It Could Be Very Fresh:
Structure, Repetition, and Reception in Einstein on the Beach (1999; part 2)
While he is correct in stating the five chords can be heard as a modulation from f minor to E major, it is certainly questionable whether any listener will hear it as such, or especially whether the twentieth repetition of the cell will produce such an effect on the listener.16 The ability to hear this passage tonally is particularly hampered by the voice-leading from the fifth chord to the first chord of the repetition. While the other four transitions between chords followed traditional four-part voice-leading rules,17 the motion from E major to f minor contains three major “errors”: There are parallel octaves between the “alto” and “bass” voices, parallel fifths between the “tenor” and “bass”, and a doubled leading tone. After hearing this non-common practice transition, it is unlikely that the listener will perceive further repetitions tonally; the use of IV♭ as a pivot chord was already a stretch to hear the first time.
The lengthening of chords (and thus cells) follows two distinct processes and thus divide the section. The first cell, A (repeated three times) acts as an introduction and a presentation of what becomes the standard form of the motive—when five is heard at the end of “Building,” A is the only form presented. The next five cells, B-F, present the process of lengthening the motive from 3♪ to 4♪ beginning with the fifth chord and progressing toward the first. Cell F alters the process slightly by reducing the fourth chord to 3♪ while augmenting the first to 4♪. Avoidance of the projection of regular meter within a cell seems to be the overriding reason for this decision.
The next five cells, G-K, present a similar process, lengthening from 4 (or 3) eighth notes (via 6♪ ) to 7♪ beginning with the first chord and moving roughly from front to back: 1, 2, 4, 3, 5. The cell which at B lasted 16♪ is expanded by K to 33♪. The shift back to the quick transitions between chords of L feels like a tightly stretched rubber band being suddenly released. Without a change of tempo, the speed of the cell has been dramatically increased and, with the return of the rhythmic profile of the introduction, the process feels complete. By repeating L six times rather than three Glass makes the coda more satisfying to the listener: while each chord is much faster (3 or 4♪ rather than 6 or 7♪), by the fourth repeat (which does not exist in any other cell) we are able to hear the cell not as a five-chord motive but as two five-chord motives, a total of 36♪. Thus rather than lessening the tension of increased cell length (B-K), L acts as a culmination of this process. By focusing our aural “gaze” on two different levels of activity, the pattern can be heard as both accelerating and broadening simultaneously and without contradiction.
(The analysis of Einstein will continue in the next blog post)