[Smt-talk] Modal Pitch Collections

Seth Monahan seth.monahan at frontiernet.net
Tue May 11 12:39:19 PDT 2010

Hi Tim,

I'm not sure if by "modal pitch collections" you're looking for  
something entirely free from chromaticism. But here are a few  
relatively "clean" modal excerpts of classical/romantic repertoire  
that I've used in classes recently. In all of these examples, the  
tonic note is unequivocal. (This in distinction to problematically  
"modal" pieces like Bruckner's putatively Lydian "Os Justi," which is  
all white notes and which ends on F, but which very often sounds like  
functional C-major.)

- Two bars before rehearsal 17 in Act III of Turandot ("Principessa  
Divina!") features some wonderful and striking Mixolydian writing
- The B-section of Brahms's Op. 118/5 features a number of major II  
chords over a tonic pedal that don't act as V4/2 of V; this has a  
strong Lydian sound to me.
- The "Polonaise" from act III of Boris Godunov (a common concert  
excerpt) features even more striking Lydian passages.
- The refrain from Mussorgsky's "Serenade" from Songs and Dances of  
Death (mm. 34-41) has an arresting Dorian sixth. (The next passage  
opens with four bars of pure Aeolian, making for a nice cross-relation.)
- The Andante of Mahler's Sixth features a dramatic pure-A-Dorian  
cadence just before rehearsal 100 (mm. 142-45).
- The opening of Chopin's C#m Mazurka op. 41/1 is plainly Phrygian.
- The second stanza of Mahler's "Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde"  
from "Das Lied von der Erde" closes with a marked A-flat Phrygian  
phrase (this is a deformation of the diatonic setting of the same text  
in stanza one).
- The bare-octave opening melody of Brahms Op. 120/1 closes with a  
strong Phrygian gesture.

I hope these help!


Seth Monahan
Assistant Professor of Music Theory
Co-editor, Theory and Practice
Eastman School of Music
26 Gibbs St.
Rochester, NY, 14604
(585) 274-1556
smonahan at esm.rochester.edu

> From: Timothy Cutler <tsc10 at case.edu>
> To: Smt-talk at societymusictheory.org
> Subject: [Smt-talk] Modal pitch collections
> Hi everyone,
> I'm looking for classical and romantic pieces that feature modal pitch
> collections, such as the lydian mode used in Beethoven op. 132 and  
> Chopin
> op. 24 no. 2. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks very much!
> Tim Cutler
> Professor of Music Theory
> Cleveland Institute of Music
> timothy.cutler at case.edu

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