Der Hirt auf dem Felsen D. 965 Op.129 Analysis

Another Schubert analysis here. This one looks primarily at the harmonic scheme and phrase structures in this unique work of the clarinet repertoire.

Franz Schubert’s song Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (Shepherd on the Rock) D.965, Op.129, was composed in 1828, the last year of the composer’s life. Written for voice and piano with clarinet obbligato, the work consists of three main section. Section A, marked andantino, is in the key of B-flat major and lasts from the beginning to measure one hundred twenty-six. The B section is in G minor and lasts from measure one hundred twenty-seven to two hundred eighteen. The third and final section, marked allegretto, lasts from measure two hundred nineteen until the end. These sections each reflect a different mood that the shepherd is experiencing. In the first section, the Shepherd is looking down into his alpine valley and reflecting on how lonely he is. The second section has the shepherd lamenting the difficulty of his solitary existence, and the third section displays the shepherd’s joy at the onset of spring. Each of these sections modulates frequently, often through the use of third relationships, a common feature of Schubert’s compositional style.

The work begins with a short piano introduction from the beginning until measure six. This introduction is in G minor and begins on the dominant. The dominant chords in measures four and six are both tonicized with vii4/2/V motion. When the clarinet enters in measure six, the piece abruptly modulates to B-flat major, the first of many modulations by third relation. Measures seven through eighteen feature the clarinet playing an arpeggiated theme that resembles the sound of someone yodeling in an alpine setting. The harmony modulates to E-flat major in measure twelve, and back to B-flat major in measure fifteen, via a pivot chord. The vi chord in E-flat major becomes the ii chord in B-flat, setting up a ii-V7-I motion. This section closes with an authentic cadence on B-flat. This cadence is elided with the next entrance of the clarinet. 

Measures nineteen through thirty-eight begin with the clarinet repeating the same melody as in the previous section until the half cadence in measure twenty-two, where the harmony modulates to D major, a third relation from B-flat. In measure twenty-five, a neapolitan six chord is presented. With the addition of the D-flat in the second half of this measure, the neapolitan chord becomes a dominant seventh, creating a modulation to A-flat minor. This clever use of the neapolitan chord allows for an easy modulation to a distantly related key. In measure twenty-seven, the harmony modulates to A minor by making use of a pivot chord. The major VI chord in A-flat minor becomes the dominant chord in A minor. In measure thirty-one, this same sequence is repeated again, with the major VI chord in A minor becoming the dominant chord in B-flat major. After these quick modulations, a harmonic sequence is presented, moving from B-flat to B diminished seventh to C minor, followed by a motion from A diminished seventh to Bb major, and another iteration of B diminished seventh to C minor. This harmonically dense section is closed with a very clear authentic cadence on B-flat in measure thirty-seven, which is then reinforced with a IV-I extension. Measures seven through thirty-eight form a phrase group, rather than a period because the large sub phrases lack a dependent cadential structure.

Measures thirty-nine through sixty-three contains the first entry of the voice and consists of two sub phrases from measure thirty-nine to measure fifty, and measure fifty-one to measure sixty-three. In this section, the clarinet imitates the voice to create a call and response effect. In both phrases, there is a small amount of modal mixture, found in measures forty-two and fifty-four. In both of these instances, the dominant chord briefly changes to a minor v. After the cadence on Bb in measure fifty, the voice restarts the phrase with the same melody and same call and response pattern in the clarinet. In the second iteration of this phrase, the piano also plays the responses in unison with the clarinet. This section comes to a close with an authentic cadence on B-flat in measure sixty-two. This section is also a phrase group, because both sub phrases end with authentic cadences, depriving it of the dependent cadential structure necessary for it to be considered a period.

In measure sixty-four there is an abrupt texture change in the accompaniment from flowing triplets to a more jaunty rhythm. This texture change is accompanied by a modulation to G-flat major, a third relation from B-flat. The section from measure sixty-four to measure eighty-seven consists of one phrase lasting from measure sixty-four to measure seventy-five, followed by a short reiteration of the first half of the phrase in measures seventy-six to eighty-one and a short interlude where only the clarinet and piano are playing. In this section there is a rapid sequence of I-V-I motions in measure seventy-seventy before a modulation to D major in measure seventy-eight, marking another third relation. This section closes with an authentic cadence on D, followed by another V7-I motion in D major between the clarinet and piano. 

