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Composer: Freddie Mercury
Album: Queen II
Meter: 4/4 (occasssional 5/8 measure)
Key: e-minor, a-minor, d-minor, F- Major, bb-minor, D-Major
Intro I-II | A | B I -II | B I-II'|
| crazy interlude I-II-III | C | B I'-II'| B-I | Outro segued to intro of "Nevermore"
Mercury's "Master-stroke" is one of the compositions that paved the way for Bohemian Rhapsody in terms of progressive songwriting both formwise and harmonywise. Mostly simple chords are used (no iii, bIII, bVI, bVII) on the other hand we have numerous modulations.
Interesting choices of instrument are the harpischord and castanettes the latter played by Roy Thomas Baker. Some guitar harmonies have special tone achived by varispeed recording.
The form is close to be acyclic, except the repeated B section, and also several motifs. This subtle art of repetition will be a lasting Queen trademark, one of the secrets of many later Queen hits.
The first subsection is four measures long. The crashing drumsound is segued from the preceding track (Ogre Battle) the clicking sound marks the beginning of the song. The opening key is also inherited also from there: e minor. Harmonized lead vocals enter on the upbeat of the fourth measure. This phrase can be threated as a long upbeat of the second subsection, which is however instrumental.
| Em - Am/E | - | - | - |
| i iv | - | - | - |
The second subsection is built upon two ostinato patterns (notated as X and Y) carried by the piano, clavierchord and partly also in the bassline, two and four beats long respectively. The tonality is not very strong. The D chord which is the tonal centre of the subsection sounds like the VII chord of the preceding e-minor tonic. The C (b7 of D) and B (#6 of e) bass notes enhance the ambiguity of the harmony while the whole music reamains "harmonious". But in the end it does not resolve to Em but to Am.
| D | - | -/C /B | /D | /B/D | /D |
| X | X | X | Y Y | Y Y | Y |
There is two rhythmical twists. In the Queen song book a rare case, but this time the tricks seem to have been applied only for the sake of complexity as they don't really enhance the beauty nor the catchiness.
In m.4 there is a heavy accent put on the 2nd 1/8 beat. Very disorienting, but the ostinato pattern in the background keeps us oriented rhythmically. Measure 6 is cut off after the 5th 1/8 beat.
The next measure works as a link to the next section. The harmony steers toward the key of a-minor. Simple triadic varispeed guitar harmonies follow the chords:
| C G/B |
| III VII |
The instrumental first two measures work as an internal intro. The bassline repeats a one measure figure with mostly off-beat accents:
1 2 3 4 1
** * * **...
This pattern turns out to be a leitmotif in the song and as such building cohesion between the sections.
Castanettes enter in m.2 and keep played throughout the section. The simple drum-line plays the quarters throughout the phrases in "a-minor", while the bassline plays that off-beat pattern.
| Am | - |
| i | - |
The first vocal phrase repeats the above phrase as backing.
| Am | - | | i | - |
The second vocal phrase is sung falsetto and rhythmically parallels the first.
| Am | B7 |
| i | V/v |
Ub the next phrase the harmony modulates back to e minor. The drums stop at the end of the vocal phrase in measure 9 followed by the half-title whispered.
| Em | D | C | A1 B1 |
| i | VII | VI | IV1 V1|
The rhythm of the instrumental last measure with unisono arrangement is interesting:
Then we have an instrumental connector that reprises the intro harpischord figure with crescendo hihat roll.
| Em - Am | - |
| i iv | - |
This section with two subsections appear twice as double section. The last time the second subsection is omitted as the first subsection is segued into the outro.
The first subsection is six measures long (4+2), two phrases where the second extends the first and adds a guitar harmony block. The harmony slips to the reative Major key (C).
| C G/B | Am |
| I V | vi |
| C G/B | Am | Dm | Am |
| I V | vi | ii | vi |
The second subsection modulates to the F/d tonality, which is more clearly established in later cycles. Note the classic cliche used here (m.9-10) again that appears in many other Queen song.
| F | - | F C/E | Dm |
F: I | - | I V | vi |
d: III | - |III VII| i |
| Am | - | Dm | - F G |
d: v | - | i | - III IV|
C: IV V |
In m.9-10 cymbals are played then the we hear a melodic 4th-5th motif, similar to what closed the "A" section.
