Kerri Kotta

Form as Interaction between Harmonic Prolongation and Hypermeter

It is a widespread notion that a complete formal section, seen as a process rather than a fixed entity, primarily features a two-stage design. In terms of harmonic prolongation, the first stage usually presents a strong harmony and the departure from it creating a need for continuation. Responding to this need, the second stage displays the return of some kind of stable harmony whose proper articulation usually happens only at the end of the section.
Considering harmonic prolongation together with that of hypermeter, two types of configuration may arise. In the first case, harmonic and metrical layouts coincide: a strong measure (strong hypermetrical beat) displaying a deeper level harmony is followed by a weak measure showing a lower level harmony (or harmonies). In the second case, however, the two layouts are in opposition – a strong measure displaying a lower level harmony (or harmonies) is now followed by a weak measure showing a deeper level harmony (or harmonies). For convenience, I will refer to the first hypermetrical unit in which the tonal and metrical layouts coincide as a ‘trochaic’, and the second in which they are in opposition as a ‘iambic’ configuration of harmonic prolongation and hypermeter.

There seems to be a certain correlation between the aforementioned configurations and formal functions. If, for example, a four-beat hypermeasure displays a trochaic configuration in its first half (hypermetrical beats 1–2) followed by an iambic configuration in its second half (beats 3–4), it usually makes up a complete formal unit, which represents all main formal functions – beginning, middle, and end. On the other hand, if a four-beat hypermeasure displays the two successive trochaic configurations making up hypermetrical beats 1–2 and 3–4 respectively, it most likely represents only beginning, etc. Thus, the aforementioned configurations can be used to specify a section’s formal function it represents on a structural level under consideration.