I am reading this book and I need help to understand this line on page 4 (Construction of themes):

"Nearly always the phrase crosses the metrical subdivisions, rather than filling the measures completely."

Are metrical subdivisions each beat of a measure? Say a quarter note in a 4/4 meter?

I am trying to figure out what he means by contrasting these 2 ideas.


  • The wording is very ambiguous, maybe because Schoenberg wrote the book in English which was his second language. He never learned to speak it really well.
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Oct 18, 2020 at 8:52

5 Answers 5


...Are metrical subdivisions each beat of a measure?

That is my understanding of the text.

But the wording is really awkward. The only thing crossed would be barlines. I supposed you can say a dividing line between beats is crossed, but that would be true of anything longer than one beat! Something like "phrases may start or end with incomplete measures" would have been more direct IMO. That is the point I get from the text and especially from comparing the text to the musical illustrations in ex.1 & ex.2.


The "metrical subdivisions" he's speaking of are whole measures. He's saying that phrases usually cross barlines and end mid-measure.


He's basically saying that most phrases are "irregular" or, better, they're not that round as we may think when study this set of rules; you'll see what I mean when you get on the part of period/sentence/hybrid structures. We first see these 8 bar patterns and may think "a phrase must start on downbeat measure 1 and end upbeat measure x", but that ain't what's really happening in real music most of time.

A great variety of phrases begins in anacrusis and ends mid-measure - or may a phrase begin, end or join another by some techniques: elision, juxtaposition, omitting a beat or parts et cetera.


Schoenberg could have said even more clearly: most phrases and motifs start with an up-beat (and have their measure crossing ending, logically).


Metrical Subdivisions are the "and"s of a beat (meter, metricAL. see?).

Like this: 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & | 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & |

Each measure is divided into beats. Each beat is subdivided into subdivisions.

In compound meter, each beat has 3 subdivisions: 1 2 3 4 5 6, 1 2 3 4 5 6,

So, I believe he is saying that the specific theme in question has a phrase that doesn't fit the subdivisions quite as well as, say, a contrived example tune from a textbook might.

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