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Thread: Decoding Beethoven

  1. #61
    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 21:47.
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  2. #62
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    If you disagree, state why. Otherwise, this is just another one of your & Woodduck's empty invalidations, containing no discussion value. From now on I'm reporting posts of this nature.
    EB can speak for himself, but if you're going to "third-person" me again, I'm going to point out that my contributions to this thread are anything but "empty invalidations." What's empty is your evasive yet indignant non-defense of "Mapping Tonal Harmony Pro" as a tool of analysis or composition, and your ridiculing of other people's "outdated" and "academic" understanding of music.

    Not wanting to be "invalidated" is problematic for one who makes statements as questionable as "We know what counterpoint is. It's what was happening in the Gregorian chant days before they learned to think harmonically," or "This is to demonstrate that geometric charts facilitate chromatic thinking, and bring geometric ideas which would not rise to consciousness when impeded by outdated, inflexible conceptions of diatonicism," or "Unstated tonics? This sounds as 'codswallopy' as some of the 'irrational' ideas you accuse me of," or "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," or "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."

    Not many people are going to come onto a music theory thread and attempt to deal with statements like these. I suspect you'd be happiest if no one would, and you could just lecture to your hearts content to an audience stunned into silence by your erudition.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Mar-14-2019 at 22:50.

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  4. #63
    Senior Member Larkenfield's Avatar
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    I’ve never seen any agreement on the technical analysis of the Tristan chord, only what it’s designed to achieve. There is no final word:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tristan_chordconsensus.
    Last edited by Larkenfield; Mar-15-2019 at 05:56.
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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Larkenfield View Post
    I’ve never seen any agreement on the technical analysis of the Tristan chord, only what it’s designed to achieve. There is no final word: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tristan_chordconsensus.
    The situation is less desperate than it looks! Not all the theories are mutually exclusive, and if the chord is viewed in context - in terms of what precedes it, its resolution, and the subsequent repetitions of it - its tonal function and identity is not mysterious. The only reason it sounds mysterious when we first hear it is that its top note, G#, is a dissonant tone not prepared with sufficient context to be immediately identifiable, and it thus throws off our sense of key until the chord resolves. If that note were an A rather than the G# which constitutes an appoggiatura to it, our ears would immediately hear its identity with the opening note of the prelude (an A on the cellos, the keynote of the piece) and recognize the chord as an augmented sixth, functioning as the dominant of the dominant of A minor, to which it resolves in a perfectly ordinary way. While we note the ambiguous effect of the chord as it first sounds, we have no reason to complicate our understanding of its function by positing roots in alien keys or making "linear interpretations," as if the chord were just some sort of marvelous coincidence. Wagner's tonal plan in this prelude is precise and neither occult not accidental. I agree with Jacques Chailley:

    "Tristan's chromaticism, grounded in appoggiaturas and passing notes, technically and spiritually represents an apogee of tension. I have never been able to understand how the preposterous idea that Tristan could be made the prototype of an atonality grounded in destruction of all tension could possibly have gained credence. This was an idea that was disseminated under the (hardly disinterested) authority of Schoenberg, to the point where Alban Berg could cite the Tristan Chord in the Lyric Suite, as a kind of homage to a precursor of atonality. This curious conception could not have been made except as the consequence of a destruction of normal analytical reflexes leading to an artificial isolation of an aggregate in part made up of foreign notes, and to consider it—an abstraction out of context—as an organic whole. After this, it becomes easy to convince naive readers that such an aggregation escapes classification in terms of harmony textbooks. [empasis mine]
    Last edited by Woodduck; Mar-15-2019 at 06:02.

