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#1511705 - 09/08/10 07:33 PM Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened???
gsmonks Offline
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Registered: 08/17/10
Posts: 618
Loc: Saskatchewan, Canada
Back in the 60's and 70's, as big-name composers were dropping like flies (Hindemith, Khatchaturian, Stravinsky, Shostakovich . . .), Walter Piston, who was also a composer, and the author of the mainstream textbook on Harmony, seemed to be going quietly nuts, while university dweebs were waiting in the wings for the old boys to die off so that they could meddle.

It didn't help that Piston's tome was getting more and more out to lunch with each edition. His theory of secondary dominants, while a nice teaching-tool, had reached the point where it crossed several lines as an educator's manual, mainly by acting as a vehicle for some of Walter's crackpot ideas which, based on 19th century performance practice (aka music theory + harmony), were not only misguided, but very much out of date and out of step in terms of being of any use in analysing more modern music.

Also, once the cats were safely dispatched and away, the mice did play, meddling, for example, with the 6/4 chord by referring to it as a appoggiatura, when there were/are countless examples of music where the 6/4 chord does not behave like an appoggiatura. Certainly in modern usage the treatment of 6/4 chords in sequence is not even in the same ball-park. But the meddling mice had their way, so that generations of students since the 1970's have been indoctrinated with their nonsense.

My old edition of Piston's Harmony makes no mention of Piston's theory of "tonisization", either, and if it did, I would either black those passages out with a felt marker or else rip the pages out altogether. It's a useless, superfluous idea which serves no purpose whatsoever, except, perhaps, to further Piston's agenda of promotiong Walter Piston and his crackpot ideas.

When the old composers died off, they took with them the checks and balances that kept the mice at bay. We're badly in need of a better mouse trap these days.


Edited by gsmonks (09/08/10 07:36 PM)
Edit Reason: the case of the missing "g"

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#1511814 - 09/08/10 09:42 PM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
keystring Online   content
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Quote:
meddling, for example, with the 6/4 chord by referring to it as a appoggiatura,

So that's what that is about?! shocked I just finished a chapter on a "6/4 double appoggiatura" and many of the examples did not seem appoggiatura-like.

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#1511843 - 09/08/10 10:24 PM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: keystring]
gsmonks Offline
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Registered: 08/17/10
Posts: 618
Loc: Saskatchewan, Canada
Originally Posted By: keystring
Quote:
meddling, for example, with the 6/4 chord by referring to it as a appoggiatura,

So that's what that is about?! shocked I just finished a chapter on a "6/4 double appoggiatura" and many of the examples did not seem appoggiatura-like.


They're not. I 6/4 is I in its second inversion, and is not and never has been an appoggiatura.

The glaring flaw in Piston's reasoning, and that of the "mice" I was referring to, is that the "appoggiatura" treatment is a modern notion with no historical basis or precedent.

In Beethoven's symphonic period, when prolonged endings with lots of false endings were a fad, I 6/4 often went unresolved, or else changed direction, either by transition or by irregular resolution in another direction entirely. Even in Bach's day, the appearance of I 6/4 was no guarantee that it was headed to V.

Piston's Theory of Secondary Dominants is likewise suspect. It's okay when used as a teaching tool, in terms of the analysis of 19th century tonal music, but the obvious flaw is that composers weren't as regimented in their approach to the treatment of chords as Piston would have us believe.

Before there was such a thing as Traditional Harmony, what we had was something called Performance Practice. Performance Practice was the study of the works of working composers. An example of the early work of "mice" is that they wanted the "rules" codified. This is how Harmony came about. The difference betweeen Performance Practice and Harmony is that Performance Practice was the study of what composers did, whereas Harmony was the establishing of "rules" based upon those techniques that were the most used and the most accepted.

This effectively put the writing of music in a straight-jacket, pushing experimentation aside in favour of canon.

There is a fundamental dishonesty in Piston's work when you consider that his Theory of Secondary Dominants is so much sophistry: secondary dominants notwithstanding, a cursory look outside the purview of his carefully selected musical examples reveals music that could be explained in terms of, say, secondary subdominants, or in the case of modal harmony, secondary mediants and/or submediants.

