Debussy’s “Golliwog’s Cake Walk” from the ‘Children’s Corner’
Debussy and early jazz stand hand in hand with a music that is the successor to the earlier period of the Romantics – Chopin, Liszt, Wagner, et.al. Ari Kast has said in his book, ‘Stride Piano Tricks’; “…it is early jazz, not 20th century so-called ‘classical’ music, that is the true successor to the western classical music tradition.” The ‘Cake Walk’ began the ‘raggedy rhythm’ of ragtime and the ‘rags’ of Scott Joplin, and that led to the early jazz of Fats Waller, James P. Johnson, Louis Armstrong, et.al.
Golliwog’s Cake Walk is in the key of ‘E-flat’ major and begins on the dominant (V) with the characteristic interval, the minor 7th, ‘A-flat’. The half-diminished chords following show the diminished 5th, ‘C-flat’, the minor 3rd, ‘A-flat’, and the minor 7th, ‘E-flat’.
Some theorists regard the ‘F’ and ‘G’ in the bass as a ‘cluster’. That doesn’t say much about what it really is – a 9th with a 3rd above. Call them ‘major’ if you like.
Measures 10 and 11 show elements of the half-diminished super-tonic over the tonic (I). What is heard however, is a strong ‘E-flat’ tonic with a ninth, ‘F’, an 11th, ‘A-flat’ and a minor 13th, ‘C-flat’. There is no minor 7th, a characteristic interval of the dominant (x), so it remains major with its characteristic interval of a major 3rd, ‘G’, a complex sound that must be heard for what it is.
Measure 14, ‘C’ is the 13th (6th) above the root, ‘E-flat’, and ‘C-flat’ in the following measure is a minor 13th. Listen to these changes.
Measure 22 moves up to a major chord on the mediant (III), then in measures 24 we see a dominant (x) on the super-tonic (II) with its characteristic intervals of the major 3rd, ‘A-natural’ and the minor 7th, ‘E-flat’. The line ends on a major dominant (V).
The next line continues on the dominant (V) then moves on to the tonic (I), ‘E-flat’ major with the 3rd, ‘G’ on the bottom.
The following line is basically over the dominant (V), ‘B-flat’. The first chord shows a dominant (x9/11) chord where ‘A-flat’ is the minor 7th, ‘C’ is the 9th, and ‘E-flat’ the 11th. Measure 32 has a movement from the minor 7th ‘A-flat’ to the 13th, ‘G’. The minor 7th ‘A-flat’ will have to be assumed, but the upper chord tones are the 9th, 11th and 13th jazz elements.
The following lines have been analyzed in previous similar measures.
Measure 47 takes a modulation to the key of the lowered mediant ‘bIII’, ‘G-flat’ major, up a minor 3rd from the former root, ‘E-flat’. The ‘grace’ notes may be thought more of ‘crushed’ notes rather than the more dignified ‘grace’ notes. The right hand parts in measure 48 are over a strong ‘G-flat’ bass so may be designated as a 9th, ‘A-flat’, the 11th, ‘C-flat’, then following, an augmented 9th, ‘A-natural’, and an augmented 11th, ‘C-natural’, along with the characteristic interval of a major chord, the major 7th, ‘F’. Be sure to listen to these harmonies and their characteristic intervals. It’s a lot of detail, but that’s the new harmony of Debussy.
The next three lines are similar.
Measures 62 shows a dominant (x) on ‘C’ at the end of the measure followed by a dominant (x) on ‘D-flat’ in measure 63. The 5th is in the bass. The minor 7th is ‘E-flat’ and the major 3rd is ‘F’, its characteristic intervals. ‘A-natural’ at the end of the line is a raised 5th that is tied to the following measure.
The ‘A-natural’ in the previous measure may be thought of as an augmented 5th moving to ‘F’ and ‘A-flat’, the 3rd and 5threspectively in measure 70. There is no 7th, ‘C-flat’, but the entire line is based on the dominant (x), with ‘C-flats’. The last chord however is based on the tonic (I) of ‘G-flat’ major without a root.
The following line is based on the dominant (x) and (V).
Measure 78 is based on the Tonic (I), ‘G-flat’ major. ‘D’ in measure 79 is the 5th of the chord, ‘A-natural’ and ‘C’ are the minor 9th and 11th of the chord, respectively. ‘B-flat’ is the major 3rd.
The chord in measure 81 is a sub-dominant chord (IV) ‘A-flat’, with the third, ‘C’ as the lower-most note.
The line at measure 82 is based on the dominant (x) and (V). ‘C-flat and ‘F’ on the second beat are the minor 7th and the major 3rd of the dominant (x), its characteristic intervals. The root, ‘D-flat’ is present in measure 82, and not in measure 83, but strongly in the rest of the line in the bass.
The analysis of the remainder has been covered earlier except measure 109 and 110 below.
Measure 109 contains a chord on the raised dominant (#V) ‘B’. Its identity is a dominant (x) with a 9th, ‘C-sharp’ and an eleventh, ‘E-natural’.
The chord at measure 110 moves down a semi-tone to the dominant (V) on ‘B-flat’. Its identity is also dominant (x) with a 9th, ‘C’. The minor 7th is ‘A-flat’ and the major 3rd is in the bass. Measure 111 forgoes the minor 7th that appears again in measure 113.
None of the above is valuable unless it is heard, and heard while practicing and performing. Playing ‘by ear’ is not only valuable, it’s a necessity.
Ralph Carroll Hedges, B.Ed., B.Mus., M.M.