Roots of the Classical: The Popular Origins of Western Music

By Peter Van Der Merwe | Go to book overview

5 Primitive Harmony

HARMONIC VERSUS MELODIC CHORDS

Once they become harmonic, melodic chords undergo several changes. Most obviously, they acquire a juiciness of which the melodic equivalent gives no inkling. To sound an interval simultaneously is to intensify it: perfect fifths become stronger, major thirds sweeter, minor thirds gloomier. As for dissonant intervals like the minor second or augmented fourth, they develop the stridency that the lay public associates with the words 'dissonance' and 'discord'. Curiously, this view is not shared by the experts:

An interval or chord which, so to speak, enjoys a certain amount of self-satisfaction is a
Concord, whilst one which restlessly tries to push on to something in front is a Discord:
the words Consonance and Dissonance have similar meanings.1

Dissonance. Two or more notes sounding together and forming a discord, or a sound
which, in the prevailing harmonic system, is unstable and needs to be resolved to a
consonance.2

Discord. b.… a chord which by itself is unpleasing or unsatisfactory to the ear, and requires
to be 'resolved' or followed by some other chord.3

Discord is transition; concord is finality.4

Given the prevalence of the Ramellian paradigm, it is only to be expected that dissonance and discord (the two words have been more or less synonymous for over a thousand years)5 should be regarded as peculiarly harmonic. What is strange is the absence of any reference to 'discord' in the non-technical sense.6 Actually,

1 Scholes, The Oxford Companion to Music, 'Harmony: 24. Some Definitions of Common Terms in
Harmony, (h)',456.

2The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music, 210.

3OED, iv. 747, article on 'discord', definition 3.b.

4 Tovey, The Forms of Music, 'Harmony: III. Modal Tonality', 51. Originally a series of articles in the
nth edn. of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

5 See the quotation from Hucbald (c. 880) on p. 57.

6 To be fair to Tovey, he does define 'discord', in a glossary at the end of his Encyclopaedia Britannica
article (xiii. 9), as 'a combination in which both its logical origin in a musical scheme and its acoustic rough-
ness show that it cannot form a point of repose'.

-53-

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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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