As I say, it's an excellent teaching tool, but trying to apply it as an all-encompassing theory is to ignore 400 years of taxonomic progression, and riddle the minds of modern students of classical music with anachronisms which stand squarely in the way of the underlying facts.


Edited by gsmonks (09/08/10 10:26 PM)

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#1511983 - 09/09/10 03:52 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
Nikolas Offline
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The I6/4 as far as I care can be used as an appogiatura chord in reallity. It's just delaying the coming of the V7 ...

Sorry that I can't read right now the rest of the post, but hopefully I'll get round it later on this week!
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#1512351 - 09/09/10 05:23 PM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: Nikolas]
gsmonks Offline
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Registered: 08/17/10
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Loc: Saskatchewan, Canada
Originally Posted By: Nikolas
The I6/4 as far as I care can be used as an appogiatura chord in reallity. It's just delaying the coming of the V7 ...

Sorry that I can't read right now the rest of the post, but hopefully I'll get round it later on this week!


Heh- Nikolas, my buddy, my chum, you should have read the full post, first.

The point in a nutshell is that it's not delaying the coming of V7, any more than V7 is delaying the coming of I. It's a stand-alone chord that can and does behave any number of ways.

As I said, in Beethoven's time, when false ending after false ending was a fad (and an often annoying one at that), I 6/4 was often left hanging, or else went somewhere else.

In terms of appoggiatura, in the world of tonality, one could dismiss reams of chords as appoggiatura material. What is IV, after all, but an appoggiatura that most likely will resolve to I?

The I 6/4 -as-appoggiatura had been proposed a good many times before the old composers (who were also the leading theorists) died off, but was always shot down because the function in question if intrinsic to the overall workings of tonal music, and assigning this characteristic to only one example only serves to muddy the waters.

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#1512468 - 09/09/10 07:39 PM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
gsmonks Offline
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Registered: 08/17/10
Posts: 618
Loc: Saskatchewan, Canada
Further, just as the legal/judicial system is fundamentally corrupt (laws are made by lawyers for lawyers, which is a conflict of interest), so too has Harmony become.

The big-name composers were also the leading theorists, and Harmony is the puview of the composers. But when they died off the analysts ("mice") usurped Harmony and did as they pleased.

For the composer, it is important that the tools of composition adhere to the dictum all things being equal. This means that all chords just are what they are, without anything extra being read into them.

For the analysts to meddle is a case of indulging in the cardinal sin of preaching instead of teaching. No analyst has the right to tell any young potential composer how to view the composer's tools. To do so is interfering with the fundamental right of the composer to use the tools as he or she sees fit. Any attempt to interfere with that process involves stepping over any number of lines, the line between Harmony and composition being but one of them.

Harmony is the study of what composers do, which is something that needs to be drummed into the head of the modern analyst. Harmony used to be called performance practice, which is a more accurate term.

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#1518744 - 09/19/10 10:46 PM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
Gary D. Offline
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The first time I saw V64-53 (numbers should be vertical), I was totally disoriented. I was taught, decades ago, that 64 simply means second inversion--and that it often (but certainly not always) appears in a standard I64 to V(7) to I progression. This, of course, is only for when the 64 chord is a I chord.

Thats seemed both logical and self-explanatory to me. The "double appoggiatura" idea unnecessarily complicates an extremely basic, simple, natural chord progression.

Frankly, I find "secondary dominance" a much larger problem. It is presented, by some teachers, as if it were the Holy Grail, so (for example) failing to analyze a major chord built on the second degree of any major scale as V/V (such as D major in the key of C) seems to produce the immediate assumption that if we don't call it that, we don't know what it does, or where it could go.

To me the problem is basically the same in music as in language. We have prescriptivists, and we have descriptivists. The latter are simply interested in what musicians do and therefore have no vested interest in proving that something is not valid unless it fits their preconceptions.

