1) write a four-measure phrase. 2) repeat.

October 27, 2016 at 1:51 pm

A couple years ago, I was teaching a class on Musical Form & Analysis. I gave my students an assignment to take a short piece and analyze the phrase structure. For most people, their analysis looked like “A, A’, B, A'” or “A, A, B, A, C, D, C, A, B, A”. And then there was that one cheeky student who analyzed Edvard Grieg‘s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” —

A, A, A’, A’, A, A”; A, A, A’, A’, A, A”; A, A, A”’, A”’, A, A”; coda (based on A)

A lot of hip-hop, dance, and techno music is just a two-measure phrase repeated ad nauseam. Well, Grieg’s famous spooky work isn’t much more than that. It’s a four-measure phrase, grouped into a six-phrase unit which is repeated three times, with a little ending. He does two things to keep us from banging our heads against the wall in boredom: 1) in each six-phrase unit, the middle two phrases begin on a different note 2) each successive phrase gets a little bit louder and faster.

The work is from a suite of incidental music Grieg wrote for the Norwegian satirical play Peer Gynt. It’s the closest thing to humor a Scandinavian has ever created.