Frank Samarotto

The ‘Urlinie’, Melodic Energies, and the Dynamics of Inner Form

The ‘Urlinie’ may be thought to be the guarantor of coherence in a tonal work but it is less clear that it is a motivator of form. Two issues concern me here: Viewed energetically, the ‘Urlinie’, being a descending melodic line, enacts a decrease in energy. This is obviously not a plausible hearing of the overall shape of most tonal pieces. Moreover, the ‘Kopfton’ of the ‘Urlinie’ may remain in effect for most of a piece, suggesting a counterintuitively static picture.
Obviously many factors, rhythmic, textural, formal, may counteract this stasis. This paper, however, will consider one aspect little recognized: the injection into the ‘Urlinie’ of conflicting melodic energies as a way of shaping the internal dynamics of a work and motivating its unfolding. Beginning with suggestive comments by Schenker, this paper examines the ways in which surface diminutions may infuse energy into the static ‘Kopfton’, at once digressing from it and sustaining it. Examples from the Baroque, particularly those not following any clear formal schema, will be particularly instructive. This project looks forward to a larger goal of reconsidering the role of the Schenkerian background in shaping the inner form of tonal music.