The symphonic tradition of Rime of the Ancient Mariner

SinisterMinisterX

Illuminatus
Staff member
It's time for some old-school music-major pontification! :smartarse: There is a particular parallel between Rime and classical symphonies, which was likely unintentional on Maiden's part and is probably not known by Maiden fans who aren't big classical music fans. It's time to address the topic of recapitulation.

The most common basic structure in music is called ternary form. That just means three-part form, and it's usually symbolized ABA. In other words: you hear one musical idea, then something different, then back to the first thing. Over the centuries, a particular variation on ternary form has emerged in multiple styles of music. It's AABA (just repeat the first section before the different stuff), and surprisingly doesn't have a standard name. I call it song form, because (as I'll demonstrate shortly) most songs boil down to AABA.

The final step in the evolution of song form was splitting each section into two contrasting parts. This finally gives us a structure of ab ab C ab. Now you can see the standard song clearly: verse-chorus, another verse-chorus, something different (often a solo) in the middle, and final verse-chorus. However, this same idea took a different path in classical music.

Classical symphonies always open with a movement in sonata form, which is the old style of AABA. Here, the A-sections are split into areas that present contrasting melodic themes (parallel to the verse-chorus in most songs). The B section is called the development section, and it's the heart of the piece. It's where the composer develops (does interesting stuff with) the themes he presented in the A-section. Developments are usually the most dramatic parts of such a piece, and every good drama needs a climax...

The climax of classical developments is done by creating musical tension, and then resolving that tension upon arrival at the final A-section. This dramatic return of the very opening material is called the recapitulation (as in, from the head again). What really sets a classical "recap" apart from a normal third verse is this: the opening material being brought back has not been heard in a very long time, and its long-awaited arrival resolves musical tension.

And now, the symphonic parallel to Rime is clear. When the opening of the song returns at 11:06, that's a full-on recapitulation. In fact, the parallels run even deeper. The two types of verses in the opening/closing sections of Rime are directly parallel to the two themes in the A-section of a sonata form, as opposed to the verse-chorus pairings of modern song form. The harmony guitar bit which separates those two sections is repeated the same way in the recapitulation - just as the transition between the two themes is repeated (though altered) in a classical recapitulation.

Probably by coincidence rather than intent, Steve Harris naturally used a classical-music structure (altered for metal) when he wrote Rime. It has more in common with Beethoven's 9th than with a typical rock song. (And if you want to know what a great recapitulation sounds like, the recap from Louie's 9th is a the ultimate jaw-dropper. Watch this - recap drops when the monster timpani roll begins.)
 

harrisdevot

Priest of the Holy Wristband
Very convincing. Harris himself may have not been aware of the parallel, but he probably borrowed the idea from 70's bands (I think of Tull's Thick as a Brick) that had a classical knowledge. I also think that, in this case, the musical structure serves the narrative structure, and that it was intended this way. His two preceeding "epics" had a very different structure, with no return to the initial theme at all in Hallowed, or just a reproduction of the intro as a conclusino in To Tame a Land. Phantom, though lengthy, has a more simple structure, with a long instrumental section inserted in an otherwise "normally" structured song. (Hope I'm clear ;), but, anyway, thank you for the nice demonstration)
 

SinisterMinisterX

Illuminatus
Staff member
Interesting, but doesn't it apply to more Maiden (and other epic metal) songs?
It could, but no other songs that I know fit the parallel so well.

Remember, to be a full "classical" recap, the song has to return to the very beginning (not just the verse) after a long time away from that material, and in a dramatic manner. Further, the "recap" has to proceed through the same sections as the beginning of the song, in the same order. Rime does this in a manner that is convincing as a full recap, not just a final verse.

So yes, there may be other songs with a recapitulation, but it's quite rare outside of classical music. Even with Maiden, Harris more often uses an "arch" structure, where the very opening material doesn't come back until the very end. Example: all the Ben Breeg style songs where the quiet part comes back at the very end.

Though it's much shorter, I think one could say the song "Iron Maiden" has a recap. The main lick doesn't merely return after the middle; the whole band stops, and it returns in a solo guitar just as the beginning of the song.
 

SinisterMinisterX

Illuminatus
Staff member
Interesting, but doesn't it apply to more Maiden (and other epic metal) songs?
A modified answer, an addition to the above... It's quite likely that there are in fact several other notable songs that fit the pattern. It's merely a case that I can't think of any others offhand right now.

A full recap is rare, as I said above - but in a genre like metal with countless songs, even something rare happens more than once or twice. I'm sure more songs with recaps could be found.
 

Perun

Dominus et deus
Staff member
A thought that occurs to me is that this may have been because of the composition of the original poem. A symphony and an epic piece of literature might be composed in a similar fashion, using similar devices of build-up and tension with a climax and a wrap-up that in a symphony would be climax and recap. So Steve may have composed Rime to follow the structure of the narrative, and thus the influence of classical music comes by way of classical literature. That would be a very interesting path, to say the least.
 

SinisterMinisterX

Illuminatus
Staff member
Unbeliever has a recapitulation. When the opening comes back, the same sections follow in the original sequence, though abbreviated like in Rime.

