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Thread: Decoding Beethoven

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    There's nothing nebulous about the concept of an implied tonic. I cited the well-known example of Schumann's wonderful C-Major Piano Fantasy, which begins on the dominant of its key and refuses to give us a tonic chord or cadence during its first five minutes, and then just when we might think we're about to get one, switches over to c-minor. We don't hear a decisive cadence in the work's primary key until about eleven minutes in.
    If it eventually goes to C minor, that's still a C tonic, and it could be explained as a 'borrowing" from C minor. It's not implied.


    The rejection of tonality was Schoenberg's job, not Wagner's; Schoenberg was explicit about wanting to prevent the sense of tonal gravitation from arising in the listener (though he didn't always do so even in nominally 12-tone works), while Wagner relied constantly on that sense to give meaning to what he was writing, including passages in which the pull of tonal gravitation is attenuated, ambiguous, or even (rarely) completely suspended.
    I never said that Wagner rejected tonality; I said his music in Tristan is better thought of as chromatic, not diatonic, and not referenced to diatonicism, but free chromatic thinking.

    Wagner said, while composing the third act of Parsifal (his most extreme work harmonically), that he felt as if he were reinventing music. He knew he was stretching the possibilities of tonality. But he was still relying on it to create the subtle, anguished tensions this music exhibits:
    When music loses its tonality to the degree it becomes ambiguous, it's better to consider voice leading in terms of pitch/interval quantity rather than identity/tonic.
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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    If it eventually goes to C minor, that's still a C tonic, and it could be explained as a 'borrowing" from C minor. It's not implied.

    I never said that Wagner rejected tonality; I said his music in Tristan is better thought of as chromatic, not diatonic, and not referenced to diatonicism, but free chromatic thinking.

    When music loses its tonality to the degree it becomes ambiguous, it's better to consider voice leading in terms of pitch/interval quantity rather than identity/tonic.
    Ugh. Let me attempt a definition:

    An implied tonic is a tonal center which is not stated/heard, but which is deducible from what is stated/heard.

    Schumann, in his Piano fantasy in C Major, is implying the tonality of C Major during much of the ten minutes of music preceding an actual statement of the tonic chord. Even if he had never cadenced in the tonic, the tonality of C Major would still be implied in the opening section of the piece. The excursion into c minor is irrelevant to the establishment of C Major as the key of the piece; that key was already present, though its tonic was unstated, in the preceding section. A tonic did not need to be "borrowed" from c minor, a bizarre notion (especially bizarre in requiring a "borrowing" from something not yet heard).

    Yes, much of the music of Tristan should be thought of as chromatic. That's rather obvious. But you've been referring to "chromatic thinking" and "diatonic thinking" in a mutually exclusive way. Just what are you calling "diatonic thinking"? Is it just something we get if we stick to the white keys in C Major? If it is, then not even Haydn was a "diatonic thinker." I've tried to describe what Wagner's harmony actually does, not put labels on it. If you can show where that description is incorrect, or offer a better description, please do so. Don't just throw around theoretical jargon as if it were a mark of superior perception.