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    Senior Member Larkenfield's Avatar
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    "I have never been able to understand how the preposterous idea that Tristan could be made the prototype of an atonality grounded in destruction of all tension could possibly have gained credence. This was an idea that was disseminated under the (hardly disinterested) authority of Schoenberg, to the point where Alban Berg could cite the Tristan Chord in the Lyric Suite, as a kind of homage to a precursor of atonality. " —Jacques Chailley

    Interesting quote but I'm not inclined to agree... I believe that Chailley was mistaken: Tristan starts from a tonal uncertainty, an ambiguity, with the Prelude not being clear about the key that it's in, then progresses away from home base almost indefinitely and gives the impression that it might never return or is reluctant to return. I view that as a precursor to not having the necessity of a home base of tonality at all which would be the final step before Schoenberg's convulsive revolution in sound... that what Wagner did was only one step away from what Schoenberg did. It's like the difference between staying away from home for a year (Wagner) and staying away from home for an eternity (Schoenberg). Big difference!

    The Tristan chord doesn't sound mysterious to me because it leaves a trail of harmonic bread crumbs that can be followed. I believe the chord's purpose is clear on how it creates emotional tension, expectation, and builds and builds and builds like what has never been heard in music before and that was remarkable. Its use in the Prelude gives the impression of stretching time almost indefinitely... Wagner changed music's relationship to time. But I find that the various technical explanations and analyses of the chord offer little satisfaction and the hearing of it is far more satisfying as something that can be felt.
    Last edited by Larkenfield; Mar-15-2019 at 10:57.
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  8. #66
    Senior Member Barbebleu's Avatar
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    I'm thinking of starting a new thread called ' Decoding the thread called Decoding Beethoven.'

    Man alive, you guys take your shibboleths seriously.

    Some of the discussions make me think of the contract scene from A Night at the Opera. The party of the first part etc.

    A diminished 7th chord is not a chord until such times as it is! Yay, that's cleared that up for me.

    Keep it up though. Reading the posts has cheered me up immensely.
    Last edited by Barbebleu; Mar-15-2019 at 15:53.
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  10. #67
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Larkenfield View Post
    "I have never been able to understand how the preposterous idea that Tristan could be made the prototype of an atonality grounded in destruction of all tension could possibly have gained credence. This was an idea that was disseminated under the (hardly disinterested) authority of Schoenberg, to the point where Alban Berg could cite the Tristan Chord in the Lyric Suite, as a kind of homage to a precursor of atonality. " —Jacques Chailley

    Interesting quote but I'm not inclined to agree... I believe that Chailley was mistaken: Tristan starts from a tonal uncertainty, an ambiguity, with the Prelude not being clear about the key that it's in, then progresses away from home base almost indefinitely and gives the impression that it might never return or is reluctant to return. I view that as a precursor to not having the necessity of a home base of tonality at all which would be the final step before Schoenberg's convulsive revolution in sound... that what Wagner did was only one step away from what Schoenberg did. It's like the difference between staying away from home for a year (Wagner) and staying away from home for an eternity (Schoenberg). Big difference!

    The Tristan chord doesn't sound mysterious to me because it leaves a trail of harmonic bread crumbs that can be followed. I believe the chord's purpose is clear on how it creates emotional tension, expectation, and builds and builds and builds like what has never been heard in music before and that was remarkable. Its use in the Prelude gives the impression of stretching time almost indefinitely... Wagner changed music's relationship to time. But I find that the various technical explanations and analyses of the chord offer little satisfaction and the hearing of it is far more satisfying as something that can be felt.
    Harmonic ambiguity was not new in 1859. Chromaticism was part of the language of musical expression for centuries, and no one ever imagined that it was a "precursor" to the abandonment of tonality. Your "staying away from home" analogy is flawed: the difference is not between staying away from home for a year and staying away from home for an eternity, but between staying away from home and having no home to return to.

