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  1. Brian says

    And of course the Dies Irae gets quoted all over the place by other (less famous) composers, particularly in the 20th century. George Crumb uses it to good effect in a couple of pieces, “Black Angels” being the most obvious.

    I certainly hadn’t noticed that it appeared in Star Wars before this, however.

  2. says

    The best Dies Irae ever written was the one in Faure’s Requiem, embedded in the baritone solo Libera Me. (I may be an atheist, but gorgeous music is gorgeous music.)

    I have to say, though, that this was a clever presentation. It is interesting how certain motifs keep popping up generation after generation.

  3. knowknot says

    Can’t believe I hadn’t heard it in some of those settings. A whack to the head there.
    It’s endlessly surprising to me, having studied music for however long, how powerful and even fresh a simple line can be, after a thousand iterations.

  4. Al Dente says

    I’ll never be able to hear “Tubular Bells” again without thinking of “Deis Irae”.

  5. says

    The presenter of that video, Tom Allen has a radio program on CBC 2 every afternoon.
    I’m enjoying it while I can as our Republican Prime Minister is slowly killing the CBC. He has expressed great admiration for Fox News so I’m guessing he’ll sell it to Rupert Murdoch. That way we won’t be wasting our tax dollars on elitist crap like Tom Allen.

  6. says

    I heard Mozarts Requiem by a chamber choir in an old wooden church in the middle of nowhere. Just when Dies Irae started, a thunderstorm broke out. Fantastic.

  7. toro says

    Interesting. The tune is also used as the title music for Kubrick’s The Shining and Dreyer’s Vredens dag (Day of Wrath) (indeed the latter is named after it), and is chanted by the flagellants’ procession in Bergman’s Det sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal).

  8. Sunday Afternoon says

    @Gregory in Seattle:

    I sing in an early music choir for exactly that reason – the music is exquisite, and sometime we are able to demonstrate that in our concerts.

    A recurring theme for us is not the Dies Irae (we don’t do many requiem masses), but the tune L’homme armé: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%27homme_arm%C3%A9 (I’m pretty sure we have sung the two Josquin masses mentioned as well as the one by Morales.)

  9. twas brillig (stevem) says

    “I may be an atheist, but gorgeous music is gorgeous music.”
    But it’s gorgeous only because God exists! Take that, you atheist scum.
    ————————————————————————————-
    /snark] err. *cough* *cough*, sorry, Sunday sets me weird… I just had to throw that snark out, cuz I’ve heard similar too many times. “without God how can there be beauty?” “All great music comes from religiots, so therefore proof of God.” etc, etc apologies, Sundays is so temptin… ^_^

  10. says

    @twas brillig #11 – “Without God how can there be beauty?” At which point I ask: “Which god, out of the dozens in current use, and why that one rather than one of the others?” Watching them try to process the questions can be quite amusing.

  11. hyphenman says

    Good morning all,

    I need nothing supernatural to find perfect beauty in a well-formed equation.

    e^(i)(pi)+1=0… Euler’s number raised to the power of (i times pi), added to one equals zero.
    i
    Do all you can to make today a better day,

    Jeff
    Have Coffee Will Write

  12. hyphenman says

    That great artists created great works of art (at least in Western Civilization) for the one organization that had more money than it knew what to do with, is no great leap.

    Chant speaks to us because the composers worked in a rarefied realm where the sequence of notes was required to be perfect in the same way the words of the deity were understood to be perfect. Gregory’s rules for chant were draconian and that perhaps is why the music has lasted 40 human generations.

  13. says

    Sunday Afternoon.
    and of course L’homme armé is responsible for the high point of Western music:
    “the great Flemish composer Josquin Despres wrote two mass settings on it. One of these masses we don’t in fact give a damn about, but the other one, the one in the sixth mode, which was written around 1500, has a rather special place in musical history. About half of the way through the Credo of this Missa L’homme Armé occurs a unique event, an event that the physicist might well call the ‘singularity of music’”
    A Peek at the Peak

  14. ealloc says

    What evidence is there that all these composers intentionally quoted the Dies Irae, rather than simply coming up with the same 4-note sequence by chance? It seems like a pretty obvious sequence.