    You say that you've not stated that Wagner rejected - or lost - tonality. But you certainly seem anxious to talk about him as if he had. To say "when music loses its tonality to the degree it becomes ambiguous..." is odd, in that harmonic ambiguities in tonal music don't normally suggest what I would call a "loss of tonality." In fact, if there is no tonality, there can be no ambiguity - i.e., no uncertainty about tonal direction. If we're listening to tonal music, we expect it to continue to make tonal sense, and if a cadence lands us on a diminished seventh, we are unlikely to feel that the music has "lost its tonality"; we may feel suspense in consideration of what will come next, but we don't fear that tonality has somehow disappeared (unless the composer does something to create that expectation - but even then we will probably be expecting some sort of tonal resolution). To apply this to the present case: does Wagner's music lose its sense of harmonic direction in such a way as to make us fear think that it's "losing its tonality"? In my experience as a listener, it doesn't, and I believe that the reason is simply that the composer is ever in command of tonal relationships and of how he is manipulating them - that he is in control of the tonal schemes underlying his chromatic progressions - and that he is using our tonal expectations to convince us that the music is going where it ought to go. To debate whether he is "thinking diatonically" or "thinking chromatically" is to erect a dichotomy, a false choice; the music itself is more chromatic at one moment, more diatonic at another, but Wagner's sense of tonal construction marries the two in a dynamic modulatory flow which never hesitates with uncertainty but moves with a sense of inevitability throughout the range of tonal possibilities, realizing those possibilities both explicitly and implicitly (see "implied tonic" above). "Chromatic thinking" unmoored from the fundamental diatonic relationships of the tonal system which Wagner inherited and thought in terms of, could never have allowed him to create such vast musical/dramatic structures of such sustained dramatic tension and power. It's quite remarkable to find, behind Wagner's intricate chromatic curtain and woven into its fabric, the old dominant-to-tonic yearning, exerting over and over again its primal power.

    You've said to me, "My advice to you is that you need to start thinking more chromatically, especially if you're going to expound on Wagner." You've accused me of "trying desperately to keep truly chromatic (modern) thinking in the straight-jacket confines of simple diatonicism" and remarked, about a book you haven't read, that "the only justification of this $1600 textbook is to justify Wagner diatonically, to counter the growing perception that Wagner (God forbid) foreshadowed modernism and (eek!) Schoenberg's abandonment of Woodduck's precious diatonic system, and - oh, yes - that one can think chromatically."

    If you were busy making a more coherent case for your own positions you wouldn't have to make such absurd and presumptuous statements about others to justify yourself.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Mar-11-2019 at 09:01.

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    From A Geometry of Music by Dmitri Tymoczko:
    Tristan demonstrates that Wagner makes use of the eight most efficient resolutions, exploiting all of the shortest pathways between half-diminished and dominant seventh chords. This suggests that the fundamental logic of the opera is a contrapuntal logic. Wagner demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of four-dimensional chord space, utilizing all the most efficient voice-leading possibilities from half-diminished to dominant seventh, substituting one half-diminished chord for another, moving between chords by way of their chromatic intermediaries, reusing the same basic contrapuntal schema with different sonorities, and even reproducing the open-ended quasi-sequences of Chopin's E minor prelude. Chromaticism here starts to achieve an impressive degree of autonomy; loosening itself from functional tonality, it becomes an independent force with its own distinctive logic.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Mar-11-2019 at 13:36.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    At last something relatively specific. Two cheers - though only two, since stuff like "the fundamental logic of the opera is a contrapuntal logic" and "a sophisticated understanding of four-dimensional chord space" has me reaching for the smelling salts.

    That aside, Wagner does indeed resolve half-diminished and diminished chords into one another with great resourcefulness, and his chromatic voice leading does indeed result in active contrapuntal textures. This of course does not answer the question - is it still a question? - of whether these features generally rely upon, are guided by, and/or incorporate basic tonal relationships. Wagner's harmony, even at its most chromatically unstable, is still based on triads, the roots of which are still felt constantly to be present, moving about and creating kaleidoscopic tonal shifts, the tonalities often barely hinted at but still fleetingly present. Not infrequently we feel the presence of more than one tonal center simultaneously, a characteristic effect of half-diminished chords (and undoubtedly a primary reason for using them).

    I have no problem with calling the prominent use of this sort of harmony "chromatic thinking," but I must insist on the importance of the fact that its full effect and meaning rely upon the listener's diatonically trained tonal sense; we're expected to feel the reference to and/or passage through tonal areas which are not spelled out but are implicit (in the exact way that C Major is implicit in the opening section of the Schumann Piano Fantasy). I have often sat at the piano with the score of Tristan or Parsifal, playing certain passages over and over simply to savor the magic of getting from one place to a seemingly remote place by passing through these unstated tonal areas, each chromatic change of a note in an inner voice evoking a tonality which dissolves immediately into another, onward until a cadence on a major or minor triad announces a stable key. These harmonic journeys are not meanders; they're tightly controlled all the way through a careful weighting of tonal tensions. We never doubt that the driver knows where he's going and can get us there.