Measure eighty-eight abruptly modulates back to B-flat for a clarinet and piano interlude that lasts from measure eighty-eight to ninety five. The same chromatic harmonic sequence heard earlier appears again, B-flat to B diminished seventh to C minor, followed by a motion from A diminished seventh to Bb major, and another iteration of B diminished seventh to C minor. In measure ninety-five the voice enters with the principle theme. Measure one hundred eleven modulates to A-flat major by using a secondary dominant. The dominant chord in B-flat becomes the V of ii, setting up a ii-V7-I motion in Ab in measures one hundred twelve and thirteen. The harmony then modulates back to B-flat in measure one hundred sixteen through a strong dominant seventh in B-flat. Measures one hundred twenty-two to one hundred twenty-seven are a short transitional area between the ‘A’ section and the ‘B’ section, which serve to modulate to G minor, the main key area of the ‘B’ section.

To summarize, in the ‘A’ section, there are two statements of the principle theme, followed by a secondary theme in G-flat major, and two iterations of the principle theme in B-flat major, also known as ternary form. The middle, ‘B’ section is much more volatile in terms of key changes than the outer ‘A’ sections, as would be expected. Multiple modulations, often in third relations occur, either through the use of a pivot chord or secondary dominant. Schubert frequently uses abrupt modulations at the beginnings of sections. Both the principle and secondary themes are phrase groups, as they lack dependent cadential structure.

The ‘B’ section of the composition begins in measure one hundred twenty-seven in G minor. The first statement of the principle theme of the ‘B’ section lasts from one hundred twenty-eight to measure one hundred thirty-nine. The harmonic motion for the first part of the phrase is static, remaining on the tonic then briefly moving to the subdominant. At the end of the phrase, Schubert uses a neapolitan chord in measure one hundred thirty-seven. The following measure then tonicizes the neapolitan with an E-flat dominant sonority, returning to the neapolitan subsequently. As expected, the neapolitan chord leads to the dominant seventh in measure one hundred forty, which serves to link the first statement of the principle theme with the second.

This principle theme is repeated beginning in measure one hundred forty-one. Because the first iteration of this theme ends with half cadence and the second starts on the tonic harmony, the two statements of the theme form an interrupted period. Just as in the first iteration, the harmony is static at the outset, remaining on the tonic and then briefly moving to the subdominant. At the end of this phrase, the harmony once again moves to Ab, however this time it should be viewed as a modulation, rather than a neapolitan. A-flat major is first presented in measure one hundred forty-nine, followed by a dominant-tonic motion to A-flat minor as the text states “I live so lonely here.” This last line of text is then repeated in measure one hundred fifty-five in the key of A minor, beginning on the dominant. Schubert again uses N6-V7-i motion to solidify the key of A minor at the end of this section.

The second theme of the ‘B’ section is heard in measures one hundred sixty-five through seventy-one, and again in one hundred seventy-three through eighty. Both statements of this theme begin with a descending chromatic line in the left hand of the piano, starting on F-sharp. On the word “love” in measure one hundred seventy-one, Schubert adds an extra dissonance of a flatted ninth. This occurs in the midst of five measures of static D7 harmony making the extra dissonance stand out. The harmonic underpinning of the secondary theme in the ‘B’ section is more ambiguous than is found with the principle theme. The chromatic bass line that begins each statement is accompanied by harmonies that rise in thirds, from D7 to F major to A minor. Both statements then stay on D7 for several measures. The second statement of this theme does not resolve the dominant with the voice, but rather prolongs it for four measures until it is resolved in the clarinet. This cadence is elided with the next entrance in the voice, returning to the principle theme of the ‘B’ section. Because the first statement of the secondary theme ends on the dominant harmony of D7, and the next phrase continues on the same harmony, these two statements of the theme form a continuous period.

