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Thread: What Does "Harmonic" Mean?

  1. #46
    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fluteman View Post
    Millionrainbows -- To use your terminology, "key areas" are established in western music not just by "root movement", but also by patterns and repetition. Rhythm, dynamics and timbre are also used by sophisticated composers to reinforce and complement the tonal system and point the way to the tonal center, often with great subtlety. It's true that over a span of six centuries or so, harmonic progressions played an ever-increasing and more dominant role in western music. But in the early 20th century, there was suddenly a bit of a roll back in that area.
    Harmonic progressions, as strictly defined by CP Western harmony, are derived from the major/minor scales. If a modern composer deviated from that, and used other 'exotic' scales, diminished scales, whole tone, and the kind of things you might see in Slonimsky's Thesaurus of Scales, I don't see what's so "innovative" about that, except that it has expanded the possibilities from the limitations of the CP major/minor system. The principles I have outlined would still apply to those scales which lie outside the purview of CP tonality, and that's why I think they're important, since they are harmonic principles which can apply to areas well outside CP harmonic practice.

    To me, the most important leader of western music away from its slavish obsession with harmonic progression or what you call root movement was not Schoenberg, as important as he was, but Stravinsky, who was to music what his good friend Picasso was to visual art. He demonstrated that, while it is possible to abandon traditional western harmony entirely in favor of serialism (and later, musique concrete, indeterminacy, and other alternative systems), much could be accomplished by simply reducing, even if only slightly, the dominant role harmonic progressions had reached in western music by the late 19th century in favor of other elements, many of which could be made to work well with, and even enhance, harmonic progressions along the circle of fifths.

    That is why so many contemporary composers owe so much, almost everything, really, to Stravinsky. Even composers who quite consciously took Schoenberg's path like Boulez (who was such a disciple he didn't think he could advance his own ideas without first proclaiming "Schoenberg is dead!") very much show the influence of Stravinsky.
    Stravinsky was an innovator, without a doubt, and I think there were also many other innovators, like Slonimsky for his work in scales.
    In Boulez' defense, I think he saw Schoenberg as an impediment to musical progress in the serial area, since Schoenberg openly acknowledged that he was a conservative in the late Romantic tradition. Boulez saw the possibilities for expansion of Schoenberg's direction, whereas Schoenberg's time was over, and he was, indeed, dead by this time.

    I don't see Stravinsky as being as great an innovator as you do. Schoenberg and Boulez' ideas were more directed away from harmony itself, and in that sense are more radical than Stravinsky, who remained an expanded tonalist/harmonicist until the time of his dabbling with serialism in "Mouvements."

    So I see all "harmonic" music as being tonal, or as using principles of tonality, and these are all traceable to "harmonic models" or scales of one kind or another. It doesn't matter if it's Stravinsky or jazz or forms of ethnic music. I trust you see what I am "after" now.
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  2. #47
    Senior Member fluteman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    Harmonic progressions, as strictly defined by CP Western harmony, are derived from the major/minor scales. If a modern composer deviated from that, and used other 'exotic' scales, diminished scales, whole tone, and the kind of things you might see in Slonimsky's Thesaurus of Scales, I don't see what's so "innovative" about that, except that it has expanded the possibilities from the limitations of the CP major/minor system. The principles I have outlined would still apply to those scales which lie outside the purview of CP tonality, and that's why I think they're important, since they are harmonic principles which can apply to areas well outside CP harmonic practice.



    Stravinsky was an innovator, without a doubt, and I think there were also many other innovators, like Slonimsky for his work in scales.
    In Boulez' defense, I think he saw Schoenberg as an impediment to musical progress in the serial area, since Schoenberg openly acknowledged that he was a conservative in the late Romantic tradition. Boulez saw the possibilities for expansion of Schoenberg's direction, whereas Schoenberg's time was over, and he was, indeed, dead by this time.

    I don't see Stravinsky as being as great an innovator as you do. Schoenberg and Boulez' ideas were more directed away from harmony itself, and in that sense are more radical than Stravinsky, who remained an expanded tonalist/harmonicist until the time of his dabbling with serialism in "Mouvements."

