Week 2: Narrative (F18)

Last modified on August 4, 2023

August 30 to Sept 5. This week, you’ll read about the most prominent theory of narrative in the field of music theory and analyze a piece with narrative theory. This week ends in an in-person meeting on Sept 5.

Due Friday, Aug 31

Introduction to narrative

Watch my instructional video on the basics of narrative theory for music. You can find this on Blackboard under Lecture Videos.

Concept check

Complete the Concept Check quiz on Blackboard to see if you are understanding the basics of narrative properly.

Reading and response

Read , which explicitly focuses on applying narrative theory to a broad range of repertoire.  Here is a playlist of the mentioned musical examples:

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/embed?listType=playlist&list=PLmP6Rwn8wU7wgYVPAk-i3nL9CvgQ5UoEY&layout=gallery[/embedyt]

Write a response essay (NB: NOT a summary!) to Klein’s essay, at least 700 words long.

A response essay is your personal take on the readings, and thus you shouldn’t be trying to write the “right answer,” but rather your opinion and reaction to what you’ve read.

Here is an optional prompt for your essay: Give an example from your personal background where you used the idea of a musical story to help guide your performance (or, for educators, your instruction  for a performance) or composition. What did this story add to the piece?

Feel free to write your response on another idea, if you wish.


  • Go to Blackboard and navigate to your group blog.
  • Click the “create blog entry” button, and paste your text directly into the text box, rather than uploading an attachment.

Due Monday, Sept 3

Respond to peers

Respond to the members of your peer group by clicking the “comment” button under their blog post and typing your response directly into the text box, rather than uploading an attachment.

Analysis assignment

You will analyze Chopin’s prelude in C minor from the Op. 28 preludes. This Chopin prelude is short and in a simple texture, yet full of narrative implications.

[gview file=”https://musi611.meganlavengood.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/chopin-prelude-in-c-minor.pdf”]


1. listening

Listen to recordings of the prelude several times while following along with the score, to get the music in your ears. This is a very short piece, so it will not take long.

Here are two recordings:

2. Identifying motives

Chopin motives a and b has analyzed this piece as being based on two overlapping motives, which are both found in the melody of measure 1: motive a, a neighbor-note figure in quarter notes, and motive b, a stepwise descending figure with the dotted rhythm. This is shown in the picture on the right.

Go through the rest of the prelude and try to identify the fragments that can be based on motive or motive b. 

3. analysis

Now, try to create a narrative through the relationship between motives and as they develop through the piece. You can think of a and almost as two characters in a story.

Here is a starting point for you: in measure 1, think of these two characters (the motives) as being in cooperation with one another. The motives overlap nicely, and together they outline the tonic C minor triad. This gives a definite sense of gloom and lamentation.

For your analysis, write a short essay that answers the following questions:

  • Which motive represents order, and which represents transgression?
  • Which side of this battle (between transgression/order) do you, as the listener, sympathize with?
  • Which narrative archetype does this piece represent: romance, tragedy, comedy, or irony?
  • Why did you choose this archetype—in which passages does either order or transgression seem to be “in charge”?

In addition to tracing the motives, here are other elements that you may consider in any narrative analysis (this also comes from Almén):

  • Spatial and temporal aspects of the piece. For example: registral shifts or gaps, changes in a prevailing or normative key or rhythm, etc.
  • Any change or development in a musical parameter. For exmample: the sense of increasing momentum associated with accelerando passages.
  • Any programmatic associations linked with themes, motives, textures, or with the work as a whole.
  • Expressive markings as coloration of other meaningful events. For example: when extra emphasis is implied by a crescendo or marcato marking.
  • The use of text, descriptive titles, or supplemental explanatory material, when appropriate.


  • You will be assessed on the following concepts:
    • Good identification of motives throughout the entire piece
    • Proper application of order/transgression concepts
    • Good support for narrative archetype
  • You will be given detailed feedback through the rubric. Click “View rubric” in the gradebook to access this.
  • Assignments are always graded pass/fail, with a threshold of 70% to pass.


  • Submit your assignment on Blackboard.
  • Upload your assignment as a .pdf attachment. Please do not use other file types.

Wednesday, Sept 5: Class meeting

See you at 7:20 pm!


If articles are not available online, you should be able to find them in the Readings folder.

(The Almén is not found there because I don’t want you to look at it! Analyze the Chopin piece on your own, without consulting outside resources.)

Klein, Michael L. 2012. “Musical Story.” In Music and Narrative since 1900, edited by Michael L. Klein and Nicholas Reyland, 3–25. Musical Meaning and Interpretation. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Almén, Byron. 2003. “Narrative Archetypes: A Critique, Theory, and Method of Narrative Analysis.” Journal of Music Theory 47 (1): 1–39.