Four-part movement

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The four-part setting is a particularly common musical setting technique that aims at the participation of four voices named after the four human voices ( soprano , alto , tenor and bass ).

The four-part movement strives for a balance between homophonic- vertical correspondence (as a homophonic movement) so that the overall sound is not too restless and the text remains intelligible, and polyphonic- horizontal independence (as a polyphonic movement) in order to make the voices interesting for the vocals. The leading of the voice is subject to the rules of counterpoint .


Vocal music

A common use of the four-part movement is to create a movement for a given melody , e.g. B. for the performance with a choir . For this purpose, the harmonic potential of the melody should first be assessed and then a suitable bass line should be constructed, and only last should the two middle voices be added. Pay attention to the natural range of the voices.

The four-part movement has produced some stereotypes that grew out of its premises. Since z. For example, at the finals the root note is mostly occupied by soprano and bass, the alto often falls from the leading note to the fifth, although this is quite unsangible, in order to avoid a final chord without a fifth. The tenor, on the other hand, often falls from the dominant seventh to the third at this point, which looks much more vocal.

In the case of movements for so-called "equal" voices, for example a male choir with two tenor and two bass voices, the composer / arranger has to pay more attention to the effects of crossed voices , as the tone range covered is smaller.

Instrumental music

In its ideal form, figured bass is an instrumental application of the four-part movement. Here the starting position is reversed: only the bass part is given, the three upper parts must be improvised by the player based on the figures .

This figured bass is a summary of the harmonic course of a composition. Its four voices became the basis of the " Obligaten Accompagnement " of the neighbourhood's music, also and above all of the instrumental music, especially the Viennese classical music . The reduction of the usual string body from five to four parts in the late baroque (the second viola was omitted) prepared this development.

Composition of cantional movements

Basically, for four-part movements in the cantional style, the chords resulting from the seven levels of the underlying scale are used . Before you start composing the movement, you have to find a suitable chord for each melody note from the six possible ones, in which the respective melody note must be included. It does not matter where the note appears in the chord.

Then a bass line that matches the melody is constructed on the basis of these chords. The fifth may appear in this only in exceptional cases, more on that later. Ideally, soprano and bass run counter-parallel in order to avoid parallels later when formulating the middle voices.

Then the middle voices are added. Since four-part chords consist of three-part chords by default, a note must be doubled. As a rule, this is the root note, where this is not possible due to parallels , the fifth is first doubled , if that is also not possible, the third is doubled. Notwithstanding, individual chords in a movement can also be seventh chords. According to the pure theory of harmony, the voices must not make excessive or diminished jumps from chord to chord , and also no jumps larger than an octave. In addition, no fifths or octave parallels may appear, i. In other words, two voices with a fifth or octave apart from one chord to the next may not run parallel ascending or descending. However, a composer can achieve desired effects by violating these rules.

Special features of the composition:


A lead is a tone that is part of the previous chord (as a tied or newly struck note) that is dissonant in the new chord and gradually resolves into a consonance . Can occur

Fourth lead occurs most frequently.

Runs and alternating grades

In one pass , a tone “breaks out” of the chord, gradually becoming dissonant and then gradually becoming consonant again in the same chord (or possibly in the next). Here, too, there are primarily the three options mentioned under 2.1. For change notes see there.

Special chords

  • Vorhalts six-four chord He is a construction that requires a fifth in the bass and allowed. The fourth level forms a fourth lead to the dominant , which is then resolved into the tonic . The sixth fourth chord is often used in final cadences .
  • Shortened dominant seventh chord Here the root note of the chord is left out and a further minor third (conceived from the root note as the minor ninth) is added above the seventh. In the example of a shortened one, the G is omitted and is replaced by an ace. This chord resolves to the tonic.
  • Passing fourth sixth chord This is a chord that is built up on a step-wise led bass. The fifth as a bass note may only be reached and left in step. This construction is possible with all major and minor triads.
  • Alternating sixth fourth chord A chord in the basic position becomes an sixth fourth chord by gradually increasing the third and fifth. The changed notes go straight back down to the third and fifth, so they have made a parallel change with the upper secondary notes. The bass tone is either held for this period of time or can also be played at the same time.
  • Sixte ajoutée and turn These are small variations of a cadence that affect the subdominant. With the sixte ajoutée, there is simply no doubling of the tone, but the sixth is added. In thephrase, the fifth is replaced by the sixth and the root is doubled, otherwise the chord would look like a subdominant parallel with a fifth doubling. In addition, both chords are handled like an ordinary subdominant, they primarily reinforce the subdominant effect of a chord and are therefore also well suited for modulations .

Standardized phrases

  • Pachelbel scale A popular way to harmonize a major scale. The bass part moves to an ascending scale as follows: fourth down - fourth up - fourth up - kl. Second down - fourth up - large second down (or fifth down) - fourth up (or small sept up) . For this is harmonized: T - D - T - S - Dp - Tp - D (or shortened ) - T . You can also turn the whole thing around and use it for falling scales, in which case the variant with a shortened one makesno sense, since this chord only leads to the tonic. According to the natural human vocal range, the output tones for the bass line must be selected accordingly.
  • Final turns
    • Authentic full ending V – I ( dominant to tonic )
    • Plagal conclusion IV – I ( subdominant to the tonic)
    • Half ending: incomplete ending without a closing tonic (preferably ending on the dominant)
    • Fallacy V – VI (dominant to tonic parallel )
    • Phrygian ending : a special ending that z. As occurs in the harmonization Phrygian chants: A minor - triad or - sixth chord is a major out chord in the basic position. The root of the minor chord is one whole tone below that of the major chord. This results in a semitone step down in the upper or lower part, which corresponds to the semitone step at the beginning of the Phrygian scale.

In the final turns, the difference between half and plagalus can only be recognized in context, as the chords may be identical depending on the key. Here a clear naming is only possible via the basic key of the song. Half and fallacy cannot be used as the end of a piece. These are "interludes" that are used before pauses or at the end of lines.

See also


The four-part movement developed in the 17th century as a so-called "cantional movement" from homophonically designed song and instrumental movements of the Renaissance (however, the movements of the Renaissance were mostly five-part and therefore allowed only limited mobility of the individual parts). A well-known example of this development is the " Becker Psalter " by Heinrich Schütz (1628, rev. 1661).

The four-part movements by Johann Sebastian Bach are considered exemplary today because they reflect the above. Fully comply with requirements. Many of Bach's cantatas typically close with a four-part chorale. His chorale harmonizations were not only praised but also criticized during his lifetime. Its text-related expressiveness met with rejection , especially after its textless publication by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach .

Max Reger later created very demanding four-part compositions of folk and church songs .


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