Speaking Music

A big and very basic question in music is: How can one generate an apparently unlimited world of musical ideas and musical drama, using just 12 tones and their octaves? Here we shouldn’t forget, of course, that the ideas and dramas are processes going on in the minds of the listeners, not in the notes per se. The stark contrast between an extremely limited system of tones, and a seemingly unlimited range of musical ideas, points to the function of tonal ambiguities as turning-points or singularities in the dynamic process of evoking ideas in the minds of the listeners. Here one example I have been looking at: example ambiguity

  Here we have a so-called enharmonic shift: On the piano the dissonant chords at the beginning of the first and second measures are identical, but they resolve in two radically different directions. The major seventh chord, as the most common way to lead to the tonic chord (here in the first measure to F major), can resolve in a completely different direction (second measure). Of course, the resolution is in the mind of the listener, not in the notes, and depends on the whole context, the whole mental process called forth by the music up to the given point. The first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 13 (Pathétique) has wonderful examples of this. In trying to develop a beginning stock of musical verbs, analogous to verbs in ordinary spoken language, I would propose focussing on such branching-points or moments of change in meaning.

What do you think?



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