    So I see all "harmonic" music as being tonal, or as using principles of tonality, and these are all traceable to "harmonic models" or scales of one kind or another. It doesn't matter if it's Stravinsky or jazz or forms of ethnic music. I trust you see what I am "after" now.
    Yes, I think I do see what you are after. I think you greatly underestimate the significance, or potential significance, of elements of music unrelated or not directly related to scales, harmony, harmonic progressions and root movement. I think your analysis begins with a premise that is very much grounded in the traditional conventions of western music prior to the 20th century, and thus you endlessly struggle against the limitations you impose on yourself. You call yourself "innovative", but you never consider thinking outside the box you have built for yourself.

    As for Stravinsky: One of Stravinsky's greatest innovations is the use of rhythm, dissonance and polytonality to convey his story in a complex and subtle, but effective way. Listen to Petrushka, and notice how dissonance (including the famous C-F# tritone and accented minor and major seconds) and halting and irregular rhythms are used, for example to portray the chaotic crowd at the Shrovetide fair, or the puppet Petrushka, which is not quite alive but not quite an inanimate piece of wood either, but rather something in between in an unstable way, to its tragic frustration. Stravinsky steals melodies from popular songs, including one he heard from the street beneath his Paris studio as he was writing the music, but they are always refracted through the prism of dissonance, polytonality and irregular rhythms.



    Now, jazz is an American idiom mainly derived from the standard 19th century European tonal tradition, but with a crucial difference: a much greater emphasis on rhythm, probably due to a west African influence carried down by the descendants who were generally only one or two generations removed from the era of slavery, a period when descendants of people shipped in from western Africa were prevented from assimilating into American society and preserved African cultural traditions more than they may have otherwise. Stravinsky understood this innovative emphasis on rhythm and seized it for his own purposes. He isn't as concerned with other elements of jazz. The Ebony Concerto, written for jazz clarinet great Woody Herman, has a percussion part that often sounds far more African than jazzy, though obviously, there is nothing African about a clarinet. Listening to the opening measures, Stravinsky immediately dives into a thumping, rhythmically irregular vamp. Traditional jazz usually opens with a relatively conventional lyrical western-style melody to ground it in the familiar European tradition before the rhythmic variations take over (and harmonic variations, of course). But Stravinsky is less interested in those aspects of jazz. There is no real melody until well into the work, and even then, the rhythm section dominates with its jagged, irregular vamp. Of course, ultimately, jazzy clarinet riffs and trombone slides, a New Orleans-style funeral march, and other traditional jazz elements emerge. But rhythmic energy and variety always dominate.



    It's amazing to think that when Stravinsky was born, Brahms and Tchaikovsky were still alive. In many ways, Stravinsky's music is a vastly greater departure from that of Brahms than is Schoenberg's, who as you correctly say and as Boulez understood in many important ways was conservative in the late Romantic tradition. If you free your mind and ear to listen for dissonance, polytonality and complex rhythms rather than just scales and root movement, you can hear Stravinsky's revolution. He didn't invent any of those things. The innovation was to put them at center stage rather than letting scales and harmony dominate the proceedings unchallenged. That is reflected in nearly all serious western music since then.

    Alas, many here are even more narrow-minded about these things than you are. You, at least, are willing to think about scales in innovative ways. (A Thai 7-tone scale? Cool!) They seem to see the 12-tone equal tempered scale and the circle of fifths as necessarily the central elements of all music.

