Etude #9 consists of a series of harmonic variations using a cycle of five chords to intone changing moods. The melodic material of the piece essentially outlines the harmonies as the work progresses through the cycle. The fourth iteration of the cycle (beginning in measure thirteen) is a drastic divergence from the established harmonies and is used to merge the harmonic material with the melodic material so that the differences between the two become more or less indistinguishable. The piece opens with a two-measure introduction of the cycle. The orchestration is thick and holds a rather contemplative mood.
Measure three acts as an airy, longing response to the opening statement. Measures four through six comprise the
A section of the work. The overall feel for this section is one of lighthearted playfulness exemplified especially in the pizzicati of the upper strings. Measure seven interrupts this idea to begin the B section – one of dramatic, suspenseful climax. Measure nine is a contemplative echo to the climax, and it ushers in the next section – a return to ideas first stated in the A section. Here, different moods are superimposed on one another; the playful pizzicati coexist with the lyrical ideas stated in the winds. A haunting chorale begins in measure thirteen. This is a broad, suspended extension before a recapitulation of the introductory material ends the piece elliptically.