    Never forget the null model!

  15. unclefrogy says

    I am not really that familiar with classical music not enough to notice things like that surely. I am not doubting it because I can hear things like that in Jazz all the time both in the compositions themselves as well as the solos.

    Here is something interesting. Music is intellectual as well as emotional but it as in this case does not use words to communicate it uses just a sequence of tones not language which we find so appealing that we have been using it for 100’s of years. In some sense it communicates under the the mind..
    What is it saying to us and how does it do that? Are there other themes in music that have been used as long? Are they used in other musical traditions like Indian, Chinese or Arabic? Universal themes?
    I’ll go out on a limb here that it is not music comes from god, it is the closest to the divine anyone will ever get close to, it comes from the same place gods comes from

    uncle frogy

  16. zenlike says

    17 ealloc

    What evidence is there that all these composers intentionally quoted the Dies Irae, rather than simply coming up with the same 4-note sequence by chance? It seems like a pretty obvious sequence.

    Most composers don’t work in a vacuum, they know a lot of previous music, and this tune is well known by probably most of them. That doesn’t mean that they used this tune intentionally.

    Also, in earlier times, it was quite common for composers and musicians to quote freely from fellow composers. Copyright is a fairly novel thing in human history.

  17. skaduskitai says

    @ Gregory. I sang that requiem with a choir once, and when the first theme in libera me repeats itself in the choir was one of the most magical moments and best perfomances I’ve ever been apart of. Thanx for reminding me.

  18. Sunday Afternoon says

    @richardelguru:

    thanks for that link – amusing, especially the comment about Gesualdo (you have to have sung Gesualdo to really appreciate that comment).

    It does however allude to the point that is often overlooked. These early composers didn’t have instruments, only voices to work with. Over the course of 1000 years or so, most things that could be explored musically were tried with voices.

    In some sense the invention of instruments has been an opportunity for western music to repeat itself.

    And in response to @hyphenman:

    I agree – I made a similar comment that got published by Andrew Sullivan wondering how many of these composers did it because that’s what they were good at and not necessarily believers? (http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/?s=dufay). I’m the “Update from a reader”.

  19. says

    @ealloc #17 – The evidence is circumstantial: when the motif keeps reappearing in themes associated with death, it is a reasonable conclusion. Most of the pieces quoted in the video were written by composers who had a classical music education and who were almost certainly exposed to the Gregorian Dies Irae melody and understood its context as a piece of music. Those who were not probably had enough exposure to classical music to recognize the motif as being associated with death, even if only subconsciously.

  20. says

    @skaduskitai #20 – I sang it as part of a community choir concert many years ago, as second tenor. I auditioned for the solo but, alas, I was not quite strong enough in that range for the part. I agree that the point where the whole choir comes in after the first solo is moving, especially when you are right there in the middle of it.

    That’s what I love so much about Faure’s Requiem. Most requiem settings are aggressive, judgmental, and scream “Let me tell you about the thousands of reasons why God will send you to Hell.” The Gregorian setting very stark, even for plainsong, and the text is written in a more formal meter than most sequences. Faure’s interpretation is hopeful and reflective: the only seriously aggressive part is the much abbreviated Dies Irae, and even that is couched in a gentle plea for mercy.

    The Requiem is in the public domain now; it would be an interesting project to write a secular libretto to go with the music.

  21. unclefrogy says

    how or why would a particular sequence of tones be recognized as associated with death?
    uncle frogy

  22. timberwoof says

    Uncle Frogy, that would not happen intrinsically, but by association. Just as movie composers develop themes for characters, we grow up hearing certain melodies at certain occasions.

    Baa-dump. … Baa-dump. … Baa-dump Baa-dump Baa-dump!

    Are you cringing? Did you associate that with danger? How?

    John Williams, Howard Shore, and Hans Zimmer are masters at creating themes and associating them with characters and ideas in the movies they score music for; all the classical composers did that sort of thing. So in answer to your question, when Europe was Catholic, people heard the simple memorable “Dies Irae” theme at funeral masses, and more recently in various creepy movies. Someone not from this culture would probably not have the same association.

