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Compare and Contrast Melody and Structure in the Brahms, Debussy and Poulenc

Categories: Compare And Contrast

Brahms is a composer in which melody is not the key focus, but still does in fact use it to his advantage. As a romantic composer Brahms definitely uses the features of the romantic era in his music, for example, the augmentation of motifs. This happens regularly throughout the piece but specifically he does an augmentation of the x motif in bar 105-108. Another melodic feature that is present in this Piano Quintet is the use of ornamentation. This helps to create decoration to the melody line and is seen in the y motif at bar 109.

The last melodic feature that Brahms predominantly uses is rests and staccatos. This creates a jerky melody throughout for the strings and piano to play. Debussy in contrast, uses smooth melodies, by using slurs, which is shown from the first bar to create his description of the poem. Another contrast to Brahms, is that Debussy uses solos and unaccompanied melodies in his composition and Brahms never lets a part play on its own.

Debussy’s main and famous solo that he uses for the melody is in the flute at bar 1.

Furthermore, he also uses whole tone scales to be able to create a different melody that has not been used before, and this is shown at bar 31 and 32 in the clarinet. Similarly to Brahms, Debussy decorates his melody, however not with ornamentation but with different rhythms so that he can add in extra note flurrys. For example, the rhythm in bar 3 in the flute, at bar 21-22 has been decorated with demi-semi triplets.

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Poulenc similarily uses ornamentation in the way that Brahms does in his piece, for example in bar 10 he has used a type of higher mordent.

In addition, a melodic feature which is unique to this composition is the arpeggio figures, which is shown in the trumpet in the first three notes. This appergio figures helps us to establish what key we are in. Furthermore, just like the Brahms Poulenc makes use of our ability to make extreme dynamics for the melody,without having to add instruments. It starts off quietly until the fourth bar where it jumps to forte for three homorhythm notes. Lastly, Poulenc uses some chromaticism, just like Debussy. The chromatic melodic figure that appears in this piece is in the trombone in the Coda.

Brahms is very particular about the structure of his composition also. The overall structure of the piece is Ternary Form, which is A-B-A or this case Scherzo-Trio-Scherzo. The Scherzo is a movement which is mean to be like ‘a joke’. This structure and Scherzo was influecend by the Classical period as we were still developing the romantic era at this time. Brahms, decides to experiment with the Ternary structure though, so within the Scherzo there are three themes called A,B and C, and these are formed together witha fugato section to form ABCAB Fugato BCAB.

Furthermore, the Trio also uses its own Ternary form within itself with different themes. Lastly, the structure of the Fugato section is also experimented with to make it complicated and decorative to the listener, so Brahms uses a fugal subject and countersbujects at the same time and changes the points and instruments in which the different countersubjects come in. He ends the Fugal section with a Stretto, creating a extra part of structure, which uses fragmented ideas from previous melodies. Similarly to Brahms, Debussy uses a Ternary Form structure of ABA.

Furthermore, within the A section there is two subsections and a transitions. You can tell each different subsection because there is something new going on in each section. For example, in A1 the main theme of the flute is present, to the transition where the instrumentation changes and the melody starts to get scalic, and then for the final subsection it has a significant difference of a new tempo. This is a comparison with Brahms because Debussy has also experimented within the structure but has not gone to the extent that Brahms has.

Lastly, the whole structure is based on description. Debussy is trying to give a musical/visual image to a tone poem, and this helps him to create his structure throughout, because it needed to adapt to what was going on. The Sonata structure is not in fact in Sonata form, it uses a variation of Ternary form. Again like Brahms and Debussy, he does not just use ABA, but create a transition and a coda to go with this to create the structure of his whole piece. This is less ambigious than the other two composers but this is because Poulenc was heavily influenced by the neo-classical style.

Moreover, to create a contrast within the piece Poulenc used extended phrase structures and distinct classical style phrasing to help him clarify his structure e. g. bars 1-4. In comparision to Brahms, Poulenc uses themes within his structure to give each section its own miniature structure, for example, in Section A, bars 1-21, there are three themes A (b1-8) ,B (9-17) and C (18-21). In conclusion, there reasons there are similarities between the pieces are because they are all in similar music periods.

All it ranges from is the romantic period, where experimentation started to occur, to the 20th Century when experimentation was at its peak. Also, the reasons there are differences between the pieces is because of their own individuals styles and influences. Brahms is still influenced by the Classical period in some aspects due to being so close to the Classical Period, Debussy is in the middle of two periods so is influenced and his piece pushed the periods forward, and lastly, Poulenc was influenced by Neo classicism, and this shows all the composers influences are contrasting.

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Compare and Contrast Melody and Structure in the Brahms, Debussy and Poulenc. (2018, Oct 07). Retrieved from

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