    Technically, your description of the prelude is inaccurate; it doesn't move continuously away from its tonal home base, but remains within its home territory and comes back to its actual key center with each statement of the principal melody. But your description of its emotional effect - "the chord's purpose is clear on how it creates emotional tension, expectation, and builds and builds and builds like what has never been heard in music before and that was remarkable. Its use in the Prelude gives the impression of stretching time almost indefinitely... Wagner changed music's relationship to time." - is spot on. And what you describe is precisely what power of expression tonality makes possible, what its absence makes impossible, and what makes atonality a break from, not an evolution of, tonality. Schoenberg understood this perfectly - understood that tonal music's potential for long-range effects of tension and cohesion could not be realized once the gravitational pull of tonal centers was removed. To compensate for this loss was the whole rationale for the form-making technique of serialism. But of course, being Schoenberg, he had to rationalize his revolution by casting it as an evolution - by creating a theoretical justification for it, complete with a quasi-mystical (and at that time rather fashionable) conception of "historical necessity."

    The enrichment of tonal harmony to accommodate more chromaticism may, either by choice or through incompetence, lead to a weakening of the perception of tonal gravitation. But that isn't what Wagner was up to. Tristan in particular, and his work in general, is an expansion and an intensification of tonality that utilizes time "away from home" to make being away and coming home all the more poignant. The scores of Tristan and Parsifal confirm and affirm over and over again the inimitable powers of Western tonal harmony.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Mar-15-2019 at 21:10.

  11. #68
    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Larkenfield View Post
    "I have never been able to understand how the preposterous idea that Tristan could be made the prototype of an atonality grounded in destruction of all tension could possibly have gained credence. This was an idea that was disseminated under the (hardly disinterested) authority of Schoenberg, to the point where Alban Berg could cite the Tristan Chord in the Lyric Suite, as a kind of homage to a precursor of atonality. " —Jacques Chailley

    Interesting quote but I'm not inclined to agree... I believe that Chailley was mistaken: Tristan starts from a tonal uncertainty, an ambiguity, with the Prelude not being clear about the key that it's in, then progresses away from home base almost indefinitely and gives the impression that it might never return or is reluctant to return. I view that as a precursor to not having the necessity of a home base of tonality at all which would be the final step before Schoenberg's convulsive revolution in sound... that what Wagner did was only one step away from what Schoenberg did. It's like the difference between staying away from home for a year (Wagner) and staying away from home for an eternity (Schoenberg). Big difference!

    The Tristan chord doesn't sound mysterious to me because it leaves a trail of harmonic bread crumbs that can be followed. I believe the chord's purpose is clear on how it creates emotional tension, expectation, and builds and builds and builds like what has never been heard in music before and that was remarkable. Its use in the Prelude gives the impression of stretching time almost indefinitely... Wagner changed music's relationship to time. But I find that the various technical explanations and analyses of the chord offer little satisfaction and the hearing of it is far more satisfying as something that can be felt.
    I think the key's perfectly clear. As Chailley notes: +6 chord followed by dominant in A minor. The G# appoggiatura mystifies it for a couple seconds. I too have always thought the Second Viennese and their acolytes latched onto this passage for "religious" reasons, because it made a satisfying origin myth for them. It's long past time to let the story die.

    It is the very strength and clarity of the passage's tonal implications, underlined by the withholding of resolution, that makes the passage a perfect metaphor for longing.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Mar-15-2019 at 20:38.

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    Senior Member JosefinaHW's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    I think the key's perfectly clear. As Chailley notes: +6 chord followed by dominant in A minor. The G# appoggiatura mystifies it for a a couple seconds. I too have always thought the Second Viennese and their acolytes latched onto this passage for "religious" reasons, because it made a satisfying origin myth for them. It's long past time to let the story die.
    Greg would you mind explaining what you mean here. I don't mean the "religious" term. I mean what is the origin myth for them? I thought Schoenberg "just" wanted to explore/create another "language" for composing music.
    Last edited by JosefinaHW; Mar-15-2019 at 20:34.