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    Senior Member Luchesi's Avatar
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    for the math people in here, here’s what I get;

    derived from the C fundamental with A = 440 hz

    when they're tempered to be in the equidistant series —— and then from Nature

    196.22 G 196

    327.03 E 329.63

    392.44 G 392

    457.84 A 440

    457.84 Bb 466.16

    588.66 D 587.33



    19th Nervous Breakdown - it’s surprising to me that these notes below are so close

    1242.72 Eb 1244.51


    ---------

    the rest of the higher notes in the harmonic series included below

    654.06 E 659.26

    719.47 F 698.46

    784.88 G 783.99

    850.28 Ab 830.61

    850.28 A 880

    981.1 B 987.77

    1111.91 C# 1108.73

    1177.32 D 1174.66
    Last edited by Luchesi; Yesterday at 18:53.
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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fluteman View Post
    Yes, I think I do see what you are after. I think you greatly underestimate the significance, or potential significance, of elements of music unrelated or not directly related to scales, harmony, harmonic progressions and root movement. I think your analysis begins with a premise that is very much grounded in the traditional conventions of western music prior to the 20th century, and thus you endlessly struggle against the limitations you impose on yourself. You call yourself "innovative", but you never consider thinking outside the box you have built for yourself.
    I may seem in a box, but that's because I'm just talking about "tonal" or harmonic music. What other alternatives are you talking about? Stravinsky is not. Serialism and related? Microtonality?

    As far as rhythmic innovation, I see Frank Zappa as more innovative than Stravinsky; he took the nested tuplets and irrational rhythms of Stockhausen and Boulez and applied them to his own tonal music, as in "The Black Page."
    "The way out is through the door. Why is it that no one will use this method?"
    -Confucious

    "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

  6. #50
    Senior Member fluteman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    I may seem in a box, but that's because I'm just talking about "tonal" or harmonic music. What other alternatives are you talking about? Stravinsky is not. Serialism and related? Microtonality?

    As far as rhythmic innovation, I see Frank Zappa as more innovative than Stravinsky; he took the nested tuplets and irrational rhythms of Stockhausen and Boulez and applied them to his own tonal music, as in "The Black Page."
    There would be no Zappa without Stravinsky. Zappa's first important classical music influence, according to him, was Edgard Varese, who in turn was heavily influenced by Stravinsky. The "irrational" rhythms of Stockhausen and Boulez are derived directly from Stravinsky. The imo best commercial recording of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring is conducted not by Stravinsky, but by Boulez. That is no accident. Also, compare the orchestrated version of this Boulez piece, Notations II, to Stravinsky's Shrovetide Fair scene from Petrushka that I discussed above, or to his Sacrificial Dance from The Rite of Spring. Isn't the influence obvious?



    You are in a box, not because you are just taking about tonal or harmonic music, but because you focus solely on one aspect of that music, whether you call it harmonic progression, root movement, or something else. Yes, it is possible to focus on that aspect of music yet move away from the conventional principle of the twelve tone circle of fifths. Easley Blackwood's 12 Microtonal Etudes is a good example. These misnamed keyboard etudes are not microtonal at all, rather they are based on equal-tempered scales of 13 through 24 notes. The overall result is to de-emphasize the dominant-tonic movement (its still there, sort of) since there are so many other intervals and distant "keys" to contend with, and produce a spooky, otherworldly feel that would go well with a high-tech science fiction movie involving aliens and other galaxies, though Blackwood cheerfully employs romantic, classical and even early baroque forms.

    So that is an example of an alternative harmonic model. Obviously, the 7-tone Thai scale you cite and other traditional non-western music is based on alternative harmonic models. But for me, what most decisively separates that kind of music, or at least that of it I have heard, from traditional western music from an harmonic point of view is the lack of equal temperament.

    Experiments in "harmonic models" are not only possible, but increasingly routine in this electronic age when it is easy to abandon the 12-tone equal tempered scale that traditional western instruments are designed to play. Other composers stick to the conventional 12-tone circle of fifths but wander ever further away and in more elaborate ways from the tonal center. To me, that also often imparts an exotic, dreamlike, otherworldly flavor. All well and good, but what interests me far more is music where the focus is not so entirely on harmony, though harmony may be an important element.
    Last edited by fluteman; Yesterday at 20:08.

  7. #51
    Senior Member Luchesi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fluteman View Post
    There would be no Zappa without Stravinsky. Zappa's first important classical music influence, according to him, was Edgard Varese, who in turn was heavily influenced by Stravinsky. The "irrational" rhythms of Stockhausen and Boulez are derived directly from Stravinsky. The imo best commercial recording of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring is conducted not by Stravinsky, but by Boulez. That is no accident. Also, compare the orchestrated version of this Boulez piece, Notations II, to Stravinsky's Shrovetide Fair scene from Petrushka that I discussed above, or to his Sacrificial Dance from The Rite of Spring. Isn't the influence obvious?