Before I am flamed for sounding as if I am against any kind of formal rules, I am not. I simply want the rules to be presented as temporary constructs that are meant to ultimately *liberate students from them*, not *bind students to them*. smile


Edited by Gary D. (09/19/10 10:48 PM)
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#1518777 - 09/19/10 11:47 PM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
david_a Offline
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Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 2913
Regarding the I 6/4 chords:

I think the mistake here is contained in the belief that it has to be taught as one or the other. It would make more sense to me, to show how in the majority of cases it can be interpreted equally well either way, and how there are also usages where obviously a composer was treating it more as one than as the other. (On the surface this is analogous to the situation of particles vs. waves.)

Declaring that (to paraphrase only slightly) "the way they did it in the old days was better" doesn't really help much. The study of harmony is inherently anachronistic and backward-looking anyway, unless we stop using examples from older music and study only unfinished compositions-in-progress by living composers. Harmony is very much like economics in that regard; both concentrate pretty much exclusively on various methods and techniques for predicting the past. smile
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#1518848 - 09/20/10 03:43 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
gsmonks Offline
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Registered: 08/17/10
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Loc: Saskatchewan, Canada
Speaking of the "old days", the chord progressions of many old-time Christmas carols do not obey Piston's attempts to create some sort of canon that's written in stone.

This matter is a perfect example of junk science vs real science. Real science is based upon observation and lets the facts speak for themselves. Junk science is a case of going at it with a crackpot theory, and trying to force and fudge the facts to fit the theory.

Piston started off sanely enough in his early editions of Harmony, and his introduction of "secondary dominants" as a teaching tool, but somewhere along the way he followed in the footsteps of Eric von Daniken.

The question now is How do we undo the damage and set things right?

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#1518851 - 09/20/10 03:52 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
gsmonks Offline
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I had a parallel experience back in the 70's with editions that attempted to second guess the work of composers. One of the most glaring that has stuck in my mind ever since was an edition of one of the Debussy's Arabesques that questioned the voicing in one bar and compared it to a later bar that was slightly altered. That the difference was an obvious use of V 11 the first time around and V 13 the second time around in order to indicate the impending completion of the section didn't dissuade the dweeb in question from sticking his interfering neb in where it didn't belong.

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#1519109 - 09/20/10 01:42 PM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
keystring Online   content
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One of my three harmony books (seems to be the weakest) has a small section on Bach chorales. It explains what Bach tended to do and goes into a bit of an analysis. Then it gives a handful of melodic lines of some Bach chorales. We are to harmonize it SATB. But (!!!) it warns that we must not break the rules that Bach broke. So while harmonizing the melodies that Bach harmonized, we are not allowed to do what Bach did, when working with Bach, because Bach broke the rules (which I understand they extrapolated by studying Bach). I suppose that Bach would get a low grade in a harmony theory exam. laugh

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#1519541 - 09/21/10 03:13 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
Gary D. Offline
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Registered: 08/30/08
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Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: gsmonks
I had a parallel experience back in the 70's with editions that attempted to second guess the work of composers. One of the most glaring that has stuck in my mind ever since was an edition of one of the Debussy's Arabesques that questioned the voicing in one bar and compared it to a later bar that was slightly altered.

Talking about second-guessing, I have an old edition of the Chopin Preludes. In the first prelude, the editor "fixed" a number of Chopin's "mistakes". By this, I mean that the editor removed the -5- tuplets in several measures, put ties in instead of what Chopin wrote in the the lower voice in the RH, and more. The date of the publication is closer to 1900 than 2000.

But this "second-guessing" problem never seems to stop. I was examing Palmer's edition of the preludes, and for the most part he did a clear job of making any of his suggestions clear as editorial and not Chopin's. However, he replaced the old "ped" and "*" with modern pedal marks, which completely disguises the fact that Chopin's marks were general and rather ambiguous.
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#1519562 - 09/21/10 05:01 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
david_a Offline
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Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 2913
Originally Posted By: gsmonks
Speaking of the "old days", the chord progressions of many old-time Christmas carols do not obey Piston's attempts to create some sort of canon that's written in stone.