    That said, Gabriel Fauré’s Dies Irae does not contain the older classical theme. (If you want to run out to get a CD of that, I recommend one with a real boys choir. I like the recording by the Choir of King’s College; I can tell the singers enjoyed performing it.)

  23. consciousness razor says

    To add to zenlike’s point, it fits thematically with the works. They weren’t ignorant of it as a historical point of reference, and this sort of “quoting” or “borrowing” of material is a very common practice throughout music history (in the Western tradition and elsewhere). It isn’t always seen as plagiarism, but more like using an idiomatic expression in a natural language. If I wrote something like “I’m going to the store,” nobody would think it’s a problem that somebody else had said that before at some time in history. I had not independently invented that phrase, or something structurally similar to that phrase, just by chance. I used it because it was already there in my culture, and that is why other people would understand it to have the meaning it does.

    So in addition to what zenlike said, the examples given are strongly programmatic works, meaning they don’t lack an extramusical meaning. In that part of the film or symphony or whatever, there is a story, and that story has something or other to do with death. That is the sort of motivation you have for intentionally quoting something that an audience (if it’s also familiar with the past literature) will associate with death. You might try to obscure that fact any number of ways, by burying it in a complicated texture or changing it to a near-quotation or something. Or, like Berlioz did for Symphonie Fantastique, the quotation might be extremely transparent and almost comical. It depends on what you want to do, but there’s nothing unlikely or implausible about people doing that. What’s unlikely is picking random numbers out of a hat and arriving at the same sequence of pitches.

    Also, I don’t know what an “obvious sequence” is supposed to mean. I sort of wish I did. Writing would probably be a lot easier.

    It does however allude to the point that is often overlooked. These early composers didn’t have instruments, only voices to work with. Over the course of 1000 years or so, most things that could be explored musically were tried with voices.

    In some sense the invention of instruments has been an opportunity for western music to repeat itself.

    Well, there were instruments (for tens of thousands of years), but those people didn’t use them. Typically because people in the Church were total hardasses about “secular” music.

  24. parasiteboy says

    I’ll have to listen for this next time I watch Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather and The Color of Magic when DEATH appears.

  25. lynnwilhelm says

    Don’t I hear that same musical motif in the later Doctor Who episodes?

  26. Sunday Afternoon says

    Well, there were instruments (for tens of thousands of years), but those people didn’t use them. Typically because people in the Church were total hardasses about “secular” music.

    Very good point! Thanks for the reminder.

  27. Amphiox says

    What evidence is there that all these composers intentionally quoted the Dies Irae, rather than simply coming up with the same 4-note sequence by chance? It seems like a pretty obvious sequence.

    Common descent versus convergent evolution!

    Given that all these examples were associated with death, given the cultural importance and influence the Catholic Church has had over the development of Western music, given that this particular tune is pretty much part of the “standard curriculum” in western music, it is very likely that the reference to Dies Irae is indeed intentional.

    how or why would a particular sequence of tones be recognized as associated with death?

    Largely because the Catholic Church arbitrarily decided that it would be, and proceeded to employ the sequence for funerary rites, and since the Catholic Church had a de facto monopoly on funerary rites in the Western world for several centuries, plus its enormous cultural influence in general, the association was reinforced, at least in the Western world.

  28. unclefrogy says

    I’m not questioning any subsequent composer using old patterns of tones from old music. I am wondering how those were chosen in the first place they are not used today because they are old they are chosen and reused so often because they work. They worked the first time in audiences that had not heard them before. They evoked the sentiment that was desired in people who heard it. How do sequences of tones elicit emotional response in the first place? Just tones.
    As in this case why do these tones evoke death and dieing and not some other ones?
    uncle frogy

  29. unclefrogy says

    I am not sure our emotional response to art and as here music can be controlled by authority and fiat.

  30. says

    I can’t hear the similarity in any of those pieces. I am particularly incompetent when it comes to music and didn’t realise people sang using notes until I was in my late teens, I thought singing was purely about the aesthetics of someone’s voice (and no one bothered to explain it because it’s obvious to most people). Tubular Bells sounds nothing like those monks singing—the monks are all deep and long sounds, TB is short, jingly sounds.

