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Thread: Modulations / Tonicizations

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    Senior Member tdc's Avatar
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    Default Modulations / Tonicizations

    This question came to mind in reading recent comments made here: Cannon in F# Major about how Bach typically cycles through keys in a piece. I often hear the term modulation used, but not as often tonicization, but what was Bach typically doing?

    When Bach moves through so many different keys in a composition, I'm guessing he did not write in different key signature every time he briefly moved into a new key - would these brief excursions then be more accurately titled tonicizations?

    An example would be the Chaconne - the composition starts off in the key signature of D minor and finishes in the key signature of D major - do most people consider that piece to just have 1 modulation with other tonicizations, or do you consider it to have multiple modulations?

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    For me it is a distinction without difference. We are talking about a whole ritornello or subject statement with a different "do." If I were talking to a Schenkerian, which means, if it were totally unavoidable , I would use tonicization. Perhaps better to just say change of key? More neutral and less picky. Additionally, I was imagining our young composer scouring a theory book looking for a chapter about key changes and figured modulation would be the more likely chapter heading.

    No, he didn't write new key signatures. That would be fussy to the point of silliness since we are generally talking one flat or sharp either way.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Aug-16-2015 at 02:36.

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    Senior Member tdc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    For me it is a distinction without difference. We are talking about a whole ritornello or subject statement with a different "do." If I were talking to a Schenkerian, which means, if it were totally unavoidable , I would use tonicization. Perhaps better to just say change of key? More neutral and less picky. Additionally, I was imagining our young composer scouring a theory book looking for a chapter about key changes and figured modulation would be the more likely chapter heading.

    No, he didn't write new key signatures. That would be fussy to the point of silliness since we are generally talking one flat or sharp either way.
    This makes sense and I can think of a Bach piece I've played through (the allegro from bwv 1003) where there is only one key signature yet I can clearly sense it moving through other keys (and of course when the key 'change' is the relative major/minor there is obviously no difference in the key signature). But a big part of what triggered my question is the Chaconne, as long and intricate as this work is I don't actually sense a lot of tonicization or modulation. The first part seems pretty stable on d minor and the last part pretty much d major, there are certain sections where perhaps it is moving to the V for a time, that is about it. I wonder if others have a different view of the chaconne and perceive it as having a lot of tonicization.

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    I made a muddle with my first response. The changes of key in ritornello forms and fugues are aptly called modulations, because a new tonic is established and reinforced in an extended passage. (Schenkerians, in doing reductive analyses, often de-emphasize these and treat them as tonicizations.) Tonicization is more generally reserved for very short term elaborations of a harmony, usually by preceding it with its dominant (secondary dominants).

    I hadn't focused in on the chaconne example, but works of this nature, including passacaglias, are variations on a short bass line or progression, so one would not expect other tonics to be established, although there are plenty of exceptions in later eras (Shostakovich quartets, for example). In the Bach chaconne there are numerous tonicizations. Nearly every major and minor triad in the keys of D minor and D major is at some point preceded by its own dominant. But, in my cursory review, there are no modulations away from the tonic D.

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    Senior Member Rhombic's Avatar
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    Modulation indicates a more permanent move towards a different key.
    If the move is for around two or three bars, tonicization is what is happening -- the listener still perceives the music with the previous key as a reference.
    Someday, something will come out of anything.

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    Tonicization and modulation are similar things but of different scale. As far as naming something it would depend, if a piece goes on a long excursion away from the home key, but all of the keys touched on are only there briefly, there I would call them modulations but I would make more of a deal about the modulatory nature of the excursion. If the piece has a long period in a subordinate key, but touches on many keys to get there then I would call that passage modulatory but I would see those keys as just passing by (often there would be sequences and you would more profitably focus on the counterpoint). Hope this helps clear things up!

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    One thing I usually think about when it comes to modulation/tonicisation is whether a passage of music is using the chord relationships which determine a tonic/dominant/supertonic/subdominant etc. in a different key to the key signature. The initial indicator of a modulation is a V-I perfect cadence into a new key. When a cadence doesn't occur, a tonic-dominant relationship is not established, ergo, no modulation. What is often confusing for some people is if an extended dominant function is used over several chords which act as secondary dominants. In the end, passages like this resolve back to the original tonic of the home key and the tonicisation on the dominant key is just harmonic tension before a final consonance.

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    Technically there is no difference between the concept of modulation and tonicization, because tonicization uses modulation. However, modulations in classical music are a structural phenomenon, being used to cordon off different sections in a larger work or to direct the flow of ideas by creating harmonic tension. Therefore, the question of modulation vs tonicization is really a question of whether you are visiting Sydney for residence or employment or just for vacation. It's not that modulations within phrases aren't modulations, however the new key is usually not established firmly enough to deserve the title and the main purpose is to flavor the music rather than articulate the architecture.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bridge View Post
    Technically there is no difference between the concept of modulation and tonicization, because tonicization uses modulation. However, modulations in classical music are a structural phenomenon, being used to cordon off different sections in a larger work or to direct the flow of ideas by creating harmonic tension. Therefore, the question of modulation vs tonicization is really a question of whether you are visiting Sydney for residence or employment or just for vacation. It's not that modulations within phrases aren't modulations, however the new key is usually not established firmly enough to deserve the title and the main purpose is to flavor the music rather than articulate the architecture.
    Modulation the use of a new and different tonal centre. Tonicisation is the use of harmonies outside of the home key as 'makeshift' tonics etc. in order to move somewhere different harmonically, for example, harmonies shifting across the circle of fourths (what's that Stevie Wonder Song? About a minute in http://youtu.be/7ztSuiv9Ba8). They are actually different things and what's confusing about your post is that you've even confirmed that with your Sydney analogy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ComposerOfAvantGarde View Post
    Modulation the use of a new and different tonal centre. Tonicisation is the use of harmonies outside of the home key as 'makeshift' tonics etc. in order to move somewhere different harmonically, for example, harmonies shifting across the circle of fourths (what's that Stevie Wonder Song? About a minute in http://youtu.be/7ztSuiv9Ba8). They are actually different things and what's confusing about your post is that you've even confirmed that with your Sydney analogy.
    I'm sorry, my wording was perhaps a bit ambiguous. I tried to emphasize the word "concept" in "concept of modulation" because technically speaking modulation is nothing more than a change in tonal center. However, we do not call tonicizations modulations because the latter term implies more significance.

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