This matter is a perfect example of junk science vs real science. Real science is based upon observation and lets the facts speak for themselves. Junk science is a case of going at it with a crackpot theory, and trying to force and fudge the facts to fit the theory.

Piston started off sanely enough in his early editions of Harmony, and his introduction of "secondary dominants" as a teaching tool, but somewhere along the way he followed in the footsteps of Eric von Daniken.

The question now is How do we undo the damage and set things right?
We don't. The so-called "damage" is illusory, because music (and most especially harmony) isn't scientific. You like the old words to the harmony song because you learned them first. There's no more to it than that.

If this whole thing was scientific, then the way to undo the damage would be to put forward some experimentally dis-provable hypotheses, and test them in an experiment with unequivocal results, reproducible by anyone who cares to try the same experiment. But what constitutes a harmony experiment? How does one disprove a theory of harmony? It makes one giggle just to think of it.

If harmony is scientific, (and please notice the emphasis), then a harmony text that only lays out "common practice" and does not put forward any theories about why harmony works (i.e. any text that is expository rather than explanatory) is essentially bankrupt. To put the same general concept another way: every scientific theory of harmony predicts how harmony must go in the future, and does not restrict itself to rehashing (cataloguing, naming, re-naming) the past. If a scientific theory doesn't even try to predict the future, then it's rubbish; it doesn't deserve the name "theory" at all.

Cooking up new names for chords is just a game, of little to no significance; though certainly it might be irritating to keep being told new names for what's obviously the same thing. We could go through any edition of Piston, scratch out all the chord names and replace them with new names, and that wouldn't make it a significantly better or worse predictor of the future of harmony. I bet we could make it more confusing though. I'm willing to try. smile


Edited by david_a (09/21/10 05:11 AM)
Edit Reason: changed "a" to "any", 3rd paragraph
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#1519564 - 09/21/10 05:09 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
gsmonks Offline
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Loc: Saskatchewan, Canada
In the case of Bach, it is always a mistake to put Harmony before Counterpoint. Bach understood the importance of Counterpoint as being of greater importance than Harmony. In fact, having lived in the days of Performance Practice, before Harmony in its present form was invented, I don't doubt that he would be somewhat disappointed with the present state of the art.

The transgressions of editors aren't just restricted to music. J R R Tolkien had a devil of a time finding a publisher who wouldn't meddle with his work, and effectively wreck it.

The arts have become like an old abandoned building full of rats and mice. So much so that the rats and mice have made it "politically incorrect" to speak of cleaning house.

Where's a cat when you need one?

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#1519572 - 09/21/10 05:27 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: david_a]
gsmonks Offline
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Loc: Saskatchewan, Canada
There is some truth in what you say, David, but we are also speaking of education, and of clearing the way for new students to get at the underlying mechanics of music without being misled. Education is like television- it's scary sometimes how many people believe everything they're told.

Second only to education is the fact that we're also speaking of future generations of educators, and students and educators alike need access to good information, not junk information.

As far as musical "proof" goes, it's the same as with making a meal. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the proof of the music is in the performance.

The rules of voice-leading, for example, are no accident. Without them, the result sounds like crap, not to put too fine a point on it. I spent many hundreds of hours in studios (I've been part-owner of two studios over the years) helping make the musically illiterate ditherings of rock and related musicians work, and the solutions always came down to the stuff learned in 1st year Harmony and Counterpoint.

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#1519573 - 09/21/10 05:30 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
david_a Offline
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Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 2913
Originally Posted By: gsmonks
In the case of Bach, it is always a mistake to put Harmony before Counterpoint. Bach understood the importance of Counterpoint as being of greater importance than Harmony.
Bach's early work was sometimes pretty overtly harmonic.

But as far as counterpoint being of greater importance than harmony, why don't we demonstrate that; perhaps by showing how a I 6/4 chord is actually more contrapuntal than harmonic?

smile
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#1519577 - 09/21/10 05:33 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
gsmonks Offline
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Registered: 08/17/10
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Loc: Saskatchewan, Canada
Further, there has been ample study into how Harmony works in the human brain in recent years. One discovery is that our ability to hear music is hard-wired into us, that other animals hear the sounds we make, but lack the mechanism in the brain that interperates it as music. In other words, the ability to perceive what we call music is something that is uniquely human.