    Because such passages of tonal ambivalence and flux are "signatures" of Wagner's mature style, it's easy to forget just how often those unambiguous cadences occur - how often he writes straightforward diatonic harmony - even in his more chromatic scores. We are rarely left tonally uncertain for long; even the famous Tristan chord is an ambiguous shape-shifter only when it first strikes our ear, before it assumes, with one chromatic alteration, its role as an augmented sixth which moves conventionally into the dominant of the music's key area of A Minor/C Major. It's true that we don't hear lengthy passages of explicit A Minor or C Major in the prelude, but at key structural points we do hear them, or harmonies closely related to them. No one who knows this score can fail to see the strength of its chromaticism's diatonic underpinnings, and this is not an exceptional case in Wagner's music: the tonal cohesion of it is one of the things that make Wagner a greater composer than, say, Delius, whose incessant chromatic dissolution has all the tensile strength of melting candle wax, or Reger, whose tangled "chromatic thinking" is apt to chart a bumpy road from nowhere to nowhere.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Mar-12-2019 at 00:04.

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    Senior Member Haydn70's Avatar
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    I don’t want to knock this thread off course but the discussion in the previous two posts re: Wagner, Tristan, chord resolutions, tonal ambivalence, etc., brought this passage from the book Flawed Words and Stubborn Sounds; A Conversation with Elliott Carter to mind. (This doesn’t address the issue of contrapuntal logic, but I hope you guys don’t mind.):

    “Clearly Tristan must have involved a terrific operation of the intellect in terms of deciding what are the norms of the piece. In a certain sense Tristan is involved entirely with the various resolutions of the augmented sixth chord, all of which had been used occasionally before—but never with such frequency that they formed one of the essential elements of a work. Indeed, from one pint of view, you could almost consider Tristan a “technical treatise” on this subject. In the course of working on it, I can imagine Wagner writing out all the possible surprising results you can get from resolving the dominant seventh and augmented sixth chords in their many enharmonic readings and then proceeding to find uses for them in the actual opera.”

    We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.
    Last edited by Haydn70; Mar-11-2019 at 22:29.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ArsMusica View Post
    I don’t want to knock this thread off course but the discussion in the previous two posts re: Wagner, Tristan, chord resolutions, tonal ambivalence, etc., brought this passage from the book Flawed Words and Stubborn Sounds; A Conversation with Elliott Carter to mind. (This doesn’t address the issue of contrapuntal logic, but I hope you guys don’t mind.):

    “Clearly Tristan must have involved a terrific operation of the intellect in terms of deciding what are the norms of the piece. In a certain sense Tristan is involved entirely with the various resolutions of the augmented sixth chord, all of which had been used occasionally before—but never with such frequency that they formed one of the essential elements of a work. Indeed, from one pint of view, you could almost consider Tristan a “technical treatise” on this subject. In the course of working on it, I can imagine Wagner writing out all the possible surprising results you can get from resolving the dominant seventh and augmented sixth chords in their many enharmonic readings and then proceeding to find uses for them in the actual opera.”

    We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.
    Interesting. I assume that's Carter himself talking? I assume it because only a 20th-century serialist would imagine a 19th-century Romantic "writing out all the possible surprising results you can get from resolving the dominant seventh and augmented sixth chords in their many enharmonic readings and then proceeding to find uses for them."

    I'm surprised he didn't accuse Wagner of using Mapping Tonal Harmony Pro.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Mar-11-2019 at 22:36.

