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Thread: Baroque "chord progressions"

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    Default Baroque "chord progressions"

    I know the concept of chord progression is not applicable in the period of the Baroque. However, I cannot help but hear certain progressions as I listen to Bach orchestral suites or concertos, or Vivaldi for that matter. They seems to rise or fall on the diatonic scale by a step, repeating the same motif. Does that make sense? For example, Bach seems to like repeating downward scales on successively incrementing steps; building tension upward with the key, while descending melodically.

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    In addition to that, how does Bach's music generate such an emotional response? It can't be me just me. Is there a music-theorical explanation?

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    Quote Originally Posted by sealep View Post
    I know the concept of chord progression is not applicable in the period of the Baroque. However, I cannot help but hear certain progressions as I listen to Bach orchestral suites or concertos, or Vivaldi for that matter. They seems to rise or fall on the diatonic scale by a step, repeating the same motif. Does that make sense? For example, Bach seems to like repeating downward scales on successively incrementing steps; building tension upward with the key, while descending melodically.
    It makes perfect sense to analyze chord progressions in Baroque music! And yes, what you are observing, the sequential repetition of motives on different scale steps, is a mainstay of the style. The underlying progressions supporting these sequences tend to use lots of root motion by fifths, as in, for example, the progression:

    iii - vi - ii - V - I - IV

    Each root is a fifth above the next. Now if each repetition of a motive covers two chords in the sequence, the motive will sound like it is moving by step, as in iii-vi, ii-V, I-IV. The process of spinning out repeated motives in sequences is called Fortspinnung. Part of the reason it is so common in Baroque music is because of the Doctrine of Affections, which held, among other things, that each movement should have a single theme that expresses different shades of the same affect (feeling). So finding ways to extend and elaborate the same material was important. And circles of fifths always sound like they are driven as if by a natural force, like a kind of musical gravity.

    Quote Originally Posted by sealep View Post
    In addition to that, how does Bach's music generate such an emotional response? It can't be me just me. Is there a music-theorical explanation?
    There isn't going to be a simple explanation for any complex aesthetic effect such as this. But Baroque music theory was heavily influenced by classical rhetorical theory, and under this way of thinking, the composer's role was often compared to that of an orator, whose job was to move an audience to feel one overriding emotion. This is where the Doctrine of Affections comes from. More specifically, there were whole inventories of musical figures based on rhetorical figures that added emotional inflection.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Mar-20-2019 at 12:54.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sealep View Post
    I know the concept of chord progression is not applicable in the period of the Baroque.
    That's correct. If it was applicable, we'd have Bach using what could be called major seventh chords. You said "chord progression," not "CP chord progression."

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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    That's correct. If it was applicable, we'd have Bach using what could be called major seventh chords. You said "chord progression," not "CP chord progression."
    No, it's not correct. Of course the concept of chord progression applies to the Baroque Era. It's just that certain dissonant tones, as in MRs example of a major 7th, weren't considered harmonic tones at the time. They were understood as linear phenomena. Later on such dissonant tones came to be interpreted as chord tones.

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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    No, it's not correct. Of course the concept of chord progression applies to the Baroque Era. It's just that certain dissonant tones, as in MRs example of a major 7th, weren't considered harmonic tones at the time. They were understood as linear phenomena. Later on such dissonant tones came to be interpreted as chord tones.
    It would have been much clearer to say "The concept of chord progression applies to the Baroque, except in certain cases."

    To say that the concept of chord progression applies to the Baroque is rather misleading. Besides, the dissonant tones which weren't considered harmonic tones at the time would apply past the Baroque era, into CP classical.

    So really, the whole concept of chord progression in Baroque as well as CP tonality is riddled with exceptions like this, which are exceptions to a modern or jazz concept of what qualifies as a "chord," much less a "chord progression."

    It sounds like you're trying to "stuff a horse into a suitcase."
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    Quote Originally Posted by sealep View Post
    I know the concept of chord progression is not applicable in the period of the Baroque.
    I'm a bit baffled by this. Does anyone actually think that composers before the Classical period did not hear and conceive music in terms of harmonic progression? To think that they didn't, wouldn't we have to believe that they achieved a satisfactory succession of harmonies not consciously and intentionally but incidentally, solely through the application of rules governing the movement of contrapuntal melodic lines?

    I can't see how anyone able to perceive the precisely articulated tonal plan of a Bach prelude or a Handel aria could think that that plan was a sort of lucky accident, and that it can't be analyzed in terms of chord progression. Nothing in the potential movement of melodic lines will tell a composer how to return to the A section of a da capo aria after he's written a B section in the relative minor, or - crucially - give him a reason for doing so. If a composer wants to create a piece that coheres in time - that has shape and meaning as an entity - he needs a sense of harmonic movement, as well as a grasp of the principles of counterpoint, to tell him where his melodic lines need to go.