Manowar I don't hear as a recapitulation, though it could be taken that way. Though the return of the main riff is dramatic, it hasn't actually been gone very long to my ear. Its re-entry doesn't feel as unexpected to me. I'd call Battle Hymns an arch structure - more like Aces High than Rime. I think repeating the first line "By moonlight we ride" as the last line of the last verse is the clincher here, it gives the kind of "heading out the way we came in" feeling that arches are known for.

Then again, there are plenty of classical pieces with "real" recaps, where that recap happens after only a short development section. You could call Manowar a recap, but I really think they were "going for" arch. In quotes because I'm sure that I'm analyzing this deeper than Maiden or Manowar did. These are the kinds of things you don't consider consciously when writing; you only see the full picture when it's done.
 

SinisterMinisterX

Illuminatus
Staff member
To see how well Maiden's music could be classical, I recommend The String Quartet Tribute and The Hand Of Doom Orchestra Plays Piece Of Mind
I would not.

First, using non-rock instruments doesn't make it classical... that Hand of Doom Orchestra is a marching band with an electric guitar. Nothing like classical music. If you like marching bands, then it may be a good recommendation.

I've heard the string quartet before, and I stay as far away as I can from it. It's genuinely horrible, and those players know it. Further, it's not horrible because the playing or Maiden is "bad", but simply because rock music translated to string quartet is like putting a Tour de France team on the LA freeway. It's the dead wrong medium for heavy music.

Distorted guitars - heck, even clean electric guitars - produce a wider set of overtones. I'm talking about the natural resonances from the instrument which enhance the sound. Believe it or not, classical string instruments have much narrower overtone spectrums due to their construction. (Again, part of the instrument design; comparison still true if you use cheap violins and masterpiece guitars.) If you play the same power chord on guitar vs. violin or cello, the violin/cello version sounds noticeably hollow. A guitar is designed in a way that fills the harmonic space; a violin is not.

Further, the artistic idiom of the string quartet is the antithesis of how rock bands work. A string quartet is four (nominally) equal players with their own distinctive part. The whole compositional challenge of a string quartet is to take four very similar-sounding instruments, and give them parts distinctive enough to still tell them apart. The idea of a string quartet riffing in unison goes against the heart and soul of the genre. Sting quartets would work nicely for jazz, but never for rock and metal.

In order to get a full enough sound (and an ensemble that is designed for big riffing), you need an orchestra. Full orchestral versions of Maiden songs ought to be quite good. String quartet versions of rock/metal are a horrible idea from the very conception and should always be avoided.

(Standard disclaimer: all my opinion. Anyone reading this should still try Travis' links.)
 

SinisterMinisterX

Illuminatus
Staff member
I'd argue "no" for Supper's Ready. I get why you're saying yes, but there's two reasons I say there's no recap.

First, it doesn't return to the actual beginning, but to the second chorus. While the quotes from near the start can't be missed, it's more of a reference than any recapitulation. They don't play enough of the opening material to feel like they're playing "from the start again" (that's what recapitulation means). In fact, after a few lines, they jump to reprising the Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man melody, which is several minutes from the beginning.

The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man section is actually the main riff of Supper's Ready. Once it starts, those chord sequences run all the way through Iknaton & Itsacon. The ending of Supper's Ready is not a recapitulation; it's a final chorus.

Second, the references to the opening section don't occur until the final minutes of the piece. Recapitulations usually occur around the two-thirds or three-fourths mark, and devote significant time to repeating the opening. This can be clearly heard on Rime and Unbeliever, for instance. Supper's Ready ends too quickly after the last "And it's..." - it feels like a bookend to me, the closing of the arch, not a recap.

Firth of Fifth: Harder to say, but I lean "yes". For a true recapitulation, you'd expect it to progress from the piano intro to another verse, as it did in the beginning (remember, that's a defining characteristic, the opening sections repeat in order). But here, we move to new material: a (stunning) guitar solo. However, every other part of a recap is there: it's dramatic, it's an extensive reprise of the opening, and long enough that it does have multiple sections which reappear in order. Most importantly, whatever the "technical" merits, this one has the feeling of a recapitulation.

Besides, while introducing new material after the recap is rare, it's been done. Beethoven did it in the most famous symphony ever written...
0:25 - 2:03 = first A section ("exposition")
2:04 - 3:42 = second A section, an exact repeat of the first (literally, indicated by a repeat sign in the score)
3:43 - 5:20 = B section ("development") - in this development, Louie's basic idea is to break the melodies down until a single note is passed around the orchestra.
5:20 - 7:15 = Recapitulation, the third appearance of the A section. This time there are some differences, but if you heard the first four minutes you'll recognize it's 95% the same.
7:-15 - 8:30 = Second development with new material. Why? Because here Beethoven builds up material from what we've heard before, unlike stripping it down in the first development. Decay and rebirth.
8:30 - 9:00 = Coda, wrapping the piece up with the main riff.

One last quick point: because Beethoven's 5th is so famous, the technique of bringing in new stuff after the recapitulation became more common in the 1800's due to Louie's influence.
 
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