of step wise motion. Not my forte.) The tonic Variant here is the same as in m. 4, but this time with the 3rd in the bass. Since the C is up so high, it may not even seem like a bass note. I could also see m. 12 as a continuation of the C pedal with flat 3 and flat 6 instead of 5/3.

Measures 13-14 give us a very tension building tonicization of the Dominant (missing the root, ninth in the bass), which resolves to (what seems to be standard for this piece) Dominant with 6/4 replacing 5/3. The chromaticism here helps mirror the distance of the stars, and the bass line in the piano literally goes “deep” for some text painting in m. 11.

Night, m 16-18

The Dominant pedal continues! There’s some voice leading motion indicated, but nothing to weird. The music and the text are building tension together. Measure 18 is one of the few so ti re dominants in the whole piece, but is anti-accented by not having a strong bass note that bar, having a diminuendo marked, and being the middle of a text phrase.

Night, mm. 19-21

Dominant pedal!! Measures 19-20 are very similar to 15-16. The resolution in m. 21 is to the Tonic relative, giving us a fake out, because the text isn’t ending here. However, a “couch” is a place of rest, so we’ve resolved some tension by moving away from Dominant.

Night, mm. 22-27

The vocal line descends into “shadow lies” as if to lie down, but the piano line is rising. The rising motion moves toward and underlies the word “dreamy” and helps continue the motion towards the cadence.

The chords here are maybe the most tonal. The Dominant of the Dominant moves to Dominant to Tonic (mm. 22-24). Again, Price needs a way to lessen the finality of this motion, so the Tonic has the third in the bass, and the Dominant is highlighting 6/4 again.

In m. 25, we get our most standard Dominant, finally highlighting a leading tone ti, just in time for the final cadence. Perhaps “weary” of avoiding the Dominant, so we can resolve to Tonic, “Day.” This is also recalling the only other root position, unadorned C major triad from the very beginning. We could make metaphors about C major be “day” and chromaticism showing the alien quality of “night” but it’s bedtime and I don’t have to have anyone grade this!

If you have questions or comments, please feel free to comment on this post or reach out! I like doing analysis to understand the music I play or listen to, but I don’t currently have any desire to write for academic journals or anything like that, hence the tendency to less formal language etc.

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*(I’ve switched computers and pdf mark-up programs since I last did this, and it is consequently more hand-written looking than before.)

**For a refresher on chromatic thirds go to this dissertation chunk.

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