Roots of the Classical: The Popular Origins of Western Music

By Peter Van Der Merwe | Go to book overview

2 The Ramellian Paradigm

In the course of a lecture delivered in 1938, Sir Donald Tovey made the following observation:

A modern master of popular scientific exposition—that is to say, an eminent man of
science—has remarked that when the phenomena compel a scientific theory to become
fantastically complex we may foresee that we are observing the phenomena from the
wrong point of view: as, for instance, when the motions of the planets require a tangle of
deferents and epicycles, so long as we try to explain them as seen from a fixed earth instead
of from a central sun. The whole trouble of the official theory of sixteenth-century har-
mony lay in the fact that the theorists retained the point of view of purely melodic scales
long after these scales had become inveterately harmonic, as well as melodic, phenomena.1

It is a great pity that Tovey, exasperatingly and typically, neglects to give the name of the 'eminent man of science', since that gentleman was clearly anticipating Thomas S. Kuhn's theory of 'paradigm shifts' by several decades. As the latter explained in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), scientists, to function at all, need what he called a 'paradigm': that is to say, a frame of reference that can support their theories, plausibly explain their findings, and guide them towards further research. In many respects, such a paradigm is the scientific equivalent of a religious faith.

It is characteristic of a successful new paradigm that it works splendidly. During the phase of what Kuhn calls 'normal science', researchers make rapid advances, all appearing to confirm its validity. But soon gaps begin to appear between theory and observation. Attempts to bridge these deprive the paradigm of its pristine simplicity. Then, as contradictory findings pile up, it becomes ever more elaborate and implausible, till at last the science reaches a 'crisis', to be resolved only by the supervention of a new and radically different paradigm—at which point the cycle begins again.

In the above quotation, Tovey describes just such a crisis in the musical theory of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It was resolved by the 'paradigm shift' that received classic expression in the second sentence of Rameau's Traité

1A Musician Talks (1941), pt. 2: Musical Textures, 8–9.

-19-

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Roots of the Classical: The Popular Origins of Western Music
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contents ix
  • List of Figures xi
  • A Note on Terminology and Notation xii
  • A Note on the Musical Examples xvi
  • Abbreviations xviii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part One - The Melodic Foundations 5
  • 1: The Subtle Mathematics of Music 7
  • 2: The Ramellian Paradigm 19
  • 3: The Children's Chant 27
  • 4: The Pentatonic Scale 38
  • Part Two - The Harmonic Revolution 51
  • 5: Primitive Harmony 53
  • 6: The Discovery of Tonality 66
  • 7: Rivals to Tonality 86
  • 8: Dissonance and Discord 106
  • 9: The Evolution of Tonality 116
  • Part Three - The Melodic Counter-Revolution 129
  • 10: The Rude, the Vulgar, and the Polite 131
  • 11: The Debt to the East 144
  • 12: The Dances of Central Europe 231
  • 13: The Nineteenth–century Vernacular 271
  • 14: Romanticism 339
  • 15: Modernism 376
  • 16: The Popular Style 426
  • Epilogue 461
  • List of Musical Examples 467
  • Glossary 485
  • Bibliography 502
  • Index 515
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