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Thread: What did Brahms mean by "true dissonance"?

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    Default What did Brahms mean by "true dissonance"?

    We all have heard this following quote:
    "What is much weaker in Beethoven compared to Mozart, and especially compared to Sebastian Bach, is the use of dissonance. Dissonance, true dissonance as Mozart used it, is not to be found in Beethoven." --Brahms

    However, what is meant by that? What is true dissonance?

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    I shudder to think.

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    There was a HUGE debate about this in a recent thread. And we're about to see it play out all over again

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    I'm staying on the sidelines for this one
    Last edited by drmdjones; Apr-28-2019 at 00:00.

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    Senior Member tdc's Avatar
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    It may relate to the point recently touched on in another thread regarding Mozart's use of more 'surface' chromaticism, perhaps Beethoven (like Haydn) tended to use chromaticism in a more structural way.

    But this explanation is limited because 'chromaticism' is a vague term, it doesn't communicate what specific note(s) was used and to what effect, also diatonic notes can be used to create dissonance. The Grosse Fugue and Hammerklavier sonata, have a lot of dissonance and chromaticism, but in my opinion lack the 'color' and expressivity we often find in Mozart's use of vertical harmony.
    Last edited by tdc; Apr-28-2019 at 02:10.

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    Quote Originally Posted by flamencosketches View Post
    There was a HUGE debate about this in a recent thread. And we're about to see it play out all over again
    Do you have a link for that thread?

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    Starts with post #33 in this thread.


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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Schoenberg View Post
    We all have heard this following quote:
    "What is much weaker in Beethoven compared to Mozart, and especially compared to Sebastian Bach, is the use of dissonance. Dissonance, true dissonance as Mozart used it, is not to be found in Beethoven." --Brahms

    However, what is meant by that? What is true dissonance?
    Haven't a clue. Ken, ever helpful , cited a thread in which I kept asking that question of someone who thought it was an important point but couldn't explain what it meant either. Any ideas? Your guess is as good as anyone's.

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    Haven't a clue. Ken, ever helpful , cited a thread in which I kept asking that question of someone who thought it was an important point but couldn't explain what it meant either. Any ideas? Your guess is as good as anyone's.
    I have an idea what it means but can’t really justify my point of view. Beethoven, like Haydn, was pretty much a straight-ahead guy. He used dissonance for effect, quite purposeful, and always in a way that overtly looked for resolution (as in the development of the first movement of the Eroica). But his everyday mode of expression was foursquare.

    Mozart was more subtle; his dissonance is part and parcel of his harmonic thought. It can appear as striking harmonies in even the expositions of his sonata form movements, or in the elaborations of his slow movements, as in the Andante of his 40th Symphony. These piercing moments seem to come about naturally, unavoidably, in a way that Beethoven could never match. I suspect that Beethoven was quite aware of this; thus his deep admiration for Mozart's music.


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    Dissonance is something we hear more than it is an idea. So why not listen?

    "What is much weaker in Beethoven compared to Mozart, and especially compared to Sebastian Bach, is the use of dissonance. Dissonance, true dissonance as Mozart used it, is not to be found in Beethoven." --Brahms

    I tend to agree with this, especially after listening to Bach's Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue.



    For a Mozart equivalent, listen to his Fantasy in D minor, big dissonance at 3:58.

    Last edited by millionrainbows; Apr-28-2019 at 10:39.

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    Senior Member Bwv 1080's Avatar
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    And this continued with Chopin (Mozart) vs Schumann (Beethoven) ?

    The florid chromaticism of Mozart has its roots in Italian opera, which also heavily influenced Chopin

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KenOC View Post
    I have an idea what it means but can’t really justify my point of view. Beethoven, like Haydn, was pretty much a straight-ahead guy. He used dissonance for effect, quite purposeful, and always in a way that overtly looked for resolution (as in the development of the first movement of the Eroica). But his everyday mode of expression was foursquare.

    Mozart was more subtle; his dissonance is part and parcel of his harmonic thought. It can appear as striking harmonies in even the expositions of his sonata form movements, or in the elaborations of his slow movements, as in the Andante of his 40th Symphony. These piercing moments seem to come about naturally, unavoidably, in a way that Beethoven could never match. I suspect that Beethoven was quite aware of this; thus his deep admiration for Mozart's music.
    I'd imagine Brahms had something more specific in mind, but I have no more basis for my opinion than you do. I doubt it had anything to do with "striking harmonies."

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    Senior Member tdc's Avatar
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    Clearly people perceive the use of dissonance in different ways, this is why to some Haydn seems often dark and expressive, and to others he seems generally jolly and rather tame. I came across this quote by Charles Rosen today:

    "The Classical style immeasurably increased the power of dissonance, raising it from an unresolved interval to an unresolved chord and then to an unresolved key."

    This quote seems to my ears completely wrong. What I hear in the Classical style is rather a dispersion of dissonance, which generally weakens its effects on a local level. I hear much more powerful use of dissonance in Bach, (and also in the Romantic era) the only Classical composer that approaches this kind of expressive dissonance on occasion is Mozart, but at present I lack the technical jargon to explain why.

    One example Rosen cites is this Haydn piece, String Quartet Op. 33 no. 1 which features recurring clashing minor seconds (A, A#). After listening to it, I noticed the dissonances, but they would not have stuck out to me very much had Rosen not pointed it out. On reflection it seems partially hidden behind the phrasing of the melodic material. The over all feel of the Classical style tends to the comical much more than the Baroque and this is perhaps why. Even with the dissonances the music does not seem to be expressing anything really serious or truly heart wrenching (to me).


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    Funny, I don't really hear dissonance in any of these composers (Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn) - except one ugly instance (to my ears) in Mozart's 41st. I'm not saying it's not there, just that I am so used to it that it is unremarkable.

    I have nothing to offer on Brahms quote, sorry.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MacLeod View Post
    Funny, I don't really hear dissonance in any of these composers (Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn) - except one ugly instance (to my ears) in Mozart's 41st. I'm not saying it's not there, just that I am so used to it that it is unremarkable.
    You mean you don't hear the accented dissonance at 2:17-2:20 in the above-posted Mozart Fantasia? It resolves, of course.

    I thought CP Western music was in part based on dissonances and their resolutions.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; May-23-2019 at 18:19.

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