Volume 8, January 2017
Revolution in Action: A Motivic Analysis of "Ghosts: First Variation" As Performed by Gary Peacock

by Robert Sabin, Ph.D.

5. Melodic Motives

This segment also displays recurrent melodic devices, which are not necessarily joined to the tempo characteristics described above, and will often go against the written phrase markings.  This quality creates a secondary layer of connections across phrases that are otherwise separated by onset and tempo.  These melodic qualities are indicated in Figure 10 as bracketed motives based on these purely melodic/intervallic characteristics.

While the motives can vary in terms of length, they contain overt similarities specifically in the dominant characteristics of contour, boundary intervals, and pitch content.  The first group of phrases contains ascending stepwise motion and longer note values, shown in phrases d1, d2, d3, and (in a rhythmically diminished form) d4.  Motives e1-e3 are each characterized by a stepwise ascent followed by a large interval drop that then descends further in a zigzagging motion. Motive e1 begins with the ascending Eb-F followed by the descent from the high F to G before then working downward in wide interval leaps to Bb.  This gesture contains the wide boundary interval of an octave (F-F).  A similar shape occurs in motive e2, where again the step wise Bb-B is followed by a downward leap of a major 10th before rising and falling again, eventually coming to rest on the low A.  The intervallic distance of the phrase is similarly wide, over two octaves away from the initial pitch.  Phrase e3 contains a high C-D stepwise motion and is again followed by a terraced descent downward, a full two octaves to the open D string.  The presence of articulation devices such as glissando (e1-e2) and the double chromatic approach (e2-e3) further link these phrases.  While containing separate melodic characteristics, these d-e motives are often linked using specific pitches, such as the Bb which serves as a terminal pitch for gestures d1, d2, and e1 and will be used as the initial pitch of motive e2 transposed up the octave.

Figure 10

Figure 10. Melodic motives, 0:55-1:18

Motive f1 contains an incomplete but recognizable harmonic referent (A-7) before ending with the characteristic interval of a perfect fifth.  This is echoed in motives f2 and f3, where each motive features contrasting triads that conclude with a harmonically foreign descending perfect fifth interval, C-F and F-Bb respectively.  The accentuation of incongruent pitches at the end of a phrase containing an otherwise overt harmonic element will also be a recurrent feature of many of Peacock's lines, acting as a dissonant harmonic accent, "erasing"12 any momentary aural connections to a stable tonality.  This mirrors the regular disruptions in tempo that prevent the perception of a predictable and dominant pulse stream.