1) transposed down by two whole steps.
2) chords instead of octaves.
3) It modulates back to C-Major instead e-minor.
The arrangement of the vocal and guitar harmonies changes circle by circle, lets summarize these for both I and II (m.1-6, m.7-14) subsections:
Harmozied lead vocals (m.1-4, 7-10), falsetto singing (m.9-10), guitar harmony fill (m.5), piano figure echoed by harpischord (m.12).
Vocal harmony block in m.5, the lead melody changes (for the whole II subsection), counter vocal harmonies instead of lead-harmonization. The chord also change in m.7-8:
| F C7/E | F /Bb |...
| I V | I IV |...
The lead melody changes a bit rhythmically. Harmonizing similarly as in the first cycle. The second subsection follows the second (alternated) version. Note the diatonic octave scale on bass in m.9. There is a guitar harmony fill in m.11-12. Some of the chords are also changed: Am7 in m.4, A4 in. m.6.
The vocal phrase stops after m.4, with a tight 7th harmony/chord. The second subsection is dropped. In m.5-7 we have a nice pivot modulation to the neighbour key: F-Major.
| C G/B | Am7 |
C: I V | vi |
| Dm | Bb || F...
C: ii | ||
F: vi | IV || I
In the fourth cycle there are both lead-harmonizing and counter harmonies.
This is section is famous for its crazy harmonies, and instrumental solos (harpischord and guitar respectively). The bassline repeats the one measure ostinato figure that we've already heard in the "A" section making the song more cohesive. The arpeggio figure is transposed to outline the actual tonic chord (Am > Bm) in the first two subsections. The phrasing four-squared throughout the section. Castanettes are played during the first two subsections.
The first of the three subsections has parallel harmonies. The opening Am-Bm sets the crazy mood (with a touch of dorian mode). The oscillating harmonies in m.4 is an early-Queen era trademark.
| Am | Am | Am | Am | : bass line
| Am | Bm | C | C - Am | : vocal harmonies
| i | ii | III |III- i |
The craziness of the harmonies goes on. The key changes to bb-minor with abrupt modulation. The melodic phrasing is 2+2, AA' (AA for the harpischord part).
| Bbm | Bbm | : bassline
| Bbm Gbdim7 | Bbm Gbdim7 | : vocal harmonies
| Bbm | Bbm | : bass line
| Bbm Gbdim7 | Bbm Gb | : vocal harmonies
The last subsection is dominated by guitar solo, with harpischord backing. The phrasing of the guitar solo is AA'A"B (2+2+2+4). The guitar solo gets double-track harmonized from m.7. The trills are mimicking the style of the preceding harpischord solo, which continues in the background. altough hard to hear until last measures. Too bad, because it is one of Mercury's most unique keyboard playing moments.
/---- 3x ---\\
| D | A |
| I | V |
| D | C | B | - | : bass-line
e: VII| VI | V | - |
The first double-phrase is reminiscent of to the "Race" section of "Bicycle Race".
in m.7 the Bb chord is articluted by an octave long ascending diatonic scale similarly as in "Crazy Little Thing". John plays yet another (this time chromatic) scale-fragment in the last measure.
This section fluently follows the preceding interlude even though the preceding dominant is not resolved first to Em, only for the second phrase. The bassline again is built on the off-beat pattern in the first pharse. Guitar harmonies are backing the vocal phrases thoughout. There is a brief octave vocal harmony added in m.2. The simple 4/4 drumbeat is reminiscent of what we've heard in the "A" section. More direct crossreference is that the second phrase is a backed with the same chords as those of the last phrase in section "A", but melodically only the closing three notes are taken from there. Also the castanettes return for this section.
| Am | - | B | - |
| iv | - | V | - |
| Em | D | C | A1 B1 |
| i | VII | VI | IV V |
| Em | E1...| ... |
| i |... | |
The second vocal phrase is followed by an unisono instrumental phrase. Its rhythm:
1 2 3 4 1 2 1...
The closing half measure presents an interesting sounding stereo-antiphonal trill.
The last six measures of the song introduces what turns out to be the piano leit-motif of the following track on the album: "Nevermore". During the first mesures the tempo slows down and the bass plays his rising farewell notes.
| F | - | - | /E /D | /D |/C |
F: I | - | - | - | - | - |