    Don’t get me wrong, I believe that it’s the same tune, but I can’t tell it’s the same tune. Is anyone else like that?

  31. consciousness razor says

    how or why would a particular sequence of tones be recognized as associated with death?

    Largely because the Catholic Church arbitrarily decided that it would be, and proceeded to employ the sequence for funerary rites, and since the Catholic Church had a de facto monopoly on funerary rites in the Western world for several centuries, plus its enormous cultural influence in general, the association was reinforced, at least in the Western world.

    I don’t think I would put it that way. Of course you need some cultural backdrop to get a Western music theory framework in the first place, but once you assume that much, you don’t really need “reinforcement” from anybody else. You have ancient Greek and Roman music, which presumably was blended somewhat with the music of the people the Romans conquered. Then the Empire fell, and by that time, Christianity had already assumed the role of dominating what the culture in Europe was like. There just wasn’t adequate communication or transportation at the time for anyone to even consider a larger culture that included music from Africa, the Middle East, Russia, India, China, etc.

    Very little that was really fundamental had actually originated after ca. 400 A.D., when the Church was effectively the only player in town. It’s sort of like what happened in architecture, leading up to and during the Renaissance (and after, frankly). Gradually, humanists in the Church (or basically the only people who were literate) saw everything crumbling around them and figured that somebody must have somehow managed to build all of those ancient, classical ruins in the first place — if only they could do that sort of thing again, things would be better. (Of course, they didn’t just “figure” it, but actually started studying ancient works that more or less told them what they’d need to know.) So, they took things like ancient Greek theories of melody/harmony, put their own spin on it, and turned it into a real system which could be written down, spread like wildfire and eventually be developed into lots of different theories. They tweaked it a bit here and there, whether they realized it or not (probably not), but it’s basically still a classical Greco-Roman theory. They simply didn’t have access to classical Indian music or classical Chinese music or whatever, so they took what they had and went from there.

    I’m not questioning any subsequent composer using old patterns of tones from old music. I am wondering how those were chosen in the first place they are not used today because they are old they are chosen and reused so often because they work. They worked the first time in audiences that had not heard them before. They evoked the sentiment that was desired in people who heard it. How do sequences of tones elicit emotional response in the first place? Just tones.
    As in this case why do these tones evoke death and dieing and not some other ones?

    Besides any cultural “reinforcement” from the Church (or elsewhere), as Amphiox mentions in #30, the melody also has a certain funereal, melancholy, dirge-like quality to it. It just sort of plods along, circling around kind of aimlessly in one little corner of pitch space, like it just can’t avoid being obsessed with the tonic (or technically with the “final”, depending on which setting we’re talking about). So you get a certain sense of inevitability about it, and it’s almost painful that it can’t seem to get out of the rut that it’s in. Thus: death! This is obviously not any sort of rigorous analysis, but just describing the kinds of loose associations people tend to make. This part (if you leave aside cultural differences) is a difficult question about human psychology, which hasn’t really been explained fully. So if that’s your question, it currently lacks a very satisfying answer.

    The mode itself is minor, so harmonically, it does have some properties that are just plain dissonant according the general music tradition we’re talking about here (there are apparently some human psychological universals to talk about here, but this isn’t one of them). But despite that, there is plenty of “happy,” not-preoccupied-with-death, music that has those same properties. That’s simply to say that what people get out of it is not just a matter of the pitch content, but also lots of other things like rhythm, tempo, texture, timbre, large-scale structure/development, etc. (Also, lyrics by themselves will suggest something to you, even if you wouldn’t have gotten that purely out of the music.) That’s why you might interpret different performances of the “same” piece differently: somebody might keep all of the pitches the same (at least part of a melody, let’s say), but vary nearly everything else. It’s going to sound very different to you, and consequently you’ll make somewhat different associations based on that (again, assuming you are accustomed to this kind of music in the first place, not necessarily if it’s completely foreign to you). The pitches do of course have their own effect, but that’s just one piece of the bigger puzzle.