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    Senior Member Larkenfield's Avatar
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    The opening melody of Tristan starting on the second bar is clearly chromatic. Notes in this chord progression are played with equal value and not as appoggiaturas, and that changes their harmonic function in a way that Chailley does not acknowledge or recognize ... All the notes are played as having equal value though of course not having equal length and the tonal ambiguity can be clearly heard:

    Last edited by Larkenfield; Mar-15-2019 at 22:19.
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    Senior Member Larkenfield's Avatar
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    Jacques Chailley First Symphony, which of course has no sympathy or relationship with anything that Schoenberg did with regard to a revolutionary attitude toward tonality, so why should he understand him?

    g
    Last edited by Larkenfield; Mar-15-2019 at 22:14.
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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JosefinaHW View Post
    Greg would you mind explaining what you mean here. I don't mean the "religious" term. I mean what is the origin myth for them? I thought Schoenberg "just" wanted to explore/create another "language" for composing music.
    I mean the desire to show that the path they were exploring was somehow foreordained by masters of the past, that they were the inevitable next step in an historical progression. Essentially: the implications of the Tristan Prelude foretold the inevitable move to atonality. Wagner was doing the same kind of thing when he interpreted Beethoven's 9th as foreshadowing his music drama. Schoenberg did something similar with Brahms when he wrote about Brahms the progressive. Any number of rock guitarists claiming the blessing of Hendrix.

    I'm not sure the term origin myth is exactly right, but I hope you get what I mean: That narrative about the history of music that has the effect of anointing the myth-spinner.

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  21. #73
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Larkenfield View Post
    The opening melody of Tristan starting on the second bar is clearly chromatic. The notes in this chord progression are played with equal value and not as appoggiaturas, and that changes their harmonic function in a way that Chailley does not acknowledge or recognize ... All the notes are played as having equal value though not of course having equal length:

    Appoggiaturas have no necessary time value. They can be long or short. They can last longer than the note they resolve to. If this one were not there - if we heard the A right off - the underlying progression would be unambiguous from the get-go: a French sixth resolving to the dominant.

    Note that Wagner's spelling of the chord includes a D# - the leading tone to E, dominant of the dominant - and G#, the mediant tone of that same chord. If Wagner had envisioned any other harmonic function for the chord, he could have spelled it F-Cb-Eb-Ab instead of F-B-D#-G#. His spelling is exactly what we would expect for a French sixth which resolves the way it does. He knew what he was doing.

    That G# provides a moment of mystery, of suspense, of ambiguity. A moment! Analysts who try to spin that into a theory that reduces Wagner's entire tonal plan to insignificance need to get some fresh air.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Mar-15-2019 at 22:20.

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  23. #74
    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Larkenfield View Post
    The opening melody of Tristan starting on the second bar is clearly chromatic. Notes in this chord progression are played with equal value and not as appoggiaturas, and that changes their harmonic function in a way that Chailley does not acknowledge or recognize ... All the notes are played as having equal value though of course not having equal length and the tonal ambiguity remains:
    The G# is an appoggiatura to the A. The D# is a chord tone in the augmented 6th harmony. The only thing irregular is that the D# moves down to the 7th of the V7 chord. Irregular but not that unusual. But the easiest explanation is just to play this:

    Screen Shot 2019-03-15 at 5.30.51 PM.jpg

    A minor. No tonal ambiguity whatever.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Mar-15-2019 at 22:39.

    What greater comfort does time afford than the objects of terror re-encountered and their fraudulence exposed in the flash of reason?
    — William Gaddis, The Recognitions

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    Senior Member JosefinaHW's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    I mean the desire to show that the path they were exploring was somehow foreordained by masters of the past, that they were the inevitable next step in an historical progression. Essentially: the implications of the Tristan Prelude foretold the inevitable move to atonality. Wagner was doing the same kind of thing when he interpreted Beethoven's 9th as foreshadowing his music drama. Schoenberg did something similar with Brahms when he wrote about Brahms the progressive. Any number of rock guitarists claiming the blessing of Hendrix.

    I'm not sure the term origin myth is exactly right, but I hope you get what I mean: That narrative about the history of music that has the effect of anointing the myth-spinner.
    Thank you, your response was very clear and helpful.


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