Cakewalk Analysis

Updated: Apr 3

Policy Sam by Joseph Gioscia

This piece of music is three pages in length.


This cakewalk was arranged by Arthur Pryor for the Sousa band and performed at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900 (Proksch, 2020). This would have been one of the first cakewalks performed in Paris and can be seen as the start of a craze that lit up the French capital until the outbreak of war.


The form is as follows


Introduction: Four bars in the tonic key.

Cakewalk

  • Section A: Sixteen bars with first and second time bars repeat in the tonic key.

  • Section B: Sixteen bars with first and second time bars repeat in the tonic key.

  • Section A: Sixteen bars, no repeat.

Trio

  • Section A: Sixteen bars with first and second time bars repeat in the subdominant key.

  • Section B: Sixteen bars with first and second time bars repeat in the subdominant key.


The original score for piano shows that the initial chord, following a solo G5 is an F sharp diminished seventh, this is a dissonant interval with the F sharp and the D sharp requiring resolution, in this case to C Major, the tonic key. This chord is often used to imply tension before resolution which can be understood when viewed with the meaning behind the name of the piece. Policy Sam is depicted with a man choosing which numbers to select to bet in the Policy game (Getty Images, n.d.) that was sweeping the states with odds 999:1, for more information see the link in the further reading section below.


An F sharp diminished 7th showing the resolution to a tonic chord

The introduction concludes with a perfect cadence of the dominant seventh chord leading to the tonic. The new section commences with the dominant seventh chord and four bar statement which has two bars in the dominant and two bars in the tonic key which echo the introduction. This culminates with a descending octave sequence from the tonic chord back to the dominant which answers initially with two bars ending in a dominant octave sequence which leads to a second statement in the tonic.


The music suggests an altercation between the two primary protagonists in the story being told with the statement being followed by a double rebuff followed by a second attempt at the original concept.


Page two commences in the tonic key followed by a dominant seventh and, in the second half of the bar, a dominant ninth. The ninth is a gentle resolution rather than the forced resolution of the diminished seventh on the subdominant used in the introduction. The implication of the ninth is used extensively in this section culminating with a VI-II-V-I progress leading up to the first and second time bars. The first time bar moves from this presentation of the tonic chord with a sequence of bass octaves over a repeating dominant note leading to an implied dominant forming an imperfect cadence for the repeat. The second time bar maintains the tonic chord and the perfect cadence before the recapitulation of the original theme.

The bass, as in the first section, alternates between the lower note and a higher chord in a style that has become known as oom-pah (www.definitions.net, n.d.).


This section suggests that the altercation has passed and the two primary characters are making up after an intense disagreement, however the recapitulation indicates the issue is still at large.


The recapitulation ends in bar fifty one with a jubilant accented tonic chord in the home key of C major.


The trio starts with a statement in the new key of the subdominant, F major, with the tonic chord followed by the subdominant chord which introduces the B flat. The chord changes in this section are more frequent and there is a lighter air about this movement. The first part of the trio culminates in a tonic chord leading to a dominant which uses a series of octaves between the bass & tenor and tenor & alto leading the listener back to the tonic key for the repeat. The second time bar ends with a final tonic and a perfect cadence before a bridge passage which explores the dominant seventh and the diminished seventh as a prelude to the last section. The diminished seventh in this section is misspelt using C, D sharp, F sharp and A instead of C, E flat, G flat and A which would be the expected spelling.


The final section is triumphant in character with the expansion and richness of the chords over an octave. The changes include more passing notes alongside the increased melodious nature. The rising semitone in bar eighty is indicative of the implied joviality of this final section. Added sevenths and ninths increase the fluidity of the melody culminating in the first time bar with a quickly alternating tonic and dominant leading back to the repeat and a final dominant leads to the second time bar and the final accented tonic.


It appears that the altercation has been resolved with a potential win.


Download from Ragtime Piano


A Cakewalk by Rodolphe Berger

(BnF Catalogue, n.d.)

This piece of music is five pages in length.


According to the site ragtime-France.fr (Caton-Greasley, 2021) this was the first cakewalk published in France in 1903.


Introduction: Four bars in the tonic key.

Cakewalk

  • Section A: Sixteen bars in the tonic key.

Très Brilliant

  • Section A: Sixteen bars with first and second time bars repeat in the subdominant key.

  • Section B: Sixteen bars, initially a repeat of section A for six bars

Trio de Sousa

  • Section A: Sixteen bars with first and second time bars repeat in the subdominant key.

  • Section B: Sixteen bars with first and second time bars repeat in the subdominant key. Section C: Highly decorated version of the first sixteen bars in the subdominant key, repeated.

Coda (not specified as a coda)

  • Four bar reprise of the introduction

  • Cakewalk section A: Sixteen bars in the tonic key.


The introduction to the piece presents the three main chords with the diminished seventh of G embellishing the imperfect cadence before the double bar line.


