Analysis of the Allegro moderato from Edward Elgar’s String Quartet op. 83 gives rise to a number of interpretative ambiguities, typical of late-romantic repertoire. Essential to these are the sophisticated interactions which the movement effects between its diatonic and chromatic voice-leading processes. Viewed abstractly, the result of this syntactic mixture on the movement’s overall tonality can be interpreted in three ways:
The Allegro moderato is monotonal; chromaticism is ultimately an attractive surface distraction from its deeper-level diatonic structure. One can produce a traditional Schenkerian analysis of the movement’s middleground from which chromatic discrepancies can be responsibly erased.
The movement is monotonal, but chromaticism is essential to its articulation of a single, global triad. While best analyzed in Schenkerian terms, its middleground only makes sense if dissonant prolongations are accommodated, which can be shown to contribute to the composing-out of a background cadence.
The movement is split between two harmonic syntaxes: one, predicated both on structural root-motion by fifth and shared membership of a diatonic collection; and the other, chromatic, dependent on parsimonious voice-leading transformations between major and minor triads, the fundamental roots of which are purely incidental. On this view, different parts of the movement might still be meaningfully associated (either in terms of motive, harmony, or voice leading), but their effect is not cumulative: i.e., they do not compose- out a nested hierarchy of diminutions which emanate from a single tonic. While by no means incoherent, the piece is tonally and syntactically disunified. (Broadly speaking, this is the kind of position often taken by analysts of a neo-Riemannian bent [see Cohn 2012].)
"A DIMINISHED-SEVENTH BASSBRECHUNG: TONAL AMBIGUITY AND THE PROLONGATION OF FUNCTION IN EDWARD ELGAR’S STRING QUARTET, 1ST MOVEMENT,"
Gamut: Online Journal of the Music Theory Society of the Mid-Atlantic: Vol. 9
, Article 2.
Available at: https://trace.tennessee.edu/gamut/vol9/iss1/2