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Dissonance

Off from the Western path Re: Dissonance

Terejia wrote (January 20, 2008):
Alain Bruguières wrote (from a while ago):
< (..)
I believe this has to do with the fact that two logics - which are apparently at variance - coexist in his music, the vertical (the harmonic value of chords produced by several notes being played simultaneously) and melodic (the internal drive of each voice's melody). A dissonance may not strike the listener because it is produced by a cluster of notes which, if played in isolation, would produce an unusual chord, but which, considered individually and 'horizontally', i.e. within the flow of the individual parts, sound perfectly satisfactory. Probably one is peripherally aware of the dissonance but somehow one's attention is drawn elsewhere. A conjurer's trick, almost...
Back to the desynch topic, I do not feel that this procedure is meant to avoid dissonant clusters; I would expect more refinement from Bach or his likes; or perhaps it does that, but in a subtle way... in fact the desynch's effect is a bit like a rubato, but one where each voice has its own independent rubato. Isn't it? This enhances the feeling of independence of the voices and therefore strenghtens the 'horizontal' logic; as a result one is more attentive to the individual drive of each voice and consequently less aware of the vertical logic.
Let me insist that all this is a matter of balance. In fact one has always the possibility of listening in various ways, globally, or following one voice in particular, or two or more according to one's capacities...
(..) >
When I was in a choir performing Bach, Monteverdi, Palestrina etcs, I remember our conductor told us to lay emphasis on the dissonance just prior to the harmonic chord so that the audience be impressed by the beauty of harmony all the more.

Now, I know it is extremely off-topic but.. I wonder how Japanese gagaku might sound to the ears accustomed to listening Bach, Haendel, Monteverdi and the like. It doesn't have any recognizable melody line nor the dissonance ever solve into harmony, i.e., the cluster of dissonance /discordance all the time. Indeed it should sound like the wierdest noise according to Western music theory but I, as a Japanese blood even though I have heard Western Classical music everyday since I was born, found this still beautiful nevertheless...
http://video.search.yahoo.com/video/play?vid=1287890445&vw=g&b=0&pos=2&p=gagaku&fr=yfp-t-501

example of such music from YouTube.

Nicholas Johnson wrote (January 20, 2008):
[To Terejia] There is an interesting example of what sounds dissonant in the prelude in F book 2 WTC from bar 53 to 54. But each hand has its own seperate logic.

 

Dissonance rediscovered

Julian Mincham wrote (January 20, 2008):
Nicholas Johnson wrote:
< There is an interesting example of what sounds dissonant in the prelude in F book 2 WTC from bar 53 to 54. But each hand has its own seperate logic. >
I'd have thought that the dissonance produced by parts which have their own voice leading logic was something that permeates virtually every piece by Bach. I can think of hundreds of examples.

What is so special about this one particular one?????

Peter Moncure wrote (January 20, 2008):
Julian Mincham wrote
<I can think of hundreds of examples. What is so special about this one particular one?????>
Indeed, when as a student I pointed out the unusually spectacular clash of voice-leading in WTC1 Fuga XX at the end of bar 24 (two variations of the "chord" ABCD), my counterpoint instructor kindly informed me that if I ever wrote something similar I would fail the entire course instantly.

Dissonance in Bach's work is a disparate but compelling subject, though it could better be informed by other cantatas than 49. The major themes of analysis are many:

Integration of melody and harmony (there's a volume by itself)

suspensions, of course

"Passing" versus "deliberate"--the incomparable flute writing in the sinfonia from BWV 106 comes to mind--

Dissonance in context--a gesture may evoke far more tension if used outside of the contextual language of a particular work

7ths, 9ths and 13ths

And let us not forget the harmonic and enharmonic shifts in the recitatives, which wake me up every time.

Probably dissonance is too broad a category in which to place all these things. Still, there is a central idea there, someone better organized than I should elaborate.

