The Greatest Chords in Music History

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Belle
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The Greatest Chords in Music History

Post by Belle » Sat Jan 14, 2017 3:30 pm

A big call, but this interesting article refers to a program on BBC radio about this - which you might be able to access in the USA:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/music/classi ... c-history/

Here's a link to the program:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b088tzkv

John F
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Re: The Greatest Chords in Music History

Post by John F » Sun Jan 15, 2017 4:24 am

A radio program about "exotic" chords sounds like a good idea, and I'll be listening to it. Thanks for posting the link.

But:
Ivan Hewett wrote:The most common chord of all, the straight major chord, is actually called a "common chord". Over the years the common chord and its almost equally common friends like the seventh chord and the six-four chord have become so familiar they’ve lost all their flavour.
What a blasé attitude! And it simply is not true. It amounts to saying that the harmonies in the music of, for example, Mozart are so commonplace that they no longer have any expressive effect. Yet a Mozartean diminished seventh can still express a poignant depth of emotion, even to present-day listeners (such as me), that seems to have become unattainable in classical music since Wagner and the "Tristan" chord. One reason why older music retains its hold on our musical lives, in the concert hall and the opera house and on records, while the general public resists much of the music composed during their lifetimes.
John Francis

Belle
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Re: The Greatest Chords in Music History

Post by Belle » Sun Jan 15, 2017 7:09 am

I do see your point but I haven't listened to all the programs yet but will comment when I have done so. Like yourself I thought it might be interesting. I also emailed the same link to a friend and he just replied:
"Yes, a worthy topic to wrestle with and a lot depending on the context or idiom of the "surrounding" phrases/sections. It seems to be more potent if a lush or dissonant chord is used only once in the context of mainly consonant chords, rather than a succession of dissonant chords".

He is speaking here about primarily tonal music, of course. I'm more interested in what happened to chords after "Tristan"!!

John F
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Re: The Greatest Chords in Music History

Post by John F » Sun Jan 15, 2017 1:47 pm

Belle wrote:I'm more interested in what happened to chords after "Tristan"!!
This, for example:

John Francis

Belle
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Re: The Greatest Chords in Music History

Post by Belle » Sun Jan 15, 2017 3:22 pm

Absolutely, and what a work of imagination and granitic beauty!! My friend is an Ives fan so I'm surprised he was only referring to tonal music; I'm sure we'll be talking more about this!!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhF0-hN4I8k

diegobueno
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Re: The Greatest Chords in Music History

Post by diegobueno » Wed Jan 18, 2017 11:12 am

Interesting article. It's true, some chords, especially some of the iconic sonorities of 20th century music, can be admired on their own, out of context, and the examples they give -- the stamping chord from the Rite of Spring or the shattering 10-note chord that forms the climax of Mahler's 10th -- illustrate the point perfectly.

Sometimes a unique spacing of a "common chord" can be distinctive, particularly in Stravinsky's hands. The E minor piano chord that opens the Symphony of Psalms, with its oddly placed 3rds, and spread of a 12th in each hand, identifies that piece absolutely even if you hear nothing else of the work. This is true also of the C major chord that closes the piece (actually it's a dyad, since C and E are the only notes in the chord, and the E is way at the top in the flutes, but your brain fills in the G)

But in traditionally tonal music, the "common chords" are inseparable from their context. It's not that they've worn out their effect, it's that they're not supposed to make an effect in and of themselves. They're there simply to be functional. Their ubiquity allows composers to build coherent structures that listeners can readily follow. The "Tristan chord" (from bottom to top: F-B-D#-G#), which may be heard as the first iconic chord-in-itself, is perhaps better understood not as a half-diminished chord, as the article puts it. Rather, the G# can be heard as a drawn out appoggiatura which resolves at the very end of the measure to an A which is the 3rd of an augmented 6th chord (French 6th), which in turn resolves to V7 of A minor in the next measure. The Tristan chord makes its own effect, but it also has its place in functional harmony.
Last edited by diegobueno on Wed Jan 18, 2017 12:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.

John F
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Re: The Greatest Chords in Music History

Post by John F » Wed Jan 18, 2017 12:16 pm

Outstanding!
John Francis

Belle
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Re: The Greatest Chords in Music History

Post by Belle » Wed Jan 18, 2017 1:54 pm

diegobueno wrote:Interesting article. It's true, some chords, especially some of the iconic sonorities of 20th century music, can be admired on their own, out of context, and the examples they give -- the stamping chord from the Rite of Spring or the shattering 10-note chord that forms the climax of Mahler's 10th -- illustrate the point perfectly.

Sometimes a unique spacing of a "common chord" can be distinctive, particularly in Stravinsky's hands. The E minor piano chord that opens the Symphony of Psalms, with its oddly placed 3rds, and spread of a 12th in each hand, identifies that piece absolutely even if you hear nothing else of the work. This is true also of the C major chord that closes the piece (actually it's a dyad, since C and E are the only notes in the chord, and the E is way at the top in the flutes, but your brain fills in the G)

But in traditionally tonal music, the "common chords" are inseparable from their context. It's not that they've worn out their effect, it's that they're not supposed to make an effect in and of themselves. They're there simply to be functional. Their ubiquity allows composers to build coherent structures that listeners can readily follow. The "Tristan chord" (from bottom to top: F-B-D#-G#), which may be heard as the first iconic chord-in-itself, is perhaps better understood not as a half-diminished chord, as the article puts it. Rather, the G# can be heard as a drawn out appoggiatura which resolves at the very end of the measure to an A which is the 3rd of an augmented 6th chord (French 6th), which in turn resolves to V7 of A minor in the next measure. The Tristan chord makes its own effect, but it also has its place in functional harmony.
Your comment about the "Tristan" chord being a drawn-out appoggiatura; do you mean that the G# resolving at the end of the measure onto an A functions like a suspension and 'resolution' - only with Wagnerian harmony there seldom is 'resolution' since the 'tectonic shifts' are constant. Wagner's harmonies are, for me, analogous to a long piece of prose with no full stops or paragraphs. You suggest that the V7 'resolves' and yet I never get a sense of 'resolution' when listening to this music. And the thought of a V7 being a 'resolution' seems paradoxical.