So there is a scientific basis to what we call music, although in the way that the study of the mind is worlds apart from the reality which that mind experiences.

There is also the social psychology of music, which is a study unto itself.

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#1519580 - 09/21/10 05:37 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: david_a]
gsmonks Offline
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Registered: 08/17/10
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Loc: Saskatchewan, Canada
Originally Posted By: david_a
Originally Posted By: gsmonks
In the case of Bach, it is always a mistake to put Harmony before Counterpoint. Bach understood the importance of Counterpoint as being of greater importance than Harmony.
Bach's early work was sometimes pretty overtly harmonic.

But as far as counterpoint being of greater importance than harmony, why don't we demonstrate that; perhaps by showing how a I 6/4 chord is actually more contrapuntal than harmonic?
smile


That would involve going back to the beginning, to plain-chant, organum, and the creation of voice-leading itself. The problem nowadays is that modern Harmony seldom starts at the beginning.

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#1519590 - 09/21/10 06:09 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
david_a Offline
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Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 2913
Originally Posted By: gsmonks
As far as musical "proof" goes, it's the same as with making a meal. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the proof of the music is in the performance.
Proof is, like, you know, proof; the stuff that it's impossible to argue about. You've as much as said that your opinion equals a scientific proof. Well, BS. I know you're not arrogant, I know you have the best intentions, but still, BS. If you want to bring science into the discussion (which you did), then you have to play by science's book. And I think where you brought in "science" was exactly where things went wrong.

I think harmony has no need to be scientific, and gets no benefit (and in fact a lot of grief) from pretending to be. The point is that your considered opinion of what works in harmony and what doesn't, which is surely better than mine, is sufficient. Reliance on opinion as the final arbiter is a scientifically untenable position, and I think such a non-scientific alignment suits harmony just fine. Your opinion can lay claim to no scientific status, it is no more than an opinion, AND there is nothing wrong with that - is there?

Making a pseudo-science out of a [craft, art, whatever harmony really is], by talking of science, junk science, and so on in connection with harmony, only serves to add to the load of misinformation.

The rules of voice leading, TAKEN AS SCIENCE, are worthless and indefensible.

As tools of a craft, they are essential.

That's the difference - for me anyway.
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#1519601 - 09/21/10 06:38 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: david_a]
gsmonks Offline
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Posts: 618
Loc: Saskatchewan, Canada
Heh- no, David, tell me what you really think :^)

There are different axioms in the sciences. In mathematics you have addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. In physics you have the "reproduceability of results". The latter also applies to music.

All right, let's go back to the earliest days, before voice-leading was "invented".

First there was plain-chant, which consisted of a single melodic line. The two earliest composers in Western Music were composers of polyphony (Latin for "more than one"), and their names were Leonin (115?-1201) and Perotin (116?-122?), or Leoninus and Perotinus if you use the Latin form of their names.

The early theorists discovered what anyone who mucks about with multiple voices discovers-


Edited by gsmonks (09/21/10 08:54 AM)

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#1519605 - 09/21/10 06:45 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
gsmonks Offline
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Registered: 08/17/10
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- that two parts can only move in relation to each other in the following ways:

1) in unison
2) in contrary motion
3) in parallel motion
4) in oblique motion (one rises a step, the other by more than one step, and/or vice versa

These were the first rules of voice leading, and they were referred to as voice leading precisely because only the vox humanis (human voice) was allowed in church.

These four rules are rules that may as well be written in stone simply because they are what they are. They were not invented by anyone. They were a simple recognition of the four ways one voice can move in relation to another.

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#1519612 - 09/21/10 06:55 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
gsmonks Offline
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Registered: 08/17/10
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Loc: Saskatchewan, Canada
From there, from two-part polyphony, a third voice was added, creating punctum contra punctum, which eventually was shortened to its modern form counterpoint.

