This analysis covers the 30 bar long theme of the Brahms Variations on a theme by Joseph Haydn. The "St Antoni Chorale".

A piano reduction of this can be found in PDF format by clicking below: This contains details of the voice leading and motivic analyses.


Please note: this is not necessarily intended to be a good piano arrangement; rather, it is a reduction of the score, with the aim of facilitating the analysis. The principles I've followed in doing this reduction are:

  • To represent the full score as accurately as possible in reduction
  • Only to show octave doubling, were this is necessary to clarify the voice leading interaction between parts.

If you follow the orchestral score, please note that horns I and II transpose down a full 9th. Horns III and IV transpose down a 6th and the trumpets transpose down a 2nd.

An analysis outline showing voice leading, root progression patterns and phrase structures can be found in PDF format by clicking below:


It is suggested that you open these two documents separately and print off each for easier reference. To view on the screen, set the size to 100% or more for best results. If you have any problems viewing or printing these documents please let me know at contact address. Different countries use different page sizes so if any part of the page does not print then try setting the printer to "fit to page" or "shrink to fit" etc.


Step 1 - Identify the Cadences, Phrases and Formal Structure

This stage is relatively straight forward, for this piece, as the whole movement is in B flat major. Chromatic harmonies are used only to decorate the tonality. They do not establish new keys. All cadences are in Bb and all static harmony patterns are in the home key.

I've shown the cadences in the piano reduction. These are all perfect (chord V - I) or imperfect (ending on V). Any cadence that ends on V is imperfect. It does not matter what comes before, as it is the absence of the final chord I that makes the cadence imperfect rather than the pairing up of any particular two chords. The chord V of the imperfect cadence is usually preceded by dynamic harmony, as will be seen later. This suggests phrase structures which divide the music up as follows:

Bars Length Cadence
1 to 5 (to first semiquaver of beat 2) 5 bars Imperfect (ends on V)
last three semiquavers of 5 to 10 5 bars Perfect (V - I)
11 to 18 8 bars Imperfect (ends on V)
19 to 30 11 bars Perfect (V - I , bars 22 - 23)


At this stage, we have not examined the structure of these phrases sufficiently to determine whether they are complete or incomplete or whether any are sub-phrases of larger phrase structures. The phrase numbers are indicated in the score by numbers in a circle (in red).

The first two phrases are 5 bars long, (rather than the more usual 4 or 8 bars). Phrase 3 is 8 bars long and phrase 4 is extended into an 11 bar phrase. The melodic structure of the music confirms this segmentation. This is discussed in more detail later.

The first 5 bars form a melodic unit which ends "imperfectly" on chord V.

Bars 6 to 10 repeat the melody but with a "perfect" V - I cadence. The melodic and cadential elements thus suggest that the first 10 bars forms a larger complete unit. This is confirmed by the repeat marks at the end of the section. This can be formally described as section "A" of the structure.

Phrase 3 (bars 11 to 18), also ends on an imperfect cadence, indicating that there is still more to come. It is different from, but develops material from the melody of section "A". This is the middle section - section "B" of the formal structure. (The "middle eight" as popular musicians might call it.)

Phrase 4 (bars 19 to 30) consists of a return to the main melody "A" for 4 bars. The perfect cadence occurs at bars 22 to 23 (which would make the phrase 5 bars long, as previously) but the chord I of the cadence is prolonged by static harmony for a further 7 bars. Consequently this is " A' " or "A extended".

The formal structure is thus: A, B A'

Or if we show the repeats: A A, B A' B A'

I will avoid describing this as binary or ternary as these are normative* terms and are confusing as sometimes pieces have characteristics of both, as does this piece. As in the previous analysis, it is binary in the sense that it is formally divided into two sections but it is ternary in the sense that it follows the pattern A - B - A. I will describe the formal structure with reference to its melodic and cadence structure, rather than attempting to fit it into a given structure. This is in keeping with the approach taken for the remaining analyses on this site.

*by this I mean that you are meant to make the music fit the term rather than the other way round.


Next Section: Brahms - Voice Leading Analysis

Brahms Analysis Index Page



Ver. 2.6