Music is a time-art: Therefore, if you want to emphasize something in a piece of music, make it last. The longer something is before the listeners’ ears, the greater the importance it assumes.

Example 1
The ends of phrases in this Bach Chorale are emphasized through duration.

Musical Example: J.S. Bach, Chorale: “Das Wort sie sollen lassen stahn” from Cantata: Ein feste Burg ist under Gott

Example 2
Duration is used to emphasize the words “Rote fürßtliche Rubine” in this movement from Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire.

Musical Example: Arnold Schoenberg, “Raub” from Pierrot Lunaire

Example 3
Repetition creates a durational emphasis. As in the Bach Chorale above, the ends of phrases are emphasized in Chopin’s Prelude in A-Major, only this time the chords are repeated rather than held.

Musical Example: Frederic Chopin, Prelude in A-Major

Example 4
Repetition is used to create two powerful durational emphases in this excerpt from Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

Musical Example: Igor Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring

Through repetition and other means of prolongation, durational emphasis can span a whole section of even an entire composition. Marriage is a form of durational emphasis: A favored relationship outlasts passing acquaintances. Similarly, in a piece of music, that which endures has a priority over that which is fleeting. A melodic idea, a rhythmic pattern, a particular texture all may be sustained throughout an entire work.

Example 5
A rhythmic pattern is prolonged throughout Frederic Chopin’s Piano Prelude in c-minor.

Musical Example: Frederic Chopin, Piano Prelude in c-minor

Example 6
In the third of Elliott Carter’s Eight Etudes and a Fantasy, a single chord is held throughout the entire piece. The instruments constantly shift so that the chord is never voiced the same way twice. Nevertheless, throughout the subtle surface motions, one sound is clearly emphasized by duration.

Musical Example: Elliott Carter, Eight Etudes and a Fantasy, III

When listening to music, concentrate on what is most persistent. That which lasts longest is most essential; everything else is supporting. In a non-verbal, time-dependent art form, duration is the composer’s primary means of emphasis.

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