The rules prior to three-part compositions first involved the manner in which two voices could move against each other. When a third part was introduced, things suddenly got a lot more complicated.

In order to hear all the three parts clearly, new rules were hit upon through endless trial and error, based, not upon any type of convention, as no convention yet existed, but instead was based upon what works and what does not work.

For example, in order to hear all three parts clearly, it soon became apparent that this was best fascilitated by having the parts move at different note divisions from one another- hence the rule in counterpoint that one part moves, the other doesn't.

Anyway, I could go on for pages and pages here. But the point is, there's far more at work here than mere convention.


Edited by gsmonks (09/21/10 08:57 AM)

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#1519653 - 09/21/10 08:49 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
gsmonks Offline
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Sorry- I said something misleading there- punctum contra punctum or point counter point (later became counterpoint) began with two-part writing, not three.

There were conventions that have their origins in the crackpot religious thinking of the day. The tritone was said to be "the devil's interval", so-called "perfect" intervals were a result of Just Intonation, so at the time there were perfect 3rds and 6ths (which were done in by Equal Temperament). Octaves, 3rds and 6ths were given preference as they were considered more "sonorous" than 4ths and 5ths, "dissonant" intervals such as 2nds and 7ths were avoided altogether (at first), and so on.

However, these conventions were really based upon everyday perception, which at the time was attributed to ideas based upon religious anthropomorphism. This does not mean that those perceptions were false or incorrect: it means that, at the time, everything was deemed to have a religious connotation. Whatever name you give a perception, the perception itself remains, even if and when ideas about that percption change. In other words, dragonflies are just dragonflies, for example. Humans in the Middle Ages had all sorts of silly ideas about them, calling them "the Devil's darning needles" and so on, but the insect itself is the same as it ever was.

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#1519666 - 09/21/10 09:39 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
Studio Joe Offline
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gsmonks:

Just butting here to say that I love reading your posts. They are so interesting to read and chocked full of good information.

If you ever write a book I want a copy.
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#1520045 - 09/21/10 06:35 PM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
Gary D. Offline
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Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4750
Loc: South Florida
I want to go back to this:

Originally Posted By: gsmonks
In the case of Bach, it is always a mistake to put Harmony before Counterpoint.

I don't want to put either ahead of either. There are compositions by Bach that that are little more than broken chords (typical in some preludes), and those might be analyzed effectively as "harmony". On the other hand, approaching a fugue with this thinking would be insane.

The overall principle for me is that ALL analysis is about using "tools" to get something accomplished, and the number one mistake is using the wrong tool for the wrong job.

In other words, using chord symbols (letters or Roman Numerals) to analyze a Bach fugue is about like trying to use a hammer to put in screws. smile


Edited by Gary D. (09/21/10 06:36 PM)
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#1520181 - 09/21/10 11:03 PM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
gsmonks Offline
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Registered: 08/17/10
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Loc: Saskatchewan, Canada
The thing is, Gary, that Bach himself conceived fugue both linearly and vertically. Bach was a master of both fugue and harmony, the latter of which is best illustrated in the form of his chorals, which for students of harmony and music history can be obtained in a single edition for the purpose of study.

While it is true that Bach (and other composers of his day who wrote fugue) conceived Inventions improvisatorily, during the process of notation the finished work was tweaked for harmonic structural integrity, much the way a structural engineer goes over the blueprints of a bridge in order to suss out flaws which may lead to the collapse of the finished product. The tools of harmonic analysis are of course the very symbols you've mentioned, and without them no harmonic analysis would be possible, ergo the vertical structure of the music, without it, would be utter chaos, and anything but pleasing to the ear.

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#1520241 - 09/22/10 01:16 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: Studio Joe]
gsmonks Offline
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Registered: 08/17/10
Posts: 618
Loc: Saskatchewan, Canada
Originally Posted By: Studio Joe
gsmonks: If you ever write a book I want a copy.


I am considering writing an annotated book of harmony and its history, Studio Joe, which would necessarily include counterpoint, so that it would be a harmony/counterpoint hybrid of sorts, and would probably include composition techniques. But I don't know that there would be any demand for it as the information already exists out there, albeit in dribs and drabs throughout any number of texts.

