Roots of the Classical: The Popular Origins of Western Music

By Peter Van Der Merwe | Go to book overview

7 Rivals to Tonality

It may seem puzzling, in view of the strikingly modern character of some early sixteenth-century dance music, that tonality took so long to develop. But of course the composers of the sixteenth century were not interested in tonality—had, in fact, never heard of tonality. What did interest them was aria:

in the sixteenth century… the word aria referred to some undefinable quality felt to be
present in some pieces of music and missing in others… it meant the feeling that certain
melodies, or, more generally, certain kinds of music, unfolded phrase after phrase with a
coherent sense of direction, with an immediacy that gave to their progress the sense of an
inevitable course aimed at a precise goal.… One basic element, which sixteenth-century
theory was still unprepared to recognize and assess, must have been a 'logical' sequence of
harmonies, either fully realized in a polyphonic composition or merely implied in the
statement of a melody, a sequence whose logic was not yet necessarily fully consistent with
the logic of tonal harmony.1

Tonality, then, was a means of procuring aria, but not the only one. 'Modal' progressions might equally well provide that 'sense of an inevitable course aimed at a precise goal'. Only very gradually, and never entirely, did tonality supersede them.

It is to these non-tonal progressions that this chapter is devoted. And since our definition of tonality is unusually narrow, their range is correspondingly wide, including not only those progressions conventionally regarded as 'modal', but also such things as the plagal subdominant and even the ordinary minor mode. Modality, like most other things in music, is a matter of degree.


THE DOUBLE TONIC

The most archaic of modal survivals, and the first to disappear from cultivated music, was the double tonic, which, it will be remembered, comes in the basic

1 Nino Pirrotta, 'Willaert and the Canzone Villanesca', 195, in Music and Culture in Italy from the Middle
Ages to the Baroque,
175–97.

-86-

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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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