  32. unclefrogy says

    I would agree that the explanations are not very satisfying. I have no idea how it could be studied as it is so entangled with everything else.
    I just find it fascinating that sound itself without words can communicate anything at all let alone the profound things it does.
    feels like trying to grab jello in your hands

    the worst thing I can imagine is being deaf a world without music would hardly be worth living.
    uncle frogy

  33. timberwoof says

    Alan, they are not exactly the same tunes; they are “very similar”, meaning the same note progressions happen in similar rhythms … and not always the whole melody. And often the melody being discussed is somewhat hidden behind other melodies, and, as you pointed out, is not being sung by the same instruments or voices.

    Uncle Frogy and Alan, a huge part of this is dependent on whether you grew up being exposed to this sort of music. I recently joked with friends that the lack of funding for music education is what led to the popularity of rap. Rap doesn’t fit in to my expectations of what music is about; it scares me and makes me want to run away … and I totally get that it’s an acculturation thing.

    A friend of mine was a music major in college. She demonstrated what a music theory teacher did in class: she played two chords for me on her piano. And for some reason I squirmed and quivered until she played a third chord. I felt relief; I could relax. She approved. She said that that chord progression had this effect on only half the class, those who had been exposed to classical music growing up. The other students asked, “What just happened?”

    What happened was that I had grown up with “classical” (meaning Western [but not Country &])) music being played all the time on the stereo, and I learned in an intuitive way the sorts of things that are expected in that sort of musical structure. Part of that is that chords are expected to follow certain patterns. And in that structure, the note progression of Dies Irae will have that sort of effect … on someone acculturated in its traditions.

  34. Brian says

    ealloc@#17: Actually, I would say the onus would be on your hypothesis, to explain how these composers could have gotten to where they were without being aware of the Dies Irae. It is one of the most famous themes in Western classical music, if not the most. In any case, a number of those composers noted their use of the Dies Irae theme explicitly,

    But more importantly, it’s NOT a four-note theme. The first phrase alone is eight notes. (Or seven notes with the last covering two syllables, if you prefer.)

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/score/i/q/iq19jyisg0gvhz04vlsfo6ti0087whn/iq19jyis.png

    Some of the works in the video only quote the initial phrase, but many composers quote the entire line.

  35. gmacs says

    Let’s be glad that the old monks didn’t have a concept of “copyright” or none of the rest would ever have happened…

    But, wouldn’t anything written by Yahweh automatically go to public domain? Otherwise these fuckers could copyright the sunset, by their logic.

    I suppose this video explains my love of Rachmaninoff’s music.

  36. says

    @consciousness razor #35 – Actually, church music avoided the Ionic and Aeolian modes, which would later become the major and minor scales in modern music. I believe the Dies Irae is in the Dorian mode, which runs from D to D. The major and minor keys of modern music are the Ionic and Aeolian modes, respectively; the Church did not use them, which is how they came to be the basis for secular music.

  37. consciousness razor says

    @consciousness razor #35 – Actually, church music avoided the Ionic and Aeolian modes, which would later become the major and minor scales in modern music.

    Those weren’t “avoided,” depending on who and when you’re talking about. Also, modes don’t “become” scales, because they are all scales. Modality eventually developed into tonality. Also, it’s called “Ionian mode,” not “Ionic.”

    I believe the Dies Irae is in the Dorian mode, which runs from D to D.

    That is correct…. sort of. It can run from any note to that same note, so this isn’t especially informative. If they had pianos with white keys back then, it would’ve run from D to D on the white keys… or from some other note to that note an octave above on whichever keys. The information about transposition isn’t the sort of information you really need to convey, if you think you’re telling me something I don’t already know.

    In any case, just to add an interesting tidbit here … it originally didn’t have any particular transposition, because at the time it was simply taken as a given that pitches were relative, so there wasn’t a universally recognized fixed tuning to put into the notation to guide performance: whatever pitches they happened to start on is where they started, and that’s it. So who really knows what it sounded like back then? It’s not just a matter of how high or low they were singing. Their ability (and willingness) to control intonation and their interpretation of the notation might not be very close to what we’d hear today (if we could even talk about who “they” are, but performance practice certainly varied a lot from group to group). The most you can really be certain about is a vague melodic contour and a vague sense of the rhythm, with only a pretty decent idea about the pitch content — but there are a lot of interpretational hoops to jump through just to get there, when we’re talking about such an early piece of music.

