Music: An Art and a Language

By Walter Raymond Spalding | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
THE MUSICAL SENTENCE

BEFORE passing on to an explanation of the fundamental types of musical structure, we must give some idea of the constituent parts of the Period in music. Every art has its units of expression: the straight line, the curve, the arch, the poetic stanza and the prose sentence. Just as poetry and prose are a series of stanzas or sentences, so a musical composition is a succession of definitely organized portions of thought and emotion, in terms of rhythm and sound. In the heart of a composition, to be sure, we often find a great freedom in the phraseology, comparable to blank verse or to a rhapsodic kind of prose; but with few exceptions, such as a Fantasie, every composition always begins with one or two periods which, in regard to subdivision, balance and directness of statement, are carefully planned and are complete in themselves. Before it is possible to follow intelligently the structure of a musical sentence we must gain a clear idea of what is meant by the frequently used terms Tonality and Modulation. Since the evolution and acceptance of our three modern scales:1 the major, the minor and the chromatic -- which gained their sanction chiefly through the investigations and compositions of Bach and Rameau -- every melody and the accompanying harmony are said to be in a certain "tonality" (or "key") which takes its name from the first tone of the scale in question, e. g. , C, E flat, F sharp, etc. Hence this first tone is called the Tonic or chief tone and from it ascend the other tones of the scale. That is, a melody in E flat major will employ only those tones found in the scale of E flat major, and is said to be in that "key," or "tonality." The same would be true of the harmony involved, i. e. , the chords would consist of combinations of the different tones of this scale. When a melody, as is often the case, employs tones not found in the scale in question, these

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It is assumed that the music-lover has, as his birthright, an instinctive knowledge of the grouping of tones and semitones in our modern scales. Those who may wish to refresh their knowledge are recommended to the second Chapter in Foote and Spalding Harmony, and to the chapter on Scales in Parry Evolution of the Art of Music.

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