[Smt-talk] Addendum on Bach

Dave Headlam dheadlam at esm.rochester.edu
Sat Jan 23 20:29:28 PST 2010

Hi.  Very nice Hali, and Dmitri and everyone (including Janet the S, who's
VE in 6/4s is very true).  I would like to add the context of perspective.
For instance, when I taught starting harmony I always used the Tempest 3rd
movement -- I-V-I takes the whole phrase here, where it might take 3 chords
in Bach or 3 hours in Wagner.  If I look in with my magnifying class I see
lots of self-similar structures -- passing tones become chords become
passing sections or even movements, etc.  I can find Roman Numerals in Bach
chorales if I care to -- they seem to work as well here as in Beethoven or
Chopin - but often at different time/piece scales.  When Bill Rothstein
talks about sophistication in his Phrase Rhythm Book, it's that saturation
of levels, where each note ( node) hold a place in multiple patterning on
different scales.  That's what separates the Mozarts from the Salieris, etc.
The grammar of the Mozart piano sonatas surely has a lot in common with his
symphonies or the symphonies of Haydn or Brahms.  A lot of it is simply
because it's for piano!  If Dmitri had the complete divertimenti for strings
and brass on his DELL, he'd have a much different idea about VL.  The K331
Theme we all use, where the bass moves in parallel 10ths lends that piano
piece its interesing qualities, along with the remarkable "chord" F#-A-E
which is voice-leading against a "tintinabulating" E (nod to John Roeder and
Part) as Mozart basically says -- see, be careful with parallel 10ths --
they can get you into trouble if you descend!  Here is the essence of
"Breaking the rules" and harmony / voice-leading all at once -- going A-C# /
B-D / C#-E is great for the key, going A-C# / G#-B / F#-A moves us out of
our comfort zone -- but in the larger picture -- no harm done -- it all
depends at what level you approach the music **-- at some level I think
there's "progression" but that's not the level Hali prefers to live at, and
Dmitri's study seems to derive from the Bach chorale model ( you know Alex
Brinkman's study no doubt DT), which has become a "keyboard" model of
harmony -- very handy, no doubt, but main-ly biased.  I like V-IV-I, I call
it the "teenage wasteland" progression after Who's next Baba OReilly-- it's
the second essence of the blues after the first essential I-IV motion --
although Wagner used it as V-(IV-I) with a plagal extension on I -- a root
position V -IV in the classical rep?

I don't know - it's all over popular music, however!

** Following a discussion with Matthew Brown a few years ago, I
characterized a bunch of the Mozart Piano sonatas as so:  two voices in
10ths or 6ths, (big difference, Hali, if one of these is in the bass), one
^1-^5 voice and one "noodling" voice -- very consistent and characteristic
and strongly suggestive of Bob Gjerdingen's Partimenti theories -- basically
a lot of riffing going on with conventions -- that's a quick way to
establish a grammar!   Compare the Schubert Moment op. 94/6 -- now it's much
more of a voice-leading VERSUS harmony (promissory notes, etc.) as opposed
to earlier voice-leading SUPPORTING harmony (which is why K331 is so
surprising -- a singular moment - and a change in the grammar --  now
compare Schoenberg op. 19/6 -- the harmony determines the
knet-voice-leading, now to Schoenberg op. 23/3, now there is no voiceleading
-- the harmony -- now a set-class governs -- everything --

On 1/22/10 4:39 PM, "Fieldman, Hali" <FieldmanH at umkc.edu> wrote:

> Dear colleagues, 
> I've not been following this thread in minute detail, and perhaps that
> accounts for my being a bit surprised at the way it has developed.  The
> surprise is that it appears that all/every succession of a chord to the next
> is being considered to be a progression of chords as such.  There are very few
> patterns of chords that feel like "progressions" to me, that possess in my ear
> that kind of clearly-directed energy.  Instead, it seems like much of the
> wealth of the tonal language is invested in managing the pace of directed
> motion, so that it can slacken or tighten in countless nuanced ways without
> being heard to resolve a particular tension, and without losing track of its
> path even when directedness is at low ebb.  Some wise heads see melodic motion
> in the bass, as differentiated from harmonic motion, as responsible for a
> significant part of that role (I'm not naming Schenker because it isn't clear
> to me that his project was aimed at sorting out tonal music's many kinds of
> ener
>  gy/tension).  When the bass is melodic, it is highly likely to be part of
> vertical consonance(s); those verticalities might look like chords, and we may
> be able to give them Roman-numeral names, but whether or not they *function*
> as chords -- as carrying the **harmonic** responsibilities of the
> scale-degrees upon which they are built -- is, I think, something different
> altogether.  Perhaps thinking of the "core [harmonic] grammar" as being very
> small, and distinguishing harmonic progression from other kinds of things
> that verticalities do, would be a way to sort things out.
> Best wishes for this still-young year.
> Hali
> *****
> Hali Fieldman, Ph.D.
> Associate Professor and Coordinator of Music Theory
> Conservatory of Music and Dance
> University of Missouri -- Kansas City
> -----Original Message-----
> From: smt-talk-bounces at societymusictheory.org on behalf of Dmitri Tymoczko
> Sent: Fri 22-Jan-10 1:58 PM
> To: smt-talk smt
> Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Addendum on Bach
> On Jan 22, 2010, at 11:46 AM, Steven Rosenhaus wrote:
>> I have found that while following rules can make for some exquisite
>> music, it can also result in G*d-awfully boring stuff. When I teach
>> the craft of composition I make sure the students understand that
>> what they are learning are not hard and fast "rules" but practices,
>> and that learning them is like knowing where the walls are in an
>> unlit room; much easier to push/break down those walls (or just find
>> the light switch and/or door, to further the metaphor) if you know
>> where those walls are.
> While Stephen Jablonsky wrote:
>> Using the words "normal" or "usual" when referring to the output of
>> great composers is quite amusing. It is only the second rate
>> composers who stick to the predictable or the probable.
> Two points:
> 1) It is important to distinguish the project of defining a harmonic
> grammar from that of doing analysis.  The activities are as different
> as linguistics and literary criticism.  Great authors play with
> grammatical rules, but this doesn't show that grammatical rules don't
> exist, or aren't important.
> The problem here is that music theory comprises many different
> activities -- analogues to linguistics, psychology, literary
> criticism, etc.  What defines our field is the subject matter, not the
> style of thinking.  So when someone like me starts talking about
> grammar, others are always going to talk about how irrelevant that is
> to what they do.  This is a reminder that we all do very different
> things.
> 2) Interestingly (or perhaps predictably) enough, I've always been
> surprised by how *infrequently* great composers violate some of the
> musical conventions that defined their style.  In this respect, I
> think, they were very different from contemporary artists, weaned on
> modernism and the violation of norms.
> For instance, there are very, very few clear root position V-IV
> progressions in the music -- despite the fact that this progression
> sounds good.  Likewise, there are hardly any sonata-form movements in
> major with the second theme in the relative minor, or in the
> supertonic.  (Yes, I know a few.)  Or pieces in Lydian.  Or parallel
> fifths.  Or pieces in 5/4.  Really, the list could go on and on.
> In large part, I think this is because these composers did not think
> of  the principles of their musical style as being arbitrary and
> conventional, but rather as being rooted in something much deeper.  In
> this respect I would think that theory played a huge role in defining
> for them the limits of the acceptable.
> When I imagine myself projected back in time, and composing in the
> 18th- or 19th-century style, I always imagine exploring all these
> relatively obvious alternatives.  And I always tell my students:
> "these composers were very different from us.  The things we think of
> as natural, like mixolydian mode or VI-VII-i or V-IV-I progressions,
> were not at all natural to them."  I think it is very hard to
> understand how they distinguished between norms that were not to be
> trifled with, and norms that could be violated.
> The great classical composers were, of course, very inventive.  They
> broke rules.  But it's equally important that they preserved rules and
> didn't even think about breaking with them.  This is how some of the
> conventions survived for so long.
> DT
> Dmitri Tymoczko
> Associate Professor of Music
> 310 Woolworth Center
> Princeton, NJ 08544-1007
> (609) 258-4255 (ph), (609) 258-6793 (fax)
> http://music.princeton.edu/~dmitri
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 Dave Headlam
 Professor of Music Theory
 Joint Professor of Electrical Engineering
 Eastman School of Music
 26 Gibbs St
 Rochester, NY 14604
 (585) 274-1568 office
 dheadlam at esm.rochester.edu

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