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Re: The Greatest Chords in Music History

Post by John F » Wed Jan 18, 2017 2:26 pm

In the longer term, the dissonance is finally resolved in the final bars of the opera.
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Belle
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Re: The Greatest Chords in Music History

Post by Belle » Wed Jan 18, 2017 2:40 pm

John F wrote:In the longer term, the dissonance is finally resolved in the final bars of the opera.
And that's an awful lot of foreplay!! :D

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Re: The Greatest Chords in Music History

Post by diegobueno » Wed Jan 18, 2017 4:30 pm

Belle wrote:
Your comment about the "Tristan" chord being a drawn-out appoggiatura; do you mean that the G# resolving at the end of the measure onto an A functions like a suspension and 'resolution' - only with Wagnerian harmony there seldom is 'resolution' since the 'tectonic shifts' are constant. Wagner's harmonies are, for me, analogous to a long piece of prose with no full stops or paragraphs. You suggest that the V7 'resolves' and yet I never get a sense of 'resolution' when listening to this music. And the thought of a V7 being a 'resolution' seems paradoxical.
"Resolution" in tonal theory only means the acheivement of a mandated action. An appoggiatura is required to resolve to the intended chord tone. A passing tone (A# in the 3rd measure) is required to resolve by step to the next chord tone. The 7th of a V7 chord, being dissonant, is required to resolve by moving down a half step to the 3rd of the tonic chord which follows.

My comment is that the G# in the Tristan chord is an appoggiatura. It is a non-chord tone. In terms of functional harmony, the real chord is (from bottom to top) F-B-D#-A, otherwise known as a French 6th chord, which is a type of augmented 6th chord. The augmented 6th in this chord is F-D#. Conventionally, the augmented 6th resolves in opposite directions to the dominant of whatever is the home key, in this case A minor. The F moves down to E, and the D# moves up to E. And, in fact, the next chord IS the dominant of A minor, although Wagner has taken the liberty of altering the voice leading so that the D# moves to the 7th of the dominant chord, which is D natural. Of course, the 7th, as I've already said, also requires resolution, which Wagner is not going to give you, and that's why you don't hear this chord as resolving anything.

Wagner makes another attempt to resolve the V7 chord in meas. 16 (the first big forte in the prelude), but that fails as well. You don't get anything approaching A as a tonic until bar 24.

Anyway, restricting myself to the first three measures, what happens harmonically is: Fr6--V7 in A minor, a pretty common progression in tonal music, actually. What's uncommon is the way Wagner has embellished this so that you hear it completely differently, smudging the lines, twisting the progression so as to avoid "full stops and paragraphs" as you say.

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Re: The Greatest Chords in Music History

Post by diegobueno » Wed Jan 18, 2017 4:32 pm

Belle wrote:
John F wrote:In the longer term, the dissonance is finally resolved in the final bars of the opera.
And that's an awful lot of foreplay!! :D
That's why the opera has a "Vorspiel".

Belle
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Re: The Greatest Chords in Music History

Post by Belle » Wed Jan 18, 2017 4:34 pm

Your wonderfully erudite explanation makes it all seem perfectly logical. It's been a while since I studied theory and harmony but thank you.

absinthe
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Re: The Greatest Chords in Music History

Post by absinthe » Sun Jan 22, 2017 4:32 am

I was once interested in all this stuff but reckon in the end that the best theory did for me was

- help me keep control and get quicker to where I wanted to be

- be able to transpose on the fly when playing. Harmony may be about chords but it was always progressions to me so knowing what went into a progression (loosely, the chord numbering and components) meant it could be transferred to any other key - that's in my cocktail efforts. It also brings in the possibility of modifying the harmony as some decoration progresses, a slowly arpeggiated run-off for example.

The downside is one has to be careful not to sound like the poor man's Gershwin or Hoagy Carmichael.

One can learn, like, the augmented sixths - but it's the good taste in applying them that brings the drama.


.

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Re: The Greatest Chords in Music History

Post by karlhenning » Sun Jan 22, 2017 12:33 pm

Some years ago I read Hewett's book Music: Healing the Rift, which I found (at casual remembrance) roughly 67% bilge. He's the David Avocado Wolfe of Music Theory.

And, at least as I have always heard music and tonal harmony discussed, the major triad is not, just as itself, called a "common chord"; but any chord shared between two key centers (major or minor triad, minor-seventh chord, e.g.) and employed as part of a modulation, is a common chord.

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maestrob
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Re: The Greatest Chords in Music History

Post by maestrob » Sun Jan 22, 2017 1:39 pm

For me it's (besides Tristan and Debussy's L'Apres midi d'un Faune) the final chord of Berg's Violin Concerto, which resolves to C major.

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