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Rebecca Zhong

Comment on the relationship between melody and


accompaniment in Gershwins American in Paris.
The relationship between melody and accompaniment is
instrumental in creating and maintaining interest within a
composition. Gershwins American in Paris is no different.
Throughout this work, different tone colours fluctuate between their
roles as melody, harmonic accompaniment, and rhythm and bass.
This sustains aural interest and at certain points, is furthered by the
addition of a countermelody. This essay will be examining the
Development section from bars 136-174, where the rapidly
alternating roles of different instruments are key in evoking its
playful atmosphere.
At the beginning of the development section, from bars 136-141,
the melody is very firmly in the hands of the lower brass section and
the bass clarinet. The snare drum plays in rhythmic unison, and
although unpitched, this serves to emphasise and support the
melody- comprised of the motif from the 2nd Walking Theme. The
accompaniment takes upon many forms. The violins play broken
chords, which have a similar role to the chromatic sequencing that
the woodwinds play. This role is to create harmonic interest, but
does not actually provide any harmonic stability, owing to its
chromatic nature. This alone is quite interesting, as it appears that
the traditional practice of upper register instruments playing the
melody with accompaniment by the lower register instruments has
been abolished. Upon closer inspection, it appears that Gershwin
has done this before, for example by using the trombones to play
the La Sorella theme. Even more intriguing is that the violas, a
middle register instrument, seem to be playing a fusion of the
melodic material and the accompaniment, with the 2nd Walking
Theme motif followed by a broken chord, perhaps to link together
the upper and lower register instruments. The rhythm and the bass
play separate material from the rest of the accompaniment. The
tuba, bassoon, cello and double bass play quavers, which provide
rhythmic stability in this otherwise chaotic section.
In bars 142-147 the tuba, previously used to play the rhythm and
bass is now given a solo using the previous melodic material. This is
one example where Gershwin has demonstrated a huge change in
function from one tone colour. The accompaniment here has also
been drastically contrasted. There is only one line of
accompaniment- off beat quavers- being played by oboe, clarinet,
xylophone and strings, meaning that the texture has thinned
considerably, and there is no harmonic or bass support. These large
changes in texture and tone colour have a comical, light-hearted
effect.

Rebecca Zhong
This leads into the bridge section from bars 148-151, where there is
no discernable melody, as all lines being played are extremely
chromatic, especially the semiquaver runs in the clarinet and viola
parts. The previous melody-players, the brass, are non-existent.
Therefore, if there is no melody, is there an accompaniment? This
section seems like a filler wall of sound that carries the music to
the next major theme, at bar 152.
The section beginning at bar 152 and ending at 166 marks a
reiteration of almost all the melodic themes previously heard, as per
its function as a development section. There is a rapid, erratic
changing of melodies and accompaniments here, mostly played by
different tone colours, almost like an aural montage of themes. It is
reminiscent of an overture, from Gershwins musical theatre days.
From bar 152 to 156, the oboes, clarinets and violins replay the
motif from the 2nd Walking Theme. There is a countermelody
underneath, the La Sorella tune, played by the horns and cellos. The
cooperation between these two themes is previously unheard and
as such provides interest. Suddenly, with only an ornamental demisemiquaver run warning by the flutes, the trumpets and strings are
playing the 2nd motif from the 1st Walking Theme. The oboes and
clarinets, previously with the melody, are now playing sustained
chords along with the trombones and tuba, for harmonic support.
Then, just as suddenly, the horns and upper strings are playing the
Taxi Cab theme, with chromatic woodwind accompaniment.
Bar 166 brings a change in mood, as the texture thins and the
accompaniment is dramatically simplified. The melody is a singular
line played by one flute, and the accompaniment only consists of a
bassoon, 2nd violin and viola. The rhythm of the accompaniment is
also simple, with only a sustained tie and on-beat quavers. This
contrasts with the multiple lines of accompaniment, with complex
rhythms, like triplets and syncopation, and chromaticism, heard
earlier. This creates a quieter and more peaceful mood.
In conclusion, the Development section in Gershwins American in
Paris demonstrates a melody and accompaniment that frequently
alternates between tone colours to create musical interest and
evoke different moods.