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This shows the first two bars of Schumann posthumous variations V.

Schumann "Symphonic Etudes", posth. variation V, mm. 1–2

Look at this music note (red-squared), I am curious to know why Schumann chose a natural G instead of the original flat G in this original D-flat major (or B-flat minor) piece?

It sounds a bit abrupt to me that Schumann chose a natural G for this music note (red-squared). So I hope that there is a wise explanation/interpretation? (Please feel free to give me some comments/pieces of advice/background educations on this piece.)

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3 Answers 3

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The G natural is the chromatic lower neighbor to the A♭. It parallels the A natural that occurs in the preceding beat 2 as the chromatic lower neighbor to the B♭.

This use of chromatic lower neighbors is casually motivic. The below reduction shows (in red) where they are used is measures 1–8. In the specific case asked about, the underlying chord is D♭ major. Using a G natural intensifies the focus on the A♭, which is the primary melodic pitch on beats 3 and 4. The B♭ on beat 3 is a suspension from the previous measure (or, if preferred, an accented upper neighbor).

Schumann "Symphonic Etudes" mm. 1-8 reduced

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  • +1! Thanks very much for the key summary! I really appreciate your help. Could you say a bit more about why G natural there instead of G flat? The music there seems to convey something mystic or strange (conflict) there...
    – wonderich
    Jul 6, 2021 at 19:09
  • Thanks again for the answer! I have another naive question: how do we call the tonality key of this Schumann posthumous variation V? Is that D-flat major or B-flat minor? or no specific atonality? (sorry I am not trained as a music major...)
    – wonderich
    Jul 7, 2021 at 18:57
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    @wonderich It's Db major. Schumann is taking the original theme, which is C# minor (i.e., Db minor) and transforming it to its parallel major.
    – Aaron
    Jul 7, 2021 at 19:07
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    @wonderich the G natural in the context of a Db major chord gives a Lydian feel, which would account for the dreamy/mysterious feel you're getting. Jul 7, 2021 at 19:16
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I have a low-level observation on the following two melodies:

enter image description here

  1. The red part sounds a bit abrupt that was the question.

  2. But the blue part middle-line melody is totally reasonable. There are two parallel phrases in the second bar as the middle-line melody. The middle-line melody may be a good reason for choosing that natural A note in the first phrase, while choosing that natural G note in the second phrase. (This is what Aaron says I think.)

But the red part is still a bit strange or mysterious to me.

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  • Did you intend this as an answer to your question, or as a commentary on it? If the later, please delete this post and instead add the content as an edit to your original.
    – Aaron
    Jul 6, 2021 at 21:51
  • With these kinds of chromatic decorations, you'll often find that something that sounds conflicting at slow speed makes total sense when it's played at speed. Listen to a performance of the piece, and I think you'll find that it doesn't sound strange at all. Jul 7, 2021 at 1:17
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Probably because it has modulated to Ab minor, you can see the addition of the Cb earlier in the measure. G natural being the raised leading tone of that key

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  • How do you get Ab minor? The variation is in Db major, and the harmony at the time of the G natural is also Db major. The Cb is a chromatic passing tone (and suspension) linking the C natural in bar 1 to the Bb in bar 2, which are part of the overall diatonic scalar pattern.
    – Aaron
    Jul 6, 2021 at 21:48

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