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    Senior Member Haydn70's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Interesting. I assume that's Carter himself talking? I assume it because only a 20th-century serialist would imagine a 19th-century Romantic "writing out all the possible surprising results you can get from resolving the dominant seventh and augmented sixth chords in their many enharmonic readings and then proceeding to find uses for them."

    I'm surprised he didn't accuse Wagner of using Mapping Tonal Harmony Pro.
    Yes, sorry I didn't make that clear; that was Carter talking.

    And yes, I too got a kick (albeit a negative one) out of Carter discussing Tristan in such a clinical, sterile, serialist, eggheaded fashion. I should have included the next sentence:

    "Thus this piece could be considered a kind of a game dealing with this particular musical problem, and hence it is based on a particular set of norms and expectations that are not clear until you know the piece rather well."

    "Dr. Carter, please report to surgery, your next patient is ready..."
    Last edited by Haydn70; Mar-11-2019 at 22:45.

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    Yes that was one aspect of Robert Bailey's analysis of Tristan using classical harmony. It's pretty
    straightforward and I'll make an attempt here to explain it, although it's hardly rocket science music theory. You may begin with the tonic note C, assume all chords of the keys of C major and C minor are available, and that in a progression a chord from one can substitute for the other providing that voice-leading rules are preserved. So, the dominant seventh chord (V7 or G7; GBDF) can resolve as follows:

    Regular resolution: V7-I (C major); V7-i (c minor)
    Deceptive resolution: V7-vi (a minor); V7-VI (Ab major)
    Suspended resolution: V7-IV6 (F major, 1st inversion); V7-iv6 (f minor, 1st inversion)

    The are other possibilities such as resolution to a different dominant seventh chord resolving in the different key.

    Enharmonic alteration of the seventh produces the German augmented sixth chord GBDE# which resolves as follows:

    Key of B major/minor on bVI: Gn6-V (F# major) OR
    Key of F# major/minor on bII: Gn6-V (F# major)

    Key of B major/minor on bVI: Gn6-I 6/4-V (B major-F# major) OR
    Key of F# major/minor on bII: Gn6-i 6/4-V (B minor-F# major)

    Many different chords, and from there many different keys are available progressing from that one G7 chord. So Carter says, and really everyone since Tristan at least has had these options. No big deal here. Except that, starting from chromatic inflections or enharmonic equivalents of chords in diatonic harmony, we've reached a systematic, structural use of chromatic harmony. But all of this is old hat.

    What Dmitri Tymoczko is talking about in A Geography of Music is different. All his remarks about voice leading refer to something different, the motion of the half-diminished chord TO the dominant seventh. With a cue from Schoenberg he attends to the exhaustive use of voice-leading possibilities, which is diagrammed effectively. And from there the whole movement historically from chromatic tonality to atonality and 12-tone music has a theoretical boost. A professor at Princeton University, Tymoczko's work has attracted a lot of attention and I wouldn't begin to comment on it without reading the book or a reliable summary of it.

    2 conclusions: (1) I think Woodduck is taking an affective- and cognitive-based position on the linkage presented of Wagner to Schoenberg, one that takes into account the responses of performers and listeners. Even with the theoretical link of Wagner's chromatic tonality to Schoenberg, how do we explain their vastly different effects on us? We MUST consider the implications and realizations, or otherwise, of chords and chord progressions on our sense of tonality, and on mood for that matter, using concepts from traditional harmony. Voice-leading makes chord connection possible, but is it really such a big deal in affective terms?
    (2) Maybe I'm wrong but to me Tymozcko's theory is too advanced and complex to satisfactorily carry on a debate here with people who haven't studied it. Probably young musicians and scholars have a better grasp of it than I do with my music theory education having ended over 30 years.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger Knox View Post
    What Dmitri Tymoczko is talking about in A Geography of Music is different. All his remarks about voice leading refer to something different, the motion of the half-diminished chord TO the dominant seventh. With a cue from Schoenberg he attends to the exhaustive use of voice-leading possibilities, which is diagrammed effectively. And from there the whole movement historically from chromatic tonality to atonality and 12-tone music has a theoretical boost.