Measures one hundred eighty-three to two hundred and five return to a version of the principle theme of the ‘B’ section. This theme starts out with a similar contour to the principle theme, but has significant differences from the original statement. The harmony for this statement of the theme is significantly different as well, beginning in G major. This modal shift from the earlier statement in G minor reflects the text that each passage is setting. In the original, G minor passage, the text is “Again in Grief my strength is spent, no joy the path to cheer.” In the G major version of this theme, at the end of the ‘B’ section, the text is “It draws the heart t’wards Heav’n above with wonder working might.” Though this theme begins in G major, it modulates to A major in measure one hundred ninety-two through the use of a secondary dominant. The second statement of this theme is entirely in G major. Because the first statement of this theme ends on the dominant in A and the second statement begins on the tonic harmony in G major, these phrases form an interrupted period. 

After the authentic cadence in G major found in measure two hundred and five, there is a short interlude in G minor with the clarinet and piano that serves to modulate back to B-flat major for the final section. This occurs through a pivot chord in measure two hundred and eight, where the E-flat major chord represents the VI in G minor and the IV in B-flat major. This interlude ends on the dominant harmony in the key of B-flat major, followed by a short cadenza in the clarinet. 

The ‘C’ section of the composition is the most harmonically stable portion, utilizing only B-flat major and D major. It begins with the allegretto marking in measure two hundred nineteen and lasts until the end. This section begins with an eight measure introduction between the clarinet and piano, and utilizes tonic and dominant harmonies in B-flat major.

The principle theme of the ‘C’ section begins with the vocal entry in measure two hundred twenty-six and lasts until the authentic cadence in measure two hundred and fifty eight. This theme is a phrase group as it is made up of several short passages that lack dependent cadential structure to form a period. This seems logical with the text, which repeats “and spring will be coming with joys for me in store, through high summer pastures to wander once more,” or fragments of this phrase throughout the section, rather than an antecedent and consequent narrative structure. The accompanying figures are sprightly and frequently feature upward rising gestures in the clarinet, signifying the shepherd’s good mood about the onset of spring.

The secondary theme of the ‘B’ section begins in measure two hundred sixty-two and lasts until the return of the B-flat major harmony in measure two hundred and ninety-one. This secondary theme is very similar to the secondary theme of the ‘A’ section, and sets the same text. In the ‘C’ section, this theme is presented in D major, as opposed to the G-flat major of the ‘A’ section. This presentation of the theme is more embellished in both the voice and the clarinet parts than it is in the ‘A’ section, again reflecting the shepherd’s positive outlook. In this middle section, there are two clear statements of this theme, each ending on an authentic cadence. The end of the first statement and the beginning of the second statement are elided by the clarinet and piano accompaniment, which play through the end of the phrase and into the beginning of the next. This theme lacks the necessary dependent cadential structure to be considered a period. 

After the authentic cadence on D in measure two hundred eighty-seven, there are three measures of text from the principle theme which are stated in D major before an abrupt modulation to B-flat major. Just as the theme was presented earlier in the ‘C’ section, the fragmentation of the repeated text is mirrored in the music, with short phrases accompanied by responses from the clarinet. This serves to increase the energy as the composition moves toward the end. 

At the più mosso indication in measure three hundred and fourteen, the text that was used for the secondary themes in both the ‘A’ and ‘C’ sections returns, this time in the key of B-flat major. The phrase, “the further I fling my voice, the brighter it returns to me,” is repeated three times with increasing activity from the accompanimental voices as it builds to the end. After the third iteration of this text, the clarinet plays several measures of rapid sixteenth notes that drive to a final authentic cadence on Bb.

As we have seen, the work can be divided into three main sections with the tonalities B-flat major, G minor, and B-flat major, respectively. Each section can also be broken down into a ternary form, with two themes being presented in an ABA structure. In each of these sections, the secondary theme tends to be less harmonically stable, as we would expect in ternary forms. Schubert makes use of both abrupt modulations and modulations through pivot chords or secondary dominants. Many of these modulations are to tonal areas that have third relations. Melodically speaking, Schubert mostly makes use of phrase groups, but there are some instances of phrases that can be grouped into periods. Schubert also uses modality and dissonance to express the meaning of the text, as was evidenced by the shift in mode from minor to major in the ‘B’ section.

This analysis was prepared in the spring of 2020 for my Masters oral examinations at Ohio University.