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    Three recent posts

    These are on my blog, musictheorybridges.wordpress.com, dedicated to putting pop/rock/jazz music next to "classical" theory concepts or music and seeing what happens. It's meant to be accessible to anyone going through or who has completed a post-secondary education in music (or the equivalent). I'm a rather "traditionally-educated" theorist, so all thoughts on other repertoires are very much from the perspective of a nonspecialist.

    Serialism or 12-tone music in jazz: brief thoughts on Brubeck's use of 12-tone melodies

    The Pixies' Obsession: Ana: motivic/interpretive analysis of Ana

    Voice leading connecting weird triads: connecting music by Orlandus Lassus, Franz Schubert, John Adams, and Hans Zimmer

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    • 3 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
    • Timothy, you comment your Lassus example (in "Voice leading connecting weird triads") saying that

      It does seem to have a pitch center, since it starts on C major and gets back there at the beginning of the last measure, but in between there are lots of strange chord progressions.

      I think there is more than that that makes the piece sound "in C": all the voice leading is filling in the "tonal space" of the C chord with passing or neighboring notes:

      • The Cantus goes G (G♯ A B) C G

      • The Altus, E (D) E (F♯) G E

      • The Tenor, C (B D) C (B) C, with an additional G

      • The Bassus, C G E (D) C

      This is not rare in 16th-century pieces, ensuring a tonal coherence, and the voice leading of course justifies the "weird" triads. (About this, see http://nicolas.meeus.free.fr/NMTheorie/ModaliteTonalite.pdf, especially the figs. 4 and 5.)

      What sounds "weird", here, is that all triads are (a) major (with little attention given to diatonicity) and (b) in root position. This too is not rare, especially in Lassus. Such apparently non diatonic tonal coherence (but grounded in a strict underlying diatonicity) is, I think, quite characteristic of late-16th-century chromaticism.

      Discussing such compositions in terms of "tonal space" may seem anachronic (or, even, excessively Schenkerian). Yet, it may also be seen as an application of the well-known "pseudo classic" theory, which views the modal scales articulated in 5th + 4th. It is but a little step (taken by some 16th-century theorists) to consider that the 5th is articulated in two 3ds. As to filling in these intervals by step, it is the application of a contrapuntal rule which Schenker, following many German theorists of counterpoint, described as fließender Gesang, "fluid melody" (modern Schenkerians today say "melodic fluidity"). This fluidity is documented in treatises at least since Fux, and probably long before belonged to the usage of contrapuntists.



    • Thanks for your comments, Nicolas!

      (I should have added to my post that the blog itself is not necessarily intended for deep analysis or theorizing, but about reaching out to as large an audience as possible--thus the posts are as brief as possible and sometimes a bit breezy about things like "lots of strange chord progressions"--and putting seemingly incompatible repertoires next to each other creatively.)

      I appreciate your point about filling in the space between chord tones--not something I'd thought about. Of course, any progression that both begins and ends with C major triads will do this in some fashion, but especially in the Cantus, it does seem worth noting here. Elsewhere in the piece, including in the final phrase, "modally appropriate" boundary tones are not so clear, though noticing the distinction between places where this kind of "tonal filling" happens and places where it doesn't would likely be interesting.

      Yes, major triads on all diatonic scale degrees seems to be characteristic of Lassus's chromatic style. In particular, in the Prophetiae Sibyllarum, the juxtaposition of three major triads related by whole step, a progression that cannot be diatonic, seems to be correlated with references to the Virgin birth (as in this piece, though here there is one intervening triad: E, D, (G,) C in mm. 2–5): see 5.4 and following here.