The next section which is subtitled 'Cakewalk' commences with a two bar statement in C Major followed by an unusual move to the subdominant returning to the tonic key giving a finality to the third and fourth bar with the implied plagel cadence. The same finality is felt in bar five and six with a dominant tonic giving a second cadential feel with a perfect cadence albeit a softer effect of one. The next chord includes an F sharp which abruptly moves the piece to the dominant chord G major followed by a conspicuous tonic chord of G, providing a perfect cadence in the new key. The G chord has a double use here as it is the dominant of the home key and, via a descending series of accented double octave quavers , it additionally pivots back to the tonic of C major for the restatement without the key change ending in a popular tonic, dominant, tonic bass.

The third section is subtitled 'Très Brilliant' which has moved to the key of the subdominant. The brilliant nature is expressed with three decorated octave chords in the treble part and continuing into octave chords which are heard throughout the sixteen bars. The first four bar statement ends in a plagel cadence which echoes the first section.

The second statement follows the same principle with a B natural bringing in a modulation to the tonic and a perfect cadence in C culminating with the C7 chord. This allows the B flat to be reintroduced and a perfect cadence in the new key to follow.

The third statement ends in an A major chord which initially appears a little unusual, however the preceding chord is B flat major, which is the subdominant in F major, but also the submediant in D minor, the relative key by key signature. This chord on the sixth can imply a tonic harmony (B flat D F being only a semitone away from resolving to a tonic chord); this is followed with an A major chord where there is an implied nod to a brief modulation to the relative minor. This A major chord additionally provides a step between the B flat chord and the G minor chord at the start of the next statement.

The fourth statement starts with a pivot chord of G minor which is a subdominant chord in D minor and the supertonic chord in the tonic key of F major. This allows a smooth key change back to the tonic key before this part ends with a first and second time bar. The first time bar is the expected imperfect cadence for the repeat and the second time bar the perfect cadence concluding the section in F major.


The new key heralds the recapitulation of section A in the original key.


The trio movement of this cakewalk includes an element which makes this one particularly significant with the trio carrying a dedication Manhattan Beach (J. Ph. Sousa). The theme chosen is found in bar 69, the start of the trio, of the band score on IMSLP. (IMSLP, n.d.). It can be heard at 1:08 on the link below. (www.youtube.com, n.d.)



Statement one vacillates between the tonic and subdominant chords using the primary theme. The second statement brings a key change to G minor which is the relative minor of the subdominant chord of B flat. This is shown by the F major chord moving to the chord of D major which is the dominant in the key of the following chord, G minor. This alternates three times and culminates in a German sixth which resolves into the dominant harmony and the first of two dominant seventh to tonic harmonies before a recapitulation of Sousa's original theme ending an octave higher on the D5. The final section commences with a D diminished seventh which announces the end of this section, that carries the flavour of a marching band.


The second section of the trio is highly decorated with the 8va sign which places it in the sixth register of the piano. This section follows the same chord progression as its previous presentation with the addition of an extravagant trill over an octave sequence in bars fifteen and sixteen and the final statement echoes the previous section


The cakewalk theme is returned to with the restatement of the introduction and the first section with a grand finale in octaves expanding to the extremities of the piano with the final chord using C1 and and C7 at the outer reaches.


German Sixth


In context


As chords

Download the music from IMSLP as a piano duet and BnF Gallica as a piano solo.



Cakewalk by Lucien Gourdon

(data.bnf.fr, n.d.)


This piece is four pages in length.


I would like to thank Images Musicales website (www.imagesmusicales.be, n.d.) for donating the music score to allow this analysis to be completed. This cakewalk, if not the first published, is a very close second. It was also published in 1903. It has the interesting title of ‘Cakewalk: Danse américaine ou polka (pour piano)’.


Introduction: Four bars in the tonic key.

Cakewalk

  • Section A: Sixteen bars with first and second time bars repeat in the tonic key.

  • Section B: Sixteen bars with first and second time bars repeat in the tonic key.

  • Section A: Sixteen bars, no repeat.

Trio

  • Section A: Sixteen bars with first and second time bars repeat in the subdominant key.

  • Eight bar link in the key of the subdominant

  • Section A: Sixteen bars in the subdominant key.

Coda

  • Four bar reprise of the introduction

  • Section A: Sixteen bars with first and second time bars repeat in the tonic key.

  • Section B: Sixteen bars with first and second time bars repeat in the tonic key.

  • Section A: Sixteen bars, no repeat.


The first difference that may be noticed is that the lower bass note which usually appears on the first and second beats is sounded at the octave for the first two bars of each four bar statement in the first section. At the end of statement two the music briefly passes into the key of the dominant using a perfect cadence of A7 to D with a short chromatic section joining it back to the original theme. Statement one and three are identical bar the first note which is an octave higher on statement three. The first bar of statement four implies a continuance but the semiquavers continue leading to an octave conclusion within the first and second time bars. The connecting lone D5's in the second time bar imply the dominant harmony that follows.

