Teaching Phrase Rhythm through Minuets from Haydn's String Quartets

Ryan McClelland

Recent theoretical research places considerable emphasis on aspects of musical temporality. Theorists have reflected on topics such as the definition of rhythm, the factors that create meter, the relationship between rhythm and meter, the operation of meter at levels above the notated measure (hypermeter), phrase expansion, and rhythmic dissonance. Elements of this research have infiltrated some undergraduate theory textbooks, but many limit discussion of rhythm and meter to an introductory chapter on the fundamentals of notation. Phrase rhythm - the interaction of hypermeter with phrase structure - is of undeniable importance to performers and should be incorporated in the core theory curriculum. The nuances of phrase rhythm can be revealed effectively through a diverse group of excerpts, but I have achieved good learning outcomes from pursuing these ideas in a short unit devoted to several minuets by Haydn. After commenting on relevant theoretical and pedagogical literature, I will sketch a presentation of the key aspects of phrase rhythm - hypermeter, hypermetric reinterpretation, and phrase expansion - with examples drawn from the minuets of Haydn's string quartets. The article will conclude with analyses of three complete minuets to suggest the depth and range of musical understanding that a thorough study of phrase rhythm brings to the theory classroom.