Laureano Lopez wrote (January 20, 2008):
[To Julian Mincham]
Mozart would have never written something like bar 53, of course. The situation starts in bar 40, with a progression that goes from Dm to F, Am, C. F and Am are taken in the same scale so we still feel the tone centre is D; C is taken by modulation, and it serves as a bridge for the definitive modulation to Am, which is made in 47-49. We're now comfortably in Am, but Bach makes an intelligent turn by transforming it into a dominant of D for a while (50-51). Now we think he's back in Dm, but then he steps down to VI (Bb) and uses it as a napolitan of Am (bII). 53 is a strange move, not because of an unusual harmony, which it't not (bII-V), but because he changes the harmonic field before changing the chord itself, just following the melodic progression. If the upper melody did B-F-B-A-G# instead of B-A-G#-F#-G# it would be a lot less dissonant; as it is, he makes a movement of 5th-augmented 5th and, which is maybe more important, he transforms the original Bb into a temporary augmented Bb (Bb-D-F#) that simply doesn't exist in this tonal context. bII and V are almost opposite fields, because the scales determined by each one are totally incompatible. A composer like Mozart or Beethoven, with a completely monolithic concept of tonality, would have never mixed two scales this way. Yet, it's very usual in Bach, which music still shares some of the tonal ambiguity of Frescobaldi's chromatic experiments.

I confess that I don't always feel comfortable with this kind of harmonies in Bach, but it's a matter of anachronism. When I hear even more ambiguous situations in Monteverdi or Frescobaldi, the context seems to fit them perfectly. But when I hear Bach my mind is switched to "tonal" by the first ideas, and I feel this situations as perturbing accidents. I think it's just the influence of... well, everything that came later. Maybe it's impossible to reconstruct the "late Baroque ear" that felt all this as natural.

I think the history of dissonance in Western music is not exactly a path to freedom. Some late medieval music is a lot more dissonant than everything written until Schoenberg (Solage's "Fumeux fume par fumee" comes to my mind). Even when strict resolution began to be abandoned, the general conceptions of voice conduction and harmonic direction pervived. It's not just about how hard a chord sounds. Any Western composer with some criteria would find "Fumeux fume" too asysthematic to come from anything but improvisation.

Laureano Lopez wrote (January 20, 2008):
Peter Moncure wrote:
< Indeed, when as a student I pointed out the unusually spectacular clash of voice-leading in WTC1 Fuga XX at the end of bar 24 (two variations of the "chord" ABCD), my counterpoint instructor kindly informed me that if I ever wrote something similar I would fail the entire course instantly. >
I don't think voice-leading clashes there... A pair of voices take their passing notes in parallel sixths while the other sustain the chord, and then the reverse (in parallel thirds). Of course, "legal" or not, it sounds strange. It's the kind of things you think "it won't work" when you see it on paper. Then, you play this with a harpsichord and the passing dissonances sounds a lot softer, especially if you use a different articulation for each voice; you sing something similar with a trained chorus capable of distinguish each line in the texture and nobody cares. That's why a plain midi-like interpretation of Bach makesit uncomprehensible sometimes.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 21, 2008):
< There is an interesting example of what sounds dissonant in the prelude in F book 2 WTC from bar 53 to 54. But each hand has its own separate logic. >
It seems and sounds plain enough to me, even though it looks a bit odd on the page with the voice-leading.

Bars 51 and 52 use notes from the D minor scale and firmly establish it. In bar 53 the Eb (a note foreign to D minor) comes into the treble, signalling the ear that we're going either to Bb major or G minor. Then, the last three treble notes (A-G#-F#) of bar 53, and all of 54, use the notes of the A minor scale; indeed all of bar 54 is a dominant-seventh (E major) firmly setting up the A minor cadence that is coming in 56. So, since we're going toward A minor, the first half of bar 53 in retrospect sounds like Bb major over a D pedal point, which is an ordinary Neapolitan in A minor. Neapolitan - V7 - i6/4 - V7 - i.

I try to hear whole bars (or most of bars) attentive to their scale content, instead of focusing on the momentary surprise in bar 53 of the melodic Bb-A-G#-F# over a D-C. Over this whole passage Bach is merely decorating his motion from a D minor scale into A minor, isn't he, finishing out the section so bar 57 can take us back to the tonic F major?

And the whole piece is felt at the level of flowing minims ("half notes"). Way down at the level of quavers ("eighth notes") anything goes.

