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Thread: Augmented triad and the "Tristan Chord"

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    Default Augmented triad and the "Tristan Chord"

    I've started listening to Wagner, recently, and I must say I've been pleasantly surprised so far. I had mostly avoided him as he was mainly known for his opera work, and I must admit I'm not much of an opera fan... he does have some impressive symphonic work too, though, which I stumbled upon almost by chance, and this started opening a new world.

    In particular, I found myself listening to his "Siegfried Idyll" symphonic poem more than once in a row, and really loving it. There's a specific theme that really moved me, specifically the one starting at ~5:10 in this recording available on YouTube: tinkering with my guitar, I identified it as an E chord that moves to a G chord with a D# instead of D in there. I found out that's called an "augmented triad", as it does indeed increase the 5th to create a beautiful effect, but was surprised to read that it was not common at all in classical music, especially considering how powerful it sounds: the Wikipedia page for the pattern lists the Siegfried Idyll and Liszt's Faust as relevant examples (and you can indeed hear it very well in the slow cello arpeggios that start the work), but not much more.

    I then found that a similar pattern is used (even though in a different chord, and a different bass note) in the so-called "Tristan Chord" that Wagner is also famous for: you can hear it very well in the Tristan und Isolde overture (and across the whole opera I guess, which I haven't listened to yet), but I actually had heard it once before in the beautiful arrangement for orchestra Franco Mannino did of Wagner's Elegy in A-flat major, for the movie Ludwig. In both those occurrences they contribute to creating very moving progressions.

    Are there other examples of this kind of chords in classical music, in Wagner or otherwise? I'm mostly interested in 19th century music, as while I love how the occasional dissonance can create a powerful moment in a romantic score, when the dissonances become the sole purpose of the work just for the sake of experimentation (as it unfortunately happened way too often in the 20th century music) I personally just find them inpleasant.

    Thanks!

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Liszt was fond of the augmented triad for its vagueness and ambiguity; Wagner used it but was less apt to dwell on it. It's a natural product of the whole tone scale, and Debussy used it in parallel progressions. Composers influenced by the Wagner-Liszt and impressionist styles used it liberally; Puccini's operas feature it prominently.

    Augmented sixth chords are commoner than pure augmented triads in Romantic music; along with diminished sevenths, they're the handiest of pivots for remote modulations. The "Tristan chord" is most easily read as an augmented (French) sixth momentarily obscured by an appoggiatura.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Feb-18-2020 at 20:04.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Liszt was fond of the augmented triad for its vagueness and ambiguity; Wagner used it but was less apt to dwell on it. It's a natural product of the whole tone scale, and Debussy used it in parallel progressions. Composers influenced by the Wagner-Liszt and impressionist styles used it liberally; Puccini's operas feature it prominently.

    Augmented sixth chords are commoner than pure augmented triads in Romantic music; along with diminished sevenths, they're the handiest of pivots for remote modulations. The "Tristan chord" is most easily read as an augmented (French) sixth momentarily obscured by an appoggiatura.
    I'll definitely have to study the different sixth chords out there, especially considering there seems to be one called the "Neapolitan sixth": I'm from Napoli, in Italy, and I should be ashamed I never heard of it

    Thanks for the thorough explanations you've given so far on both posts, they're really appreciated!
    Last edited by lminiero; Feb-19-2020 at 11:21.

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    I heard some augmenteds in Holst's "The Planets." To me, they create a sense of vertigo, like everything is expanding.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Feb-19-2020 at 12:47.

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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    I heard some augmenteds in Holst's "The Planets." To me, they create a sense of vertigo, like everything is expanding.
    I agree, and in fact they're very much there when you listen at the title theme of Hermann's "Vertigo", where they give exactly that kind of feeling On an only marginally related note, I recently read somewhere (maybe in a post here? not sure) that in the score of "Vertigo" you can hear some inspiration from Wagner: even though IIRC it was mostly in the love theme, rather than the title, and more in general on his use of leitmotifs.
    Last edited by lminiero; Feb-19-2020 at 14:11.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lminiero View Post
    I recently read somewhere (maybe in a post here? not sure) that in the score of "Vertigo" you can hear some inspiration from Wagner
    Definitely. Tristan, specifically.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ObbHRxvpLJ4

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    The augmented triad repeats itself every major third, and it has a certain symmetry. Its intervals are M2, M3, and tritone. As such, it is "recursive," meaning that it's one of those constructs which cycles through the octave (4X3=12) based on the M3, and reconnects with itself within an octave, unlike fourths & fifths which must go "outside the octave" 5 cycles (5X12=60) and 7 cycles (7X12=84) of octaves before reconnecting.
    Diminished sevenths are 3X4=12, based on the m3, so these two (M# & m3) divide the octave symmetrically in interesting ways. The other recursive intervals, m2, M2, and tritones, are less interesting, don't build triads, are more chromatic, and are included in the dim & aug triads anyway.
    The emergence of diminished and augmented triads shows that tonality, based on root movements of fourths and fifths, was beginning to "go inward" into the smaller recursive intervals, and more obvious symmetries, and was becoming more chromatic.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Feb-20-2020 at 16:26.

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