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#1520251 - 09/22/10 02:10 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
Gary D. Offline
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Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4750
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: gsmonks
The thing is, Gary, that Bach himself conceived fugue both linearly and vertically. Bach was a master of both fugue and harmony, the latter of which is best illustrated in the form of his chorals, which for students of harmony and music history can be obtained in a single edition for the purpose of study.

I have never written a fugue, so I am limited to admiring the magic. However, I have recently spent countless hours examining four part writing and put myself through the challenge of starting with a few interesting chorale melodies, exactly what Bach used, and making a go at finishing them before looking at what Bach did.

My own experience was somewhat schizoid, though I think in a very positive way. I felt myself flipping back and forth from vertical to horizontal. In some cases I knew exactly where I wanted a cadence, which gave me the bassline automatically, then sort of fooled around with the inner voices until I succesfully avoided parallels. From this I began to see why parallels occur and started to sense horizontal patterns that avoid them.

In other places I heard bass and soprano, as a skeleton, and the inner voices more or less took care of themselves. However, there were other places in which I had in mind interesting movement in individual voices, and the others would shift or morph in a very intuitive manner. My feeling of some kind of harmony was always there, but it would sometimes dominate, sometimes fall into second place.

Most interesting was that at times opening up range between voices (such as tenor and alto) to a distance almost condemned by books gave me the most freedom for adding more ornate lines, mainly climbing or falling in interesting parallel or contrary motion. And Bach did that a lot.

Finally, there are times when "no-no" parallels or things like augmented 2nds can be defty avoided by allowing the tenor to ascend above the alto, and the individual lines may take on special interest that way. Again, Bach did that a lot.

I think what is most important is to keep in mind "general, practical rules" BUT, at the same time, pay careful attention to how fine composers "thumb their noses" at them, either deliberately, or because they developed such a fine instinct that their ears always guided them to the best solutions.

One final thought: we are always in danger of assuming that when two people do something that is equally effective and very similar in results, their ways of getting there were the same or similar. Ultimately the creative process remains a mystery. smile
Quote:

While it is true that Bach (and other composers of his day who wrote fugue) conceived Inventions improvisatorily, during the process of notation the finished work was tweaked for harmonic structural integrity, much the way a structural engineer goes over the blueprints of a bridge in order to suss out flaws which may lead to the collapse of the finished product. The tools of harmonic analysis are of course the very symbols you've mentioned, and without them no harmonic analysis would be possible, ergo the vertical structure of the music, without it, would be utter chaos, and anything but pleasing to the ear.

That makes perfect sense. I hesitate to say this, since where I am in all this is rather elementary compared to where you no doubt are, but my personal experience seems to be in line with what you just said. While exploring SATB writing, falling back on certain rules helped me find parallels that my ear was missing. I found I had to check the four voices against each other, and I assume that over time Bach developed such an instinct about this that he simply did not have to do that. Regardless, each time I discovered weaknesses that could be identified by "checking for structural integrity", the solutions to eliminating weaknesses also lead me to more interesting and more musical ideas. It was not just a matter of avoiding "no-nos". It was the additional creative ideas that occurred to me through the process of checking. smile


Edited by Gary D. (09/22/10 02:12 AM)
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#1520295 - 09/22/10 04:18 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
gsmonks Offline
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Registered: 08/17/10
Posts: 618
Loc: Saskatchewan, Canada
An important thing you should know, Gary, when it comes to "breaking the rules", is that all composers are both experimenters and autodidacts (self-teachers), the former because you test ideas on your own sense of hearing, the latter because intuitively going beyond the "rules" means teaching yourself to alter your own view of the underlying mechanics of music.

Your mention of playing with voicing is a perfect example of this, because you've reached the point where you're beginning to realise the part that acoustics plays in the perception of Harmony.