Jean Laaninen wrote (January 21, 2008):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< And the whole piece is felt at the level of flowing minims ("half notes"). Way down at the level of quavers ("eighth notes") anything goes. >
I am in agreement with what Brad says about the eighth notes. These ornamentations in my view do not represent an effort to create dissonance, but rather serve to keep the forward motion of the contrasting melodies interesting and in some cases appealing. Thanks for making this case, Brad.

Julian Mincham wrote (January 21, 2008):
[To Bradley Lehman] The word 'dissonance' is often used loosely although when it has a qualifying adjective it can be more ?meaningful in different contexts e.g. tonal dissonance.

I consider that the term refers to the degree of tension (or not) that is generated by the sounding together of different intervals?in particular contexts.

If the word is used to cover other musical aspects such as the convergence of different modes/keys, false relation, melodic ambiguities etc then it is useful to qualify it's precise meaning within the given contexts.

The example of the Fmaj prelude is not, to my mind a good example of Bach's use of 'dissonance' in the proper sense. The few discords in this section are mild and generated by purely conventional means, mostly resolving passing notes of various kinds.??

Laureano Lopez wrote (January 21, 2008):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< I try to hear whole bars (or most of bars) attentive to their scale content, instead of focusing on the momentary surprise in bar 53 of the melodic Bb-A-G#-F# over a D-C. >
It's not exactly "out of context", of course. The interesting thing is that a classical composer might have changed the melody because of the scale contradiction, and probably used the variation then to make it "thematic". Bach follows the progression with no concern about the discordance because his harmonic conception... is different :D

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 21, 2008):
Jean Laaninen wrote:
< I am in agreement with what Brad says about the eighth notes. These ornamentations in my view do not represent an effort to create dissonance, but rather serve to keep the forward motion of the contrasting melodies interesting and in some cases appealing. Thanks for making this case, Brad. >
That F major prelude (of the Well-Tempered Clavier book 2), despite appearances on the page, is pretty much a two-voiced piece...that happens to have occasional notes sustained, making it look like a more-voiced piece. The Sarabande Double in the D minor English Suite does this, too. It's a great textural trick to use on harpsichords, sounding like simple two-part motion on the surface, but with a halo of sustained sound occasionally emerging to bring out harmonic events.

For some concert program notes last March, playing this F major prelude and fugue, I wrote: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/2007mar13.htm
"Its prelude is apparently an extraordinary study of harpsichord resonance, with an effect both beautiful and spooky. Almost all of it is in steadily flowing notes, with one voice per hand...but with individual notes being held much longer to make glowing chords, after the melody has already moved beyond them. As Aldwell suggested in both his writing and playing, it is a candidate for Bach's Most Beautiful Prelude." (My reference to Aldwell in there was to the booklet notes in the late Edward Aldwell's set of the WTC, played on piano.)

Bartok's piano edition of this prelude marks it "sempre legatissimo", and suggests a tempo of half note = 72 to 76.

Jean Laaninen wrote (January 22, 2008):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< For some concert program notes last March, playing this F major prelude and fugue, I wrote: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/2007mar13.htm >
This lengthy article is well thought out, and in view of recent discussions I recommend anyone who has been in on the discussion of dissonance in Bach or in general take a look. I saved a copy to my computer so I can go back and finish this later, but the ideas have a lot of merit.

Laureano Lopez wrote (January 22, 2008):
< For some concert program notes last March, playing this F major prelude and fugue, I wrote: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/2007mar13.htm >
Excellent article... By the way, I didn't know who you were, heh. I apologize in advance for all my subsequent inevitable ignorance; I'm still a beginner, in Bach... and in music.

That said, I'm very curious about that temperament encoded in WTC title page. I know very little about temperament in general, and I want to learn. Do you have any recommendation before starting to read your articles or I can start there?

