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    Central climax

    edited September 2020 in Analysis

    Dear fellow musicians,

    In the music that I have thought the most about from an analytical standpoint—that is, Western classical music—a central climax or highpoint that formally bisects a piece seems to be rare. But, in recent years, a fairly well-known example from the world of rock has struck me as special in this respect: Led Zeppelin's Kashmir. Given Jimmy Page's compositional proclivities, I rather doubt that the placement of this climax very close to the midpoint was an accident. (In this case, I mean by "climax" a peak of intensity or emotion, if not necesaarily a unique melodic peak.) Can anyone think of other pieces, in any style, that exemplify something like this from an emotional or formal standpoint? Also, might the "influence" of musical practices of the region that gives the song its title be relevant?

    Mark Anson-Cartwright, Queens College, CUNY

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    • 6 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
    • Interesting question, Mark.  Rachmaninoff felt that every piece should have a single climactic moment.  These climaxes are typically very easy to identify in his music.  They occur at various points in his pieces, and there are many instances of climaxes occuring towards the middle rather than the end. 

      Rachmaninoff also felt that as a performer one should aim for a single point, so studying his recordings (of works not only by himself) would be instructive.  The great Alexis Weissenberg, who died just recently, is another pianist who aggressively chases those peak moments, and was even sometimes criticized for being one-dimensional in that respect.  You should check out his recording of the Rachmaninoff preludes.  Trust me, you won't miss the high points!

      Rich Pellegrin, University of Florida

    • As an outcome of its mathematical-formal design (explained here and half-shown here), the most intense moment of John Luther Adams's "Become Ocean" is exactly halfway -- in terms of clock time -- through the work. If you pull up a complete recording by, say, the Seatte SO, on, say, YouTube, note the duration, slide the playback head to the moment one-half of this duration from the beginning (or the end), and hit play, be sure to brace yourself. 

    • Not sure this is exactly what you have in mind, Mark, but "Mercury" from Holst's The Planets strikes me as a piece with an unambiguous climax that falls midway through -- or in this case, actually a little before the midpoint.

      Come to think of it, the entire suite kind of adheres to this climactic bisection, with "Jupiter" -- the 4th of 7 movements and the one with the most outward trappings of a stirring, heroic traditional climax -- coming at the rough halfway point.

      Perhaps searching for exact or near-exact palindromic pieces would turn up more?

    • There's Strauss's Alpine Symphony, an exemplar of Bogenform.

      Jonathan Elkus


    • Ruth Crawford Seeger's String Quartet (IV) is a great example of a palindromic work employing additional procedures that combine to create a strong formal division at the midpoint.  However, the densest moments occur 1/4 and 3/4 of the way through, as the additive and subtractive processes of the solo and accompanimental parts cross paths.

      Rich Pellegrin, University of Florida

    • I am sorry, but I didn't see this earlier. I do have another example. I've been working on Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht which has its famous turning point very near the middle of the piece. A radiant D major chord, which marks the transformation from all the turmoil, and gloom and doom, that preceeded this chord, to the serenity, goodwill, and hope, that follows. This chord occurs on bar (measure) 229, out of a total of 418 bars, which is pretty close to the midpoint. On recordings (since these could push it either way) it also falls close to the midpoint - on a Pierre Boulez recording (don't remember the date) it is at 15.25 minutes, out of a total of 29.35 minutes. And on my favorite recording of the work (Jasha Horenstein, 1957) it is at 14.18 minutes, out of a total of 29 minutes.


      Nona Monahin