    I think Woodduck is taking an affective- and cognitive-based position on the linkage presented of Wagner to Schoenberg, one that takes into account the responses of performers and listeners. Even with the theoretical link of Wagner's chromatic tonality to Schoenberg, how do we explain their vastly different effects on us? We MUST consider the implications and realizations, or otherwise, of chords and chord progressions on our sense of tonality, and on mood for that matter, using concepts from traditional harmony. Voice-leading makes chord connection possible, but is it really such a big deal in affective terms?
    You know me so well!

    Not being a scientist or an academic by temperament or occupation, I take a very empirical, sensual approach to analyzing music. I always rely on what I hear and feel. I know some theory but haven't sat down to analyze music using any system or its associated terminolgy in many years. When I talk about tonality in Wagner I do so out of direct aural perception exercised over many years of acquaintance with the music. The experienced ear is the ultimate guide.

    I've always held that there is a distinct and audible break between the extended tonality of Wagner and the atonality of Schoenberg, despite isolated moments in both that might suggest a continuity. I do not buy the notion that all that was required for the transition to atonality was an increasing density of chromaticism, or that "music" was inevitably moving toward the final obliteration of tonality as a result of increasing chromaticism. The move to genuine atonality required not only that more notes be in play, but that certain ways of using them be forbidden. Schoenberg confirms this when he explicitly recommends banning certain harmonic entities and procedures on grounds of preventing the emergence of tonal centers in the perception of the listener. Allowing that to happen would undermine the whole project.

    The most obvious difference between Wagner's harmony and Schoenberg's, requiring no special training to perceive, is the fact that the former is persistently triadic. This has the effect of constantly doing what Schoenberg was at pains to avoid doing: suggesting tonal centers. This occurs even in the densest, most unstable chromatic passages: the rapid movement of fleetingly perceived tonalities is often sufficient to prevent any sense of actual modulation to a key; in fact, the frequent use of diminished and half-diminished chords can suggest the simultaneous presence of more than one key, since these chords consist of overlapping or interlocking triads which can be felt as having different roots depending on their context - multiple identities which allow them to belong to and move to different tonal areas. But in Wagner ambiguity does not engender chaos or confusion; there is always the feeling that we have come from somewhere and are going somewhere; we feel ourselves being transported on a magic carpet through tonal regions where we are not permitted to dwell, but which are nonetheless real and which exert the dynamic pull on us which we recognize from our experience of music in which tonal centers are established unambiguously.

    Tonality in Wagner is further established through carefully plotted schemas that give unity and direction to long passages and scenes. To a certain extent we can hear this happening, but much of the effect is subconscious, and ferreting out its technical aspects would take us into deeper studies of the scores. Such studies have presumably been done.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Mar-14-2019 at 04:00.

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    Senior Member Larkenfield's Avatar
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    In perhaps more simple terms with regard to its effects, I believe the power and fascination of the Tristan chord is that no one exactly knows what key the Prelude is in when it begins and that through its chromaticism the music continues to rise, inch up, and progress harmonically—sustained seemingly indefinitely with drama, tension, anticipation, and suspense—without having to return to the tonic. It's the journey away from home without knowing when the return will take place. There's the sense that its chromatic rising progressions could go on forever and never land. It would be relatively easy to relate the long journey of its return to the tonic to the next evolution in music with Schoenberg and his never having a tonic at all. The Tristan chord is the start of an epic journey in sound... something that is about to build and eventually end in a grand climax of heat, passion and emotion of epic proportions. The entire Prelude is full of that kind of prolonged harmonic tension and suspense... something related to desire that longs to be satisfied.



    Sometimes it helps to see the long chromatic harmonic risings in the score:

    Last edited by Larkenfield; Mar-14-2019 at 09:39.
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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    I take a much simpler, elegant approach. If it's not analyzable harmonically, it's not subject to harmonic analysis. Harmonic analysis is based on chords built on scale steps, which is very diatonic.