< "Its prelude is apparently an extraordinary study of harpsichord resonance, with an effect both beautiful and spooky. Almost all of it is in steadily flowing notes, with one voice per hand...but with individual notes being held much longer to make glowing chords, after the melody has already moved beyond them. >
According to my History classes, this texture was borrowed from lute writing. I've always found it rather "guitaristic" compared with other usual keyboard textures. When played on the piano with a soft and light articulation and a fluid, non mechanical phrasing, it makes it sound almost like a harp. Very beautiful.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 22, 2008):
< I know very little about temperament in general, and I want to learn. Do you have any recommendation before starting to read your articles or I can start there? >
Maybe the best of my articles for an introduction are these two:
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/larips/art.html
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/larips/informal.html

...before diving into the bigger and more comprehensive:
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/larips/outline.html

Those also have citations of important printed resources about history and practice.

And some of the videos demonstrate the tuning process hands-on, or provide the same music played in several different temperaments for comparison:
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/larips/videos.html

<< "Its prelude is apparently an extraordinary study of harpsichord resonance, with an effect both beautiful and spooky. Almost all of it is in steadily flowing notes, with one voice per h...but with individual notes being held much longer to make glowing chords, after the melody has already moved beyond them. >>
< According to my History classes, this texture was borrowed from lute writing. I've always found it rather "guitaristic" compared with other usual keyboard textures. When played on the piano with a soft and light articulation and a fluid, non mechanical phrasing, it makes it sound almost like a harp. Very beautiful. >
Yes, related to "style brise" from the French lute and harpsichord tradition. An excellent book on that is David Ledbetter's Harpsichord and lute music in 17th century France. I should probably reread it myself soon, working on some Froberger, Purcell, and F. Couperin for a concert next month.

Some of Bach's keyboard music might have these sustained voices implied, even if it's not notated that way to hold some of the individual notes longer. (This is one thing that pianists tend not to "get" nearly as quickly as harpsichordists, where it's a basic technique to do this "overholding" sometimes on harpsichord even if the score doesn't say so.) The classic example is Bach's transcription of a published Francois Couperin piece into Anna Magdalena's notebook: Couperin's version has two separate voices written out for the left hand, while Bach's transcription makes it look like a single voice...but presumably still to be played as if it's two, with similar sostenuto. It's sort of akin to (usually un-notated) piano pedaling across several notes to warm up the sound.

Some other candidates for this "overholding" with the fingers are the Allemandes in Bach's French suites 3, 4, and 6....

 

The most dissonant Bach part

Continue of discussion from: Members of the Bach Mailing Lists - Year 2009

Morten Lambertsen wrote (February 24, 2009):
Johnson Nicholas wrote:
< I think I may have found the most dissonant Bach part writing. Cast your eyes over bar 33 second quaver in the g sharp minor fugue book one. From the top B,D sharp, C double sharp, B sharp. What do you reckon ? >
Very dissonant indeed, but still 'just' part writing within an A# with a b9 suspension, all the accidentals just makes it look more complex than it really is I think.

I can't recall anything more "dissonant" in the 48's than the two last quavers ms. 24 of the a-mi. fugue WK I (Ami/c - sus 4 + 9 to Dmi 6/7). These two "chords" are a perfect result of pairs of polyphonic voices in contrary motion. Played out of context they sound like Hindemith or Bartok.

Kristian J. (Szaginder) wrote (February 24, 2009):
[To Johnson Nicholas] Can the score be trusted???

Morten Lambertsen wrote (February 24, 2009):
Kristian J. wrote:
< Can the score be trusted??? >
I should think so, I've got the Henle Ed. And no recordings I've ever heard differs. Though dissonant, it makes perfect sense of course, very stimulating clashes:-). Also the a-minor's got that sense of contrapunctal essay ('Quod erat demonstrandum') with a more motivically than melodically driven theme inverted in 2. half.

David Jones wrote (February 24, 2009):
[To Morten Lambertsen] What about the terribly dissonant fugue in BWV 46? That's a dissonance festival.

Morten Lambertsen wrote (February 24, 2009):
[To David Jones] There are many passages in BAch of course, but the progression from the a-mi. is to my ears the most dissonant in WK, due to the voice-leading taking absolute precedence over harmony, it's not 'Ausdrucksdissonanz' as f.i. the Kreuz-motifs of the cantatas or passions. I will surely check BWV 46 when I get from work, thanks!