    You are in a box, not because you are just taking about tonal or harmonic music, but because you focus solely on one aspect of that music, whether you call it harmonic progression, root movement, or something else. Yes, it is possible to focus on that aspect of music yet move away from the conventional principle of the twelve tone circle of fifths. Easley Blackwood's 12 Microtonal Etudes is a good example. These misnamed keyboard etudes are not microtonal at all, rather they are based on equal-tempered scales of 13 through 24 notes. The overall result is to de-emphasize the dominant-tonic movement (its still there, sort of) since there are so many other intervals and distant "keys" to contend with, and produce a spooky, otherworldly feel that would go well with a high-tech science fiction movie involving aliens and other galaxies, though Blackwood cheerfully employs romantic, classical and even early baroque forms.

    So that is an example of an alternative harmonic model. Obviously, the 7-tone Thai scale you cite and other traditional non-western music is based on alternative harmonic models. But for me, what most decisively separates that kind of music, or at least that of it I have heard, from traditional western music from an harmonic point of view is the lack of equal temperament.

    Experiments in "harmonic models" are not only possible, but increasingly routine in this electronic age when it is easy to abandon the 12-tone equal tempered scale that traditional western instruments are designed to play. Other composers stick to the conventional 12-tone circle of fifths but wander ever further away and in more elaborate ways from the tonal center. To me, that also often imparts an exotic, dreamlike, otherworldly flavor. All well and good, but what interests me far more is music where the focus is not so entirely on harmony, though harmony may be an important element.

    "To me, that also often imparts an exotic, dreamlike, otherworldly flavor."

    Are these responses universal or are there differences among people, in your experience?

    I think all people respond in the same way, but why is that?

    I've tuned pianos for many years and at this point it's not even surprising to me anymore that it’s so jarring to people. I mean, there are a few people who remain comfortable. They adjust to it? You see pianos out of tune on YouTube videos. I bring this up because I just had this discussion with my violinist who has an exceptionally good ear, while I don’t. Half jokingly I said I have the advantage of having a bad ear and therefore I don't accidentally transpose a pop piece while trying to work it out. I stay in the one key, while he will figure it all out and then realize he's changed the key. < I'd rather have his 'problem’>
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  8. #52
    Senior Member fluteman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luchesi View Post
    "To me, that also often imparts an exotic, dreamlike, otherworldly flavor."

    Are these responses universal or are there differences among people, in your experience?

    I think all people respond in the same way, but why is that?

    I've tuned pianos for many years and at this point it's not even surprising to me anymore that it’s so jarring to people. I mean, there are a few people who remain comfortable. They adjust to it? You see pianos out of tune on YouTube videos. I bring this up because I just had this discussion with my violinist who has an exceptionally good ear, while I don’t. Half jokingly I said I have the advantage of having a bad ear and therefore I don't accidentally transpose a pop piece while trying to work it out. I stay in the one key, while he will figure it all out and then realize he's changed the key. < I'd rather have his 'problem’>
    Human hearing is a very complicated thing, obviously. But imo, those of us who grew up entirely within the 12-tone, equal tempered world, can have certain musical expectations, or what some call, I think somewhat inaccurately, "tastes", deeply ingrained. Those of us extensively exposed starting at a young age to classical music from the 19th century and earlier, and popular music from before the 1960s, maybe even more so than those who grew up listening to popular music from the 1960s and later. Without necessarily realizing it, we can have strong harmonic expectations, and greatly varying tolerances for dissonance or polyphony, based on our particular background and experience (and I'm not referring to formal musical training or education).

    As for good ear v. bad ear, it's hard to say exactly what those terms mean. It is well known that the ear will eventually adjust to slightly out-of-tune tones if they are heard long and loud enough, and hear them as in tune. So it's hard to compare one's own hearing in different contexts, much less with the hearing of others.

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