Happy birthday, Rachel…

I was browsing one of my favorite independent bookstores—O’gara & Wilson’s in Hyde Park, Chicago—when I stumbled upon an old copy of Emotion and Meaning in Music by Leonard Meyer.  As I was flipping through it, I noticed a musical inscription on the inside cover—by Meyer himself—to one “Rachel” dated February 19, 1957.  As the photo reveals, the first phrase (including the anacrusis) is clearly written in C major, though Meyer notates a G major key signature.  I began to wonder if Meyer really heard “Happy Birthday” as a reification of a Riemannian S function.


I forced myself to hear the opening of the phrase as tonic prolongation (in G major), but it seemed quite difficult to overcome the middleground connection (via “reaching-over”) between the B (at the end of the first phrase) and the C that concludes the second phrase, a short and effective voice-leading connection that anchors the auxiliary cadence—and not, as Meyer’s notation would suggest, a transformation from T to (D7)S moving to S.  Meyer’s analysis suggests a phrase-level progression that involves an appreciable plagal analysis, a hearing that belies the phenomenological resolutions supported by the voice leading.  The entire second half of the song would be heard as an expansion of subdominant function supported locally by T = (D7)S, and there would be no tonal closure—the piece ending on scale-degree 4 in the final move to S.

No, Meyer must have simply notated the inscription incorrectly—perhaps confusing the prominence of the anacrusis (or the unfolded G-B third of the first phrase) with tonic function.


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