Development in music means taking a group of notes, called a motive, and using those notes as the seed or germ from which other musical ideas grow. Bernstein said, “A composition lives in the development.” (Joy of Music, pg. 58)
Listen to Bernstein himself explain development! (Starting around 2:50)
Bernstein loved anagrams, rearranging the letters in words to make new ones, and essentially thought of musical development as one big anagram, except instead of letters, he uses notes.
“All music, even the most serious, thrives on its puns and anagrams…One can almost think of a given piece of music as a continuing game of anagrams, in which there are, as it were, twelve “letters” that can be juggled and rejuggled.” (The Unanswered Question pg. 129)
Speaking about Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, he wrote, “I was amazed when I first studied this work to find how much of the symphony is derived from simple scales. Out of them grow themes, motives, figurations, counterpoint, bass lines and even tunes..” (The Infinite Vareity of Music, pg. 174)
Speaking about Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, he said, “These first four bars are the material out of which the whole first movement is going to grow, and it’s not just the main material but the only material. Every bar and phrase to come – and I mean every one, without exception – will be some kind of transformation, some metaphorical rendering, of the elements present in these four little bars.” (The Unanswered Question, pg. 157)
About Brahms: “[he] immediately spots the possibilities in any given group of notes and exploits them to the hilt, just as a great novelist develops the possibilities of his characters through every word they utter.” (The Infinite Variety of Music pg. 241)
And finally, he writes, “A theme that is fertile will immediately present itself to you as such. You know without even trying to fool with it that it’s going to work, upside down and backward, and that it’s going to make marvelous canons and fugues. You may not know what I’m talking about when I say things like “upside down’ and canons;” even if you don’t, it doesn’t matter. The thing I’m trying to point out is the fertility and flexibility of the theme, its inherent possibilities for development.” (The Infinite Variety of Music pg. 270)
All of the above quotes could be about the Serenade. The Serenade opens with eight notes. These eight notes are extremely “fertile.” Like Brahms, Bernstein “exploits them to the hilt” and like Beethoven, these eight notes are “the material through which” not just the movement but the whole piece “grows.”
Here are some places you can hear development of those eight notes (timings refer to the recording posted on the Bernstein’s Serenade page:
- Phaedrus:Pausanius (2:45-3:22)
- Eryximachus: it’s short, but the first three notes are a teeny, abbreviated anagram transposed of those eight notes.
- Agathon: At the very beginning, those eight notes get transformed into a delicate, rocking accompaniment in the violin and cello sections. And then get transformed again into the passionate cadenza (at 3:50).
- Socrates:Alcibiades: The cadenza from Agathon then gets transformed into the melody at the very beginning of Socrates. And the whole eight note theme from the first movement makes a reappearance at the end of Alcibiades (9:51 starting in the cellos and basses)
Development occurs not just around those eight notes but absolutely everywhere; once a note has been written down, it is fair game to play around with it. For instance, in Eryximachus from (:43-:49) , the solo violin has seven long notes. These notes are the same as the very first seven notes of the violin part in Eryximachus, except they are played 4 times as slowly and 6 notes lower. In Aristophanes, from :52-1:00 the violin and the orchestra are playing the same melody at the same time, but the orchestra is playing it two times faster. I could give you a hundred more examples, but we’d be here all day!
As Bernstein said about Stravinsky, “’Play’ is the very stuff and activity of music; we play music on our instruments just as the composer plays with the notes in the act of inventing it. He juggles sound formations, he toys with dynamics, he glides and skips and somersaults through rhythm and colors – in short, he indulges in what Stravinsky called “Le Jeu de Notes.” The Game of Notes: a striking concept of what music is.” (The Unanswered Question, pg. 129)