September 24 Readings/Class Notes – History
Mode and Harmony I
vocabulary – used for second assignment – about harmony – don't use for assignment one
What is Scruton telling us about harmony in western art music?
Scruton on Tonality
The Scruton reading is rather dense this week. If you had to boil it down to a
single message, what do you think he wants the reader to know about the
concept of tonality?
tonality what we think of as tonality is not a fixed concept
– Central metaphor for describing our experience of music
– tonality is not merely a fixation of one tone – focusses on many different organizational factors
– things are related to a central tone
– octave and fifth are generally agreed upon – middle has been culturally conditioned upon
– *the tonic is something that the other notes lean towards
– wave lengths of dissonant sounds make our ear hear it in an unsatisfactory way
– octaves are heard as equivalent (closure may come at any octave)
– There are tuning issues
– Scale – ascending pattern of organized tones, tuned using equal temperament that eventually
descend in a patter
“Our modern ways of hearing are conditioned by our sense of the force that lives in tones, which
causes us to overlook acoustical impurities in the interests of greater and more varied organization.”
– Music needs order, and people interpret music differently
– Music at conservatories and universities usually confers to the idea of equal temperament
What constitutes the harmonic system in music of the “common practice period”?
The “common practice period”
– c. 1600- c.1900.
– Ahistoriographic short-hand for music that has perfect authentic cadences (PACS, V-I)
What defines the tonality of this period? - “way of hearing”
– Major/minor harmonic system
– “when a modal melody appears in tonal music (either a major or minor scale)... , it leaves the
surrounding harmonic order unblemished” (Scruton, 240)
– modal melodies (eg. whole tone scales, blues scales) always return to a major or minor scale
(harmonic order) no matter what modal melody it is.
Mahler, Symphony No. 2 (1894), fourth movement, “Urlicht” – often interpreted as depressed, emotionally intense music
How does Mahler use this system to great effect in his Symphony No. 2?
1. The Mahler piece has several striking changes in texture that accompany
significant changes in harmony (on the first “Der Mensch liegt,” on the first
“Da kam ich,” on “Ach nein,” on “Ich bin