I've been reading a great dissertion on vocal melody in Schoenberg's Op.15; as far as I understand the author prefers the word 'gesture' rather than 'phrase'. From the writers words;

'(...) Moreover, musical gestures like cadences and rests subdivide the songs in traditional ways.'

'(...)we shall call such a combination of verse with its accompany melody a gesture.'

These are two different definitions, in my opinion. However, during the analyses, the author uses the word 'gesture' in a meaning which recalls 'phrase' in tonal music. My main question is; although there is no tonal signs that divides either the melody or harmony as there is no tonality in the vocal melody, how did the author separate the 'melodic units (I don't want to use the words 'gesture' or 'musical phrase' here.) and what did he depend on?

here's the dissertation; https://www.proquest.com/openview/5d1569e0ce60b9cb925e6a1b7552064f/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750&diss=y

and screenshots from the dissertation https://ibb.co/23MG7Xc https://ibb.co/71y8NW8 https://ibb.co/cFQkszx https://ibb.co/DCF3MQZ

When you scroll down to the p.32-34 you'll notice that the gestures intentionally (according to the author) don't coincides with the verses; in other words, the gesture doesn't end when the verse end.

So what's the logic behind this? What's the method of the author to divide the notes on the soprano part into 'gestures' ?

Youtube link to the song+notes:

Text from the dissertation for the people who don't have an access to ProQuest: https://ibb.co/PQ8TwFn

My illustration of the gestures depending on what the author says: from m.8 to the beginning of m.10 (b note) = gesture one

from the beginning of m.10 to the E note in the middle of m.10=gesture 2

From this E note to the end of m.12=gesture 3

  • Was the writing originally in a language other than English...and maybe the translation got lost along the way?
    – Dekkadeci
    Jul 18, 2022 at 17:58

1 Answer 1


Musical gesture is a relatively arbitrary term that can be used to designate any music unit under discussion. It generally refers to some element of music that can be recognized for some common property. For example, the author defines the first "musical gesture" in Schoenberg's melody based on a sequence of notes which are connected by

  • symmetry of direction (rising B-E then falling E-B)
  • symmetry of motion (mostly stepwise)
  • symmetry of pitch (beginning with B-D and ending with D-B)

The subsequent leap to A, by virtue of being larger than any previous leap and establishing the highest pitch reached so far by the melody, delineates a new "gesture".

The use of musical unit is a good substitute for gesture.

Gestures can be defined by changes in pitch, duration, texture, intervalic content, dynamic, or any other distinguishing musical property. Defining a "gesture" does open up the possibility of debate between theorists over whether such a unit is properly and appropriately defined.

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