    Is there a tradition of theoretical analysis that dichotomizes harmonic and contrapuntal thinking to the degree suggested by the OP's query?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    I'm a bit baffled by this. Does anyone actually think that composers before the Classical period did not hear and conceive music in terms of harmonic progression?
    No, except in certain cases of non-harmonic tones such as a major seventh chord, which was not considered to be a chord.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Mar-20-2019 at 18:09.
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    It would have been much clearer to say "The concept of chord progression applies to the Baroque, except in certain cases."
    This has no clarity whatever and it wasn't what I was saying.

    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    To say that the concept of chord progression applies to the Baroque is rather misleading. Besides, the dissonant tones which weren't considered harmonic tones at the time would apply past the Baroque era, into CP classical.
    Baroque harmonic practice is part of CP. Please learn what the terms you are using mean. There is enough confusion in the world without sowing more.

    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    So really, the whole concept of chord progression in Baroque as well as CP tonality is riddled with exceptions like this, which are exceptions to a modern or jazz concept of what qualifies as a "chord," much less a "chord progression."
    Jazz and modern conceptions aren't relevant here.

    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    It sounds like you're trying to "stuff a horse into a suitcase."
    It sounds like you have trouble identifying both horses and luggage.

    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    No, except in certain cases of non-harmonic tones such as a major seventh chord, which was not considered to be a chord.
    Non-harmonic tones include passing tones, neighbor tones, appoggiaturas, suspensions, etc.—notes understood to be non-chord tones. Therefore what you wrote: "non-harmonic tones such as a major seventh chord" makes no sense. In your terms:

    Non-harmonic tones = suitcase
    Major seventh chord = horse
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Mar-20-2019 at 21:35.

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    Is this what's called flogging a dead horse in a suitcase?

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    EdwardBast is correct in every point he makes.

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    In fact, Bach 4-part chorales are used in elementary harmony texts as the very model of CP harmony and voice leading.
    Last edited by drmdjones; Mar-21-2019 at 17:45. Reason: Typo

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    Quote Originally Posted by drmdjones View Post
    EdwardBast is correct in every point he makes.
    Yes, academically, but I question this CP concept:
    "notes understood to be non-chord tones"

    For instance, in the key of C major, the notes B and F, precisely the culprits I pointed out earlier.

    In CP, there is no C major seventh chord. It's not recognized as a chord by convention; yet, we all know it exists as a chord. This shows how inflexible orthodox CP theory is. It also exposes the "non-harmonic" aspects of the C major scale. I'm interested in what is possible musically, not conventions.
    "The way out is through the door. Why is it that no one will use this method?"
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    "In Spring! In the creation of art it must be as it is in Spring!" -Arnold Schoenberg

    "We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made us." -Jean-Paul Sartre

    "I don't mind dying, as long as I can still breathe." ---Me

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    Quote Originally Posted by sealep View Post
    I know the concept of chord progression is not applicable in the period of the Baroque. However, I cannot help but hear certain progressions as I listen to Bach orchestral suites or concertos, or Vivaldi for that matter. They seems to rise or fall on the diatonic scale by a step, repeating the same motif. Does that make sense? For example, Bach seems to like repeating downward scales on successively incrementing steps; building tension upward with the key, while descending melodically.
    Here is my reply to the OP. Disclaimer: I'm of "senior age." My studies and teaching in the relevant fields were in the "70's and '80's, before moving to a different area of music. The material below is also taught to students younger than university age, at conservatories or privately).

    I'm glad you mentioned things you've identified accurately through listening. Especially "building tension upward with the key, while descending melodically," because that is a feeling response coupled with a valid insight. It implies principles of gradual change and of contrast that have practical and artistic implications.

    And now to music theory and history, pedagogical application: the applicability to the Baroque period of the concept of chord progression. For my undergraduate theory teaching as a neophyte T.A., the very general rule of thumb was to use Roman numerals (e.g. I, IV, V) from 1680 CE onward. These Roman numerals are used in functional harmony. They specify the relation of a chord to a key and are used to name chord progressions. If the above is followed, we see that the identified change happens within the Baroque period. But historically, Roman numerals came along much later than 1680. (Figured bass, that specifies the relation of upper notes to the bass note, was used in practice throughout the Baroque.)
    IMO, TalkClassical needs musicians with your ears and insight and I hope you'll continue to post!

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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    Yes, academically, but I question this CP concept:
    "notes understood to be non-chord tones"

    For instance, in the key of C major, the notes B and F, precisely the culprits I pointed out earlier.

    In CP, there is no C major seventh chord. It's not recognized as a chord by convention; yet, we all know it exists as a chord. This shows how inflexible orthodox CP theory is. It also exposes the "non-harmonic" aspects of the C major scale. I'm interested in what is possible musically, not conventions.
    The concept of major seventh chords was definitely introduced into music theory some time during the common practice period.

    Also, I think you're conflating theory and practice a little. There are plenty of major seventh chords in Bach, whether he would have called them that or not.

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