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Schenkerian Analysis of Schubert’s ‘Nacht Und Traume’


Schenkerian analysis is a tonal musical assessment method that relies on Heinrich Schenker’s (1868–1935) principles. The objective is to demonstrate how the work links to an idealized deep structure, the Ursatz, in order to show its organic consistency. This primordial framework is basically the same for any tonal composition, but a Schenkerian analysis demonstrates how, in each case, that framework develops into a remarkable creation at the “opening scene,” or score level. “Tonal space” is a crucial theoretical term. The gaps between the sounds of the tonic triad in the background create a tonal space that is occupied by passing and neighbor tones, resulting in fresh triads and tone space accessible for further development until the “surface” of the tonic triad is reached. Franz Schubert composed Nacht und Traume in 1825 as a musical for voice and piano (Bretherton, 2019). Also, the sadness that comes with the night giving way to the sun, which strips away the illusions with it. This essay will examine Schubert’s work in terms of tonality, melodic structure and contour, rhythm, the piano- relationship, and the use of phrase painting. In addition, minor references to other components of the six musical themes will be made.

Schenkerian Analysis

Schenkerian Analysis

Analytical Commentary

Schubert makes great use of the opening in a number of ways, including establishing the piece’s tonality, which in this instance is B major. With the addition of the voice, the work remains in B major. From Bar 4 to Bar 15, the tonality generates a tranquil and gentle ambiance. The meter of Nacht und Traume is 4/4 in terms of length. The pacing is andante, with a distinct beat. Although dynamics are used across the piece, they are not varied. The piece’s only dramatic marking is pianissimo at the start (Perry, 2020). With one tune and piano background, the texture is homophonic. The work has a strophic pattern with just one verse. Shubert’s most important musical device in the opening, aside from tonality, is rhythm. The general tone of the piece, which is created in this beginning, is created and enhanced by rhythm. In bars 1-4, the rhythmic notion heard in the keyboard is formed, and in verse 5, the vocal chorus is introduced. Shattered chords in semi-quavers make up the repetitive pattern.

The repetitive concept in the piano that was created in the opening continues throughout bars 4-15. Schubert builds connection with the audience and stability in the tone through this recurrence. Although the andante pace, the fragmented chord, semi-quavers build tone and propel the song forward. Schubert employs a variety of rhythms, including quavers, harmonic progression, and minims. This variable rhythmic pattern allows for a basic, easy melodic flow, which adds to the delicate atmosphere. The basic rhythmic notion in the keyboard remains steady from bars 16 to 29. The key difference between bars 4-15 is the increased usage of semi-quavers, which intensifies the tension and supports other aspects, such as melodic outline, in bringing the piece to its conclusion. In bars 16-29, the rhythmic motif of a falling quaver run is used again, as it was in bars 4-15, to create familiarity. The composition comes to a close in bars 30-31, with Schubert’s keyboard rhythm. Schubert closes the song with this pattern and the fragile, lovely impression it evokes in everyone’s imagination.

The musical form of Nacht und Traume is originally a mixture of leaps and steps. A variety of rising and lowering steps are interspersed among the leaps, conveying the sensitive tone and building to a leap. When wider gaps are used, it often conveys a frantic tone. However, Schubert uses the leaps in this work, together with finer resolution, to produce a lovely and sensitive overall tone, rather than a frenzied one. As the song reaches its conclusion, there is a larger diversity of jumps and steps from bars 16 to 29. The leaps and steps, identical to bars 4-15, establish a sensitive mood. In contrast, as the piece approaches its conclusion, Schubert makes a larger usage of melodic shape, which produces diversity. For instance, rising quavers are succeeded by a falling crotchet loop in bars 27-29, which fades to the final melodic tone and the story’s finale.

A connection between both the piano and the vocal is crucial in generating harmony, contrast, and tone all through the song. The interaction between the two devices is based on unity, thanks to the repeating piano rhythm. The theme is recognized by the audience since it is reproduced throughout the piece, providing a sense of togetherness with the voice. This repeating basis, on the other hand, emphasizes the tonal difference between the two sections, bars 4-15 and 16-29, in terms of tone. A smooth transition from solo piano to piano and vocals is another advantage of this interaction. This connection is skilfully used by Schubert to establish harmony and contrast, allowing the viewer to perceive the sensitive and exquisite tone. In Nacht und Traume, word painting plays an important role in presenting this delicate subject to the audience. In bars 8-9, Schubert uses a single repeated concept of a falling quaver run to represent the lyrics, “The dreams trickle down, too.” The sinking quaver run matches the lyrics, molding the meaning and transmitting the storyline to the listener.

The vocalist also cries out and pleads, “Come back, holy night!” near the end of the composition. Come back, sweet dreams!” As the pattern is replicated for each phrase and the harmonies decrescendo, the melody corresponds with the words once more, representing the dying pleads. In this case, word painting is an efficient approach to depict the story. I examined Schubert’s compositions in terms of tonality, melodic structure and contour, rhythm, the piano-voice interaction, including the use of phrase painting. These important factors have molded this serenity, and Schubert has skillfully and properly represented the narrative of Nacht und Traume by combining additional characteristics of the six musical themes.


Bretherton, D. (2019). The Musico-Poetics of the Flat Submediant in Schubert’s Songs. Journalof the Royal Musical Association144(2), 239-286.

Perry, F. (2020). Franz Schubert, Nacht & Träume: Lieder with Orchestra: Accentus and the Insula Orchestra, Laurence Equilbey, cond Erato 9029576943, 2017 (1 CD: 50 minutes). Nineteenth-Century Music Review17(2), 293-296.


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