Let me give you some examples:

Composers like Bartok, Rachmaninoff and Ravel (listen for the piccolo doubling in Bolero, for instance) sometimes employed the use of organ stop technique to the voicings of their orchestrations. In case you've never had the opportunity to fool around with a big pipe organ, many of the stops produce false harmonics at intervals such as P5th's and Major 7ths. By "false harmonics" I mean that pulling a stop brings extra pipes on line in order to augment the sound. You can only hear these intervals by playing a single note and really listening for them, but the manner in which they enrich the sound is amazing.

Now, remember that Bach was a well-known organist in his day. He was well-aware of the role played by both harmonics and false harmonics. Did this influence his voicings and the way he "broke the rules"? You bet it did! And hundreds of years later, composers like Rachmaninoff were still following this precedent. The opening of his Prelude in C# minor employs the use of parallel harmonies, not after the fashion of organs and false harmonics this time, but after the fashion of church bells, which strongly produce harmonics of a similar nature. Give a big church bell (of high quality- not some cast-iron dog) a good whack, and you'll hear all kinds of odd harmonics, in some cases which almost overpower the standing tone.


Edited by gsmonks (09/22/10 04:20 AM)
Edit Reason: nixed an extra "c"

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#1520880 - 09/23/10 01:50 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4750
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: gsmonks
An important thing you should know, Gary, when it comes to "breaking the rules", is that all composers are both experimenters and autodidacts (self-teachers), the former because you test ideas on your own sense of hearing, the latter because intuitively going beyond the "rules" means teaching yourself to alter your own view of the underlying mechanics of music.

Complete agreement there...
Quote:

Your mention of playing with voicing is a perfect example of this, because you've reached the point where you're beginning to realise the part that acoustics plays in the perception of Harmony.

I'm sure that's true. Of primary importance to me is that what I have learned in the last year reaches out in strange ways and gives me a different view of music that I felt I completely understood.
Quote:

Let me give you some examples:

Composers like Bartok, Rachmaninoff and Ravel (listen for the piccolo doubling in Bolero, for instance) sometimes employed the use of organ stop technique to the voicings of their orchestrations. In case you've never had the opportunity to fool around with a big pipe organ, many of the stops produce false harmonics at intervals such as P5th's and Major 7ths. By "false harmonics" I mean that pulling a stop brings extra pipes on line in order to augment the sound. You can only hear these intervals by playing a single note and really listening for them, but the manner in which they enrich the sound is amazing.

No, my opportunities for playing a fine organ were very close to zero. However, I have heard these harmonics in performances, and they can be heard even on recordings. I have not noticed major 7ths. Because of my background in brass, I am familiar with the harmonic series as we use it on such instruments, since we actually PLAY the harmonics, and which harmonics we choose has an incredibly strong effect on tone color. For instance, in one of Vaughan Williams symphonies a solo trumpet plays a bugle-call, and one of the notes is very "out of tune". In fact, it is perfectly IN tune, but to the natural harmonic series, since the "sour" note is somewhere around 30 cents flat to the tempered scale. The effect is eerie, very effective. In order to get to the major 7th on brass, you would have to play in the third octave and play a normally never used harmonic. It might be useable on a valveless French horn with the use of the hand.
Quote:

Now, remember that Bach was a well-known organist in his day. He was well-aware of the role played by both harmonics and false harmonics. Did this influence his voicings and the way he "broke the rules"? You bet it did! And hundreds of years later, composers like Rachmaninoff were still following this precedent. The opening of his Prelude in C# minor employs the use of parallel harmonies, not after the fashion of organs and false harmonics this time, but after the fashion of church bells, which strongly produce harmonics of a similar nature. Give a big church bell (of high quality- not some cast-iron dog) a good whack, and you'll hear all kinds of odd harmonics, in some cases which almost overpower the standing tone.

I'm quite familiar with what you are talking about re large bells. In regards to "breaking rules", I only know that I can't think of anything Bach wrote that sounds in any way "wrong" to me, and to the extent I am able to analyze what he wrote, it always seems 100% logical. There is a lot I do not know (actually I only know a little), but I do know that he seemed to be very careful, for instance, in avoiding augmented 2nds in voices, chorale writing, but thought nothing of including one in a theme for something fugue-like. smile
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