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Thread: What did Beethoven mean?

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    Default What did Beethoven mean?

    He said of Weber's opera, " 'Euryanthe' is an accumulation of diminished seventh chords -- all little backdoors!"

    I have no idea what this means. Anybody?


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    Diminished seventh chords have an odd quality because they are symmetrical. One of them can fit into a few keys depending on interpretation, so I believe that he meant that they are "backdoors" in that they can lead out to different places.

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    Mahlerian, you mean that a diminished 7th can support modulations to several different keys? Makes sense. BTW there are remarkably few Beethoven quotes that bear on the techniques of music, surprising (to me) since he seemed to take a good deal of pride in his technical prowess.


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    Senior Member Piwikiwi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KenOC View Post
    Mahlerian, you mean that a diminished 7th can support modulations to several different keys? Makes sense. BTW there are remarkably few Beethoven quotes that bear on the techniques of music, surprising (to me) since he seemed to take a good deal of pride in his technical prowess.
    Yes, it can support modulation to different keys. Jazz musicians have actually taken stuff like that to another level of crazy weird tonal stuff. They often use the upper structures of a chord to suggest another chord. Like in this song:



    Link to the chords

    The reason why composers probably don't often talk about the techniques is that it is like a writer talking about grammar; a writer/composer/painter have such a control over the tools that they use that it almost becomes an unconscious process to use it.

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    Senior Member Il_Penseroso's Avatar
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    It was quite common in the first half of the 19th. century that the composers of dramatic music used to dazzle their public by featuring diminished seventh chords whenever they found tense, passion or any source of extraordinary emotions in librettos. It soon turned into a cliché which was considered insipid monotonous or even stupid by many music critics. Eduard Hanslick for example, in his famous review on Tannhäuser, was displeased by Wagner's use of diminished seventh chords in Venusberg and some other scenes of the opera as 'this method has been led into an extreme banality by the modern composers' he said.
    Last edited by Il_Penseroso; Sep-03-2015 at 16:00.
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    Senior Member Dim7's Avatar
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    Yep... Schoenberg thought that I have become "banal and effeminate".
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    It all depends when he said it does it not?
    He went mad didn't he?

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    The fact that diminished seventh chords are symmetrical and completely homogenous at that (stacks of minor thirds) means that there is no such thing as a diminished ninth chord built with minor thirds alone because the "ninth" is actually the octave. Moreover, because of its perfect symmetry, there is no such thing as an inversion when it comes to diminished seventh chords and really the only thing that determines what note is the tonic is what note is in the bass. Of course, diminished seventh chords can have a strong implied function in a harmonic context and it is not that ridiculous to talk about inversions if the ear anticipates one bass note and gets another. Where it gets crazy, and this took me some time to realize, is that there are only three different dim7 chords because after three chords you have exhausted the chromatic scale. It stands to reason that if diminished seventh chords are chords with a dominant function that resolve to chords with a tonic function that each diminished seventh chord sonority can resolve to four different tonics (basic math, 12/3 = 4). The late romantics abused this useful feature of the diminished chord and often used it as a get out of jail free chord for adventurous modulations which has become somewhat trite and boring.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bridge View Post
    The fact that diminished seventh chords are symmetrical and completely homogenous at that (stacks of minor thirds) means that there is no such thing as a diminished ninth chord built with minor thirds alone because the "ninth" is actually the octave. Moreover, because of its perfect symmetry, there is no such thing as an inversion when it comes to diminished seventh chords and really the only thing that determines what note is the tonic is what note is in the bass. Of course, diminished seventh chords can have a strong implied function in a harmonic context and it is not that ridiculous to talk about inversions if the ear anticipates one bass note and gets another. Where it gets crazy, and this took me some time to realize, is that there are only three different dim7 chords because after three chords you have exhausted the chromatic scale. It stands to reason that if diminished seventh chords are chords with a dominant function that resolve to chords with a tonic function that each diminished seventh chord sonority can resolve to four different tonics (basic math, 12/3 = 4). The late romantics abused this useful feature of the diminished chord and often used it as a get out of jail free chord for adventurous modulations which has become somewhat trite and boring.
    Great explenation. I am somewhat conflicted about your last sentence though. While it is true that allot of late romantic, or what i will call "free", music modulates without real use of neighbour and family chords using the diminished chords it does not mean that this is boring or a "get out of free jail chord". It can, of course, mean exactly that but I just see it as an extra "tool" for composers to use.

    Overal, the diminished 7th chord is a very easy way to modulate to almost any key (be it close or far). Baroque masters like mozart, handel and bach used it constantly..

    When improvising and composing myself I find that far too often I rely on the diminished 7th myself, something which annoys me. It just shows I need to study harder.

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    Senior Member Ukko's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dim7 View Post
    Yep... Schoenberg thought that I have become "banal and effeminate".
    Hah. I wonder where he got 'effeminate'.
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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KenOC View Post
    He said of Weber's opera, " 'Euryanthe' is an accumulation of diminished seventh chords -- all little backdoors!"

    I have no idea what this means. Anybody?
    The overuse of diminished 7ths, as Il Penseroso points out with the citation of Hanslick, was hackneyed by the mid-nineteenth century. A new set of magic doors came into use thereafter based on altered mediant and submediant relationships. There is a strange kind of symmetry here too. In a major key, the flat-VIb chord (a minor triad built on the flatted 6th degree) can act as a dominant, and in a minor key, the sharp-III# (a major triad built on the sharped 3rd degree) can as well. This sounds complicated but what it amounts to is, taking the example of the keys of E major and C minor: An E major chord can perform a dominant function in the key of C minor, and a C minor chord can perform a dominant function in E major(!) Either could be dominant or tonic in relation to the other! Below is a musical example illustrating this. The first system spells them as common triads. However, I suspect what is "really" going on is better illustrated by the spellings in the second system. (Speculating: One could add a note to each chord to make them altered seventh chords built on the 7th scale degree. So, adding A to the "C minor chord" yields: D#, F-double sharp, A, C; Adding D to the "E major chord" yields B, D, Fb, Ab.)

    Magic Doors.png

    From Rimsky-Korsakoff on, these relationships were a standard part of the vocabulary of Russian (and probably other) composers.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Nov-16-2015 at 16:13.

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    Senior Member SixFootScowl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KenOC View Post
    He said of Weber's opera, " 'Euryanthe' is an accumulation of diminished seventh chords -- all little backdoors!"

    I have no idea what this means. Anybody?
    More interesting to me is whether he meant it as a compliment or as a disparaging remark.
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    Senior Member Dim7's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ukko View Post
    Hah. I wonder where he got 'effeminate'.
    Probably from my posts.

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    Senior Member Dim7's Avatar
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    Somewhat ironically ATM I am not a huge fan of dim7 chords. Well I'm not a hater either. But they often strike now me as a bit trite way of being "dramatic".
    Last edited by Dim7; Nov-17-2015 at 14:37.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dim7 View Post
    Somewhat ironically ATM I am not a huge fan of dim7 chords. Well I'm not a hater either. But they often strike now me as a bit trite way of being "dramatic".
    They're great in a traditional context, but I would only stick one in one of my pieces in a "dramatic" situation as a joke, because they sound ridiculous in any other context.
    Last edited by Mahlerian; Nov-17-2015 at 17:54.

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