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 24, 2009):
All dissonance in the WTC (or any of the other keyboard music) is also affected by the way the instrument is tuned: not simply plunking all the notes on an equal-tempered piano, and expecting that experiment to give a definitive answer.

Even the spot that somebody mentioned in the g#m fugue bar 33 (B#, Cx, and D# being struck together under a held B natural in the soprano) doesn't sound especially crunchy, here on my harpsichord, played with a single 8' set of strings. I have it tuned as described here: http://www.larips.com

The passage simply has two non-harmonic neighboring tones (the B# and the D#) happening at the same time, in opposite directions.... The harmony is a major triad with a minor 9th, isn't it? A#, Cx, E#, [G#], and the B.

I took that same five-note 9th chord and transposed it to all the positions in that vicinity of the keyboard, still in that temperament. It seems to me in comparing them that when it's built on A# (or Bb), i.e. placed where Bach did here in the g#m composition, it has the gentlest effect of any of these transpositions. The "most dissonant"
transpositions seem to be C-E-G-Bb-Db and Ab-C-Eb-Gb-Bbb. B-D#-F#-A-C is pretty strong, too. With G, A, Db, or D as the bass note, the dissonance of the whole thing seems to be at a more medium level.

In unequal temperaments, whenever any complex chord gets transposed to some other root, the "dissonant" (or not) quality of the chord changes somewhat. If I'm right about this Bach temperament, it's interesting (at least to me) that he put his 9th chord where it sounds gentlest.

Similarly, in ensemble music, "dissonance" can be moderated or enhanced quite a bit by the way the players/singers are inflecting their parts, in pitch.

Neil Halliday wrote (February 25, 2009):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>not simply plunking all the notes on an equal-tempered piano, and expecting that experiment to give a definitive answer.<
No doubt true, but given an equal-temperament keyboard, I think we can agree that spot in bar 33 of the G# minor fugue is empirically one of the most 'crunchy' places in WTC I. Interestingly, the B major fugue in WTC 2 (also with 5 sharps in the key signature) , has similarly crunchy dissonance in bar 55, especially if played on a sustaining keyboard, so that the A in the soprano sounds continuously for two crotchets.

Tutomu Nagamiya Tutomu wrote (February 25, 2009):
I think I could mention another "most dissonant" one.

4 part chorale "Christus, der ist mein Leben" BWV 282 that is perhaps taken from cantata BWV 95/1.
Please look at the score (and play the notes). http://scores.ccarh.org/bach/chorale/chorales.pdf#page=20

Nicholas Johnson wrote (February 25, 2009):
[To Tutomu Nagamiya] Yes this is a pretty strange sounding chorale.

Kristian J. (Szaginder) wrote (February 25, 2009):
[To Tutomu Nagamiya] How nice! A whole set of chorales. Very useful.
But there are two "Christus, der ist mein Leben" ?

Morten Lambertsen wrote (February 26, 2009):
[To Kristian J.] I'm sure it's the one in G-ma., on 'Sterben'. Very dissonant indeed! It's wordpainting more in the style of the recitatives. But the strangest/most advanced progression (though not most dissonant) in a Bach chorale still has to be the opening of the famous BWV 60 chorale, 'Es ist genug'.

Bruce Simonson wrote (February 26, 2009):
The most dissonant Bach part - BWV 60:5?

How about the concluding chorale "Est is genug" from O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort (BWV 60)? Webern wrote it into his concerto for violin. This isn't exactly what I would call dissonant, but it does sound remarkably "modern".

Speaking of Webern, I wonder how folks on this list feel about the Webern arrangement of the the 6 part Ricerar in Bach's Musical Offering (BWV 1079). I've been thinking of various ways to present the Musical Offering (BWV 1079) in a single concert, and wonder if the Webern vs an arrangement with less "Klangfarbenmelodieismus" might be interesting on the same program.