    The "diminished seventh" chord itself, supposedly built on the vii degree, is not really that at all: it's to be considered an incomplete G7 dominant (B-D-F), and should be resolved as that by assuming a G root, according to two respected sources: Walter Piston's Harmony and Schoenberg's Harmonielehre.

    The "diminished seventh" is not really a chord at all, with its unstable tritone; it just reveals a glitch in the harmonic system, and is really the result of contrapuntal voice-leading.

    The diminished seventh, with its tritone B-F, reveals the inherent instability of the C major scale, which was designed for "travel" out of the key, not to ultimately reinforce the key suggested by the scale. The diatonic C major scale, the chosen scale for most of our music, is also inherently unstable as far as being "totally tonal." It's built for movement, for unrest.

    The interval C-F is a fourth; if we hear this as "root on top," then F Major (complete with leading tone E-F) is established, subordinating C, supposedly the "home" key. All this is due to the fact of the tritone F-B in the C major scale.
    In this light, we can see the truth of George Russell's assertion that the Lydian scale is "more tonal" if one wants to establish the scale root as the key.

    The F lydian scale cycles through all 7 in perfect fifths before it circles back around to F, its key note: F-C-G-D-A-E-B (F).
    This is also why piano tuners start on F and tune by fifths.

    If we try to "stack fifths" starting on C, we get C-G-D-A-E-B-(F#?). It doesn't work for a C major scale, as it has an "F."


    When all the notes of a C major scale are sustained by ascending fifths, C-G-D-A-E-B, the consonance of perfect fifths falls apart when the clunker "F" is added on top.

    The C major scale is structured so that there is a "leading tone" E-F (establishing F), as well as B-C (establishing C).

    Significantly, the C lydian scale has a leading tone F#-G (establishing the more closely related V step of G) and B-C (establishing the scale key).

    I'm not criticizing the C major scale; it's perfectly suited for what it is used for: to travel to other key areas due to its inherent instability, the tritone B-F, which ultimately manifests as the diminished chord.

    In other words, the C major diatonic scale was designed to travel to other key areas, thus being inherently unstable, thus fulfilling its "harmonic destiny:" the diminished chord and the unravelling of the tonal fabric.

    Schoenberg can't be blamed for the dissolution of tonality; it is inherent in the structure of the major scale.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Mar-14-2019 at 13:39.
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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    I take a much simpler, elegant approach. If it's not analyzable harmonically, it's not subject to harmonic analysis. Harmonic analysis is based on chords built on scale steps, which is very diatonic.
    If you consider circular redundancy elegant. I consider it funny, just as Alice did.

    "based on chords built on scale steps, which is very diatonic" — unless some of those scale steps support or are implicated in secondary dominants, secondary °7ths, and other chords which are chromatic.

    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    The "diminished seventh" chord itself, supposedly built on the vii degree, is not really that at all: it's to be considered an incomplete G7 dominant (B-D-F), and should be resolved as that by assuming a G root, according to two respected sources: Walter Piston's Harmony and Schoenberg's Harmonielehre.
    Yes, one of your favorite fun facts which is often true and often not. If only you could tell the difference.

    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    The "diminished seventh" is not really a chord at all, with its unstable tritone; it just reveals a glitch in the harmonic system, and is really the result of contrapuntal voice-leading.

    The diminished seventh, with its tritone B-F, reveals the inherent instability of the C major scale, which was designed for "travel" out of the key, not to ultimately reinforce the key suggested by the scale. The diatonic C major scale, the chosen scale for most of our music, is also inherently unstable as far as being "totally tonal." It's built for movement, for unrest.
    It's not a glitch, it's a feature, in fact a most important one.

    It accommodates both rest and unrest, which is an amazingly simple and fundamental thing anyone pretending to understand theory should get.