The second section of the cakewalk presents a new idea with the same characteristic rhythm. The harmonies are punctuated by chromatic passing notes and auxiliary notes and the higher register provides a lighter feel. The chords follow a simple formation of the subdominant, dominant, and tonic structure ending with a first and second time bar presenting the perfect cadence in G major.

The cakewalk is concluded with a repeat of the first section ending, as per the first time bar, on its initial presentation.


The trio section is in the key of the subdominant, the first four bars use the chord of C and, with the use of passing notes, provide a delightful melody. The first eight bars briefly pass to the key of the dominant, ending in a G major perfect cadence before returning to the original key and theme for the next four bars. The D7 is presented in the final four bars, whereas previously it resolved to a full G major chord, this time it resolves to a G3 in the bass and a G5 in the treble, implying a G major chord, and a perfect cadence, however moving to the C major chord quickly to finish on a second inversion of the tonic chord and a perfect cadence. In classical terms a Ic, V, I traditional ending.

In the feminine and graceful French polka the first section is usually little slower than the intrada (www.newworldencyclopedia.org, n.d.). This break is merrier and has a greater implied speed with the use of semiquavers. The Slavic roots of this dance are implied with the use of the melodic minor scales with the raised fourth which can be heard in the Hungarian minor scale however the F sharp would not be in this scale. In the piece it could be discussed that the D sharp, which is not part of A melodic minor, is a lower chromatic passing note, however as it fits both, either option is viable over the four bar passage which ends in a perfect cadence of A minor. The following four bars provide an answer in the key of G major ending in a perfect cadence leading back to the original trio theme.



The top scale is in the Hungarian harmonic minor of A and the lower scale is A melodic minor.

The final section of the trio is a repeat of the initial section. The Coda returns to the original key and re-presents the complete first section.

Cakewalk rhythm


Polka Rhythm

As used in the Trio section, whilst the notes are of twice the value, the relationship between the notes is the same.


Further reading

  • www.encyclopedia.com. (n.d.). Numbers Games | Encyclopedia.com. [online] Available at: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/numbers-games [Accessed 24 Mar. 2021].

  • Encyclopedia Britannica. (n.d.). Numbers game | gambling. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/numbers-game [Accessed 23 Mar. 2021].

  • Michel, P. (2007). La complexe diversité du ragtime: Une culture musicale entre Noirs et Blancs, chanson et piano, folk, pop et " classique ". Revue de Musicologie, [online] 93(2), pp.435–467. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/25485859 [Accessed 20 Mar. 2021].


Reference list

  • BnF Catalogue. (n.d.). BnF Catalogue Lucien Gourdon. [online] Available at: https://catalogue.bnf.fr/rechercher.do?motRecherche=Lucien+Gourdon&critereRecherche=0&depart=0&facetteModifiee=ok [Accessed 17 Mar. 2021].

  • Caton-Greasley, C. (2021). The Cakewalk and Ragtime Missing Site. [online] Chris at the Piano. Available at: https://www.chrisatthepiano.com/post/the-cakewalk-and-ragtime [Accessed 19 Mar. 2021].

  • data.bnf.fr. (n.d.). Rodolphe Berger (1864-1916). [online] Available at: https://data.bnf.fr/fr/14835816/rodolphe_berger/ [Accessed 16 Mar. 2021].

  • Encyclopedia Britannica. (n.d.). Numbers game | gambling. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/numbers-game [Accessed 23 Mar. 2021].

  • Getty Images. (n.d.). Color lithograph sheet music cover image of 'Policy Sam Cake Walk &... [online] Available at: https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/color-lithograph-sheet-music-cover-image-of-policy-sam-cake-news-photo/551590843 [Accessed 24 Mar. 2021].

  • IMSLP (n.d.). Manhattan Beach Score. [online] IMSLP. Available at: https://ks.imslp.info/files/imglnks/usimg/0/05/IMSLP482442-PMLP35776-49_ManhattanBeach.pdf [Accessed 26 Mar. 2021].

  • Proksch, B. (2020). SOUSA’S VACILLATING VIEWS ON RAGTIME AND JAZZ. Journal of Band Research, [online] 55(2), p.31. Available at: https://search-proquest-com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/docview/2449268814/AB029A3691A641A2PQ/1?accountid=14697 [Accessed 16 Mar. 2021].

  • www.definitions.net. (n.d.). What does oom-pah mean? [online] Available at: https://www.definitions.net/definition/oom-pah [Accessed 24 Mar. 2021].

  • www.newworldencyclopedia.org. (n.d.). Polka - New World Encyclopedia. [online] Available at: https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Polka [Accessed 27 Mar. 2021].

  • www.youtube.com. (n.d.). SOUSA “Manhattan Beach” - “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band. [online] Available at: https://youtu.be/zUdOgBrAb8o?t=68 [Accessed 26 Mar. 2021].

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