CF: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klangfarbenmelodie

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 26, 2009):
Bruce Simonson wrote:
< Speaking of We, I wonder how folks on this list feel about the Webern arrangement of the the 6 part Ricerar in Bach's Musical Offering (BWV 1079). I've been thinking of various ways to present the Musical Offering (BWV 1079) in a single concert, and wonder if the Webern vs an arrangement with less "Klangfarbenmelodieismus" might be interesting on the same program. >
Robert Hill did that in a concert in October 2007, putting the original harpsichord version and the Webern arrangement together: http://www.robert-hill-live.blogspot.com/
"24 November 2007" near the bottom of that blog page.

In March 2007 I played it on harpsichord at an afternoon concert, and then a string ensemble played a straightforward arrangement (not Webern's) there the same evening: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/2007mar13.htm
"Concert 2: Preludes and Fugues"

On organ: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0wd0EN2rBA

John Harding wrote (February 27, 2009):
< the concluding chorale "Est is genug" from O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort (BWV 60)? Webern wrote it into his concerto for violin >
Berg, I think. The ascending tritone, which also forms the tail of his very elegant tonerow, is so treated in the last movement that if you take it together with the dedication, it seems to suggest unmistakably the ascent of a soul to heaven.

Peter Smaill wrote (February 27, 2009):
[To John Harding] It is indeed Alban Berg's violin concerto which lifts this extraordinarily tonally complex chorale, though I myself would not strictly speaking call it dissonant. I may be wrong and others will have a better grasp of the exact meaning of "dissonance". It is primarily chromatic and tonally unorthodox. The commencing three whole tones are known as the "diabolus in musica", the devil in music. Dürr sees it as the crossing over of the soul from life into death.

Dissonance, being for example the sustained clash of two adjacent semitones, seems to me to be often related to death as the chorale example from BWV 95 shows. I'd also argue that the alleged false notes in the central (i.e., post-crucifixion) chorale, "Ich hab mein sach Gott heimgestellt" of the apocryphal St Luke Passion (BWV 246), not necessarily totally unaltered by Bach, show this hermeneutic , as does the chorale prelude of the same name BWV 1113. So does the WTC fugue Bk 1 no. 18 in G sharp minor. (Both these last two examples also have exactly 41 bars, J S BACH in the number alphabet!). Bk 1 No 4 in C sharp minor, often considered the most religious in imagery, has a cracking discord caused by the sharp dissonance of the diminished seventh followed by the even more extraordinary C sharp-A-E sharp-G sharp-C sharp (bar 112) , the point of fusion of the three subjects. The theological implication is the action of the Trinity in the work of the Cross.

Both the chorale in BWV 95 which broadens to a slow metre and "Ich hab" , which also is so treated in Leipzig in Bach's time, contemplate death. The "verba emphatica " are "Sterben ist mein Gewinn" ("To die is my gain")

We all make slip ups and Berg is no exception for the transposition of "Es ist genug" according to Chafe is faulty!

Bruce Simonson wrote (February 27, 2009):
Bruce Simonson wrote:
< How about the concluding chorale "Est is genug" from O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort (BWV 60)? Webern wrote it into his concerto for violin. >
Oops, my doofus. Berg composed the violin concerto with the quote from BWV 60, not Webern. Hard day at work, and perhaps too much Webern on the brain.

Brad, thanks for the links and ideas for the Ricercar.

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 27, 2009):
Bruce Simonson wrote:
< Oops, my doofus. Berg composed the violin concerto with the quote from BWV 60, not Webern. Hard day at work, and perhaps too much Webern on the brain. >

I hope you've heard Webern's recording of the Berg concerto, where he conducted a BBC orch and Louis Krasner played. Wonderful...despite the dim and scratchy sound.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 28, 2009):
Dissonant Bach

>Berg, I think. The ascending tritone, which also forms the tail of his very elegant tonerow, is so treated in the last movement that if you take it together with the dedication, it seems to suggest unmistakably the ascent of a soul to heaven.<
What is the dedication?

In most music, I hear the slippery slide to Limbo, Purgatory, or worse. Perhaps that is just me being me? Or me being Monkish? For example, Epistrophy from the the new Benny Golson CD <New Time, New Tet>. Highly recommended for anyone who recognizes the name Benny (Ben Jammin) Golson.

 

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Last update: ýMarch 2, 2009 ý12:13:03