    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    The interval C-F is a fourth; if we hear this as "root on top," then F Major (complete with leading tone E-F) is established, subordinating C, supposedly the "home" key. All this is due to the fact of the tritone F-B in the C major scale.
    Nonsense. This does not in any way establish F major as the key.

    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    In this light, we can see the truth of George Russell's assertion that [I]the Lydian scale is "more tonal" if one wants to establish the scale root as the key.
    A mistaken factoid invalidated by the whole history of Western music.

    Okay, this is getting tiresome. I'll just jump to:

    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    In other words, the C major diatonic scale was designed to travel to other key areas, thus being inherently unstable, thus fulfilling its "harmonic destiny:" the diminished chord and the unravelling of the tonal fabric.

    Schoenberg can't be blamed for the dissolution of tonality; it is inherent in the structure of the major scale.
    Designed? By whom? This is intelligent design nonsense applied to music historiography. The scale in its theoretical and musical significance evolved over more than a millennium. The tritone is what closes the system (or closed it depending on what historical period is under discussion).
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Mar-14-2019 at 19:13.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Larkenfield View Post
    In perhaps more simple terms with regard to its effects, I believe the power and fascination of the Tristan chord is that no one exactly knows what key the Prelude is in when it begins and that through its chromaticism the music continues to rise, inch up, and progress harmonically—sustained seemingly indefinitely with drama, tension, anticipation, and suspense—without having to return to the tonic. It's the journey away from home without knowing when the return will take place. There's the sense that its chromatic rising progressions could go on forever and never land. It would be relatively easy to relate the long journey of its return to the tonic to the next evolution in music with Schoenberg and his never having a tonic at all. The Tristan chord is the start of an epic journey in sound... something that is about to build and eventually end in a grand climax of heat, passion and emotion of epic proportions. The entire Prelude is full of that kind of prolonged harmonic tension and suspense... something related to desire that longs to be satisfied.



    Sometimes it helps to see the long chromatic harmonic risings in the score:

    Your description of the emotional effect of the Tristan prelude surely accords with Wagner's intentions. In specific harmonic terms, though, it isn't the case that the primary key - A minor/C Major - is forgotten throughout most of the work's course. The first notes of the prelude on the cellos outline A minor, and although the first chord we hear seems remote, we immediately cadence on the dominant seventh of A minor, and the following restatements of the same material keep us in A minor's tonal orbit until the first real melody of the piece emerges in clear C Major. That melody is again in C Major the next time we hear it, and again in its final, powerful statement heading into the work's climactic bars, whereupon the music collapses into the "Tristan chord" on exactly the same pitches heard at the beginning of the prelude, resolves identically to the V7 of A minor, and recaps with slight variation the subsequent material. The final quiet bars of the prelude shade into C minor in preparation for Act 1 and the C minor song of the sailor.

    Key relationships in Wagner tend to work on us subconsciously - we aren't supposed to notice them the way we do in Classical sonatas and such - but they are carefully plotted.

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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    The "diminished seventh" chord itself, supposedly built on the vii degree, is not really that at all: it's to be considered an incomplete G7 dominant (B-D-F), and should be resolved as that by assuming a G root, according to two respected sources: Walter Piston's Harmony and Schoenberg's Harmonielehre.

    The "diminished seventh" is not really a chord at all, with its unstable tritone; it just reveals a glitch in the harmonic system, and is really the result of contrapuntal voice-leading.
    A chord is just notes sounded simultaneously. How is a diminished seventh not a chord? And why must it be a "result of contrapuntal voice-leading"? In innumerable pieces of music it occurs without any counterpoint at all. It can function as an "incomplete dominant," but it doesn't have to.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Mar-14-2019 at 20:21.

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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    Schoenberg can't be blamed for the dissolution of tonality; it is inherent in the structure of the major scale.
    I can just hear Arnold protesting, when caught red-handed, "The Diabolus in Musica made me do it!"

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