    The major and minor keys of modern music are the Ionic and Aeolian modes, respectively; the Church did not use them, which is how they came to be the basis for secular music.

    That’s not true. Or maybe I don’t know how to make sense of what you’re saying.

    As I said, modality and tonality are different things. These particular modes we’re talking about (“Church modes”) are permutations/rotations of the diatonic scale*, but how you use that material makes a huge difference. Music was predominantly “modal” for a very long time, whether it was sacred or secular. What we know about now tends to be sacred music, but there was certainly lots of “secular” music in the streets and festivals and so forth in everyday life which was never recorded (it was certainly talked about and “recorded” in that sense, but not transcribed or generally treated very seriously as an object of study). So, there was lots of modal secular music for a long time, before tonality ever came onto the scene.

    This music is only “tonal” in a very broad sense that there is a pitch center, or a note that will finish a phrase the piece as a whole. There is a sense of resolution toward it, but that’s about it. People started using more and more functional harmony in the neighborhood of 1600-1700 A.D. to basically define a key, a system of tertian harmony (harmonies stacked in scalar thirds, or every other degree in a scale), and different chord progressions. They came to be conceived of “vertically” and progressing as a unit to a new vertical sonority, instead of simply as several “horizontal” (polyphonic) lines being set against each other “harmoniously.” So the very idea of what harmony is changed pretty drastically over the time period we’re talking about. It wasn’t until around Bach’s time that you could say there was really a modern sense of “tonality,” a “key,” the “function” of any given “chord,” a “progression” of such chords, a “modulation” to another key with its own progressions, or that we had even begun to settle on equal temperament such that there were only twelve chromatic pitches to work with. At this point, “the Church” was obviously still very dominant. Do I need to mention J.S. Bach one more time to let that point sink in? He did, of course, write lots of great secular music, and there were many others along for the ride with him; but there’s no sense in which “the Church did not use them” in any way that secular music did. Tonality, and the major and minor scales in the sense we think of them today, was very much a part of sacred music as soon as it was developed. So it was not a particular “mode” or “scale” or pair of them that did did anything in this long story; it was a very different way of thinking about harmony and melody itself, no matter which groups of notes you’re talking about. Indeed, people today continue to use lots of different modes/scales tonally (not just the Church modes either), but “modern music” can also be modal or atonal or whatever else.

    *In other words, the diatonic heptachord or pitch-class set or whatever you’d like to call it. This thing: [013568A], where “A” means “ten.” I should add that there are three “minor scales” that people usually talk about in reference to classical music: natural, harmonic and melodic. Aeolian is natural minor, while the other two are not in the diatonic set above. Melodic minor itself has two forms, either going up or down, so we should count it twice. When I said Dies Irae is in a “minor mode,” I mean that category includes Dorian and Phrygian and many others, because there is a tonic triad and it is a minor triad, while the rest of the notes are irrelevant.

  38. twas brillig (stevem) says

    [derail]All I know of music (you know you gotta teach me cuz I’m ME!) is the weird concepts of dividing an octave into notes. “Well tempered” vs. “Even Tempered” the difference is that “Even tempered” is essentially a purely linear division where each scale is divided exactly into 12ths linearly. So the first note is X Hz freq. One octave higher is 2X Hz. 2nd note is X+(1/12)X Hz, etc. While “Well Tempered” scales the freqs non-linearly; where the increment is 12thRoot of 2 and each note’s freq is multiplied by that factor (instead adding the X/12).
    So octave is still 2X freq. Much easier to understand my sloppy phrasing by visualizing string lengths. And I think it was J.S. Bach himself that switched over to Well Tempered. The “Well Tempered Clavier” is my only citation.
    What makes me interject my feeble incomplete knowledge, was consciousness razor’s talk of “modes”,”scales”, “tonality”, etc. Razor, does “tempering” relate in anyway to what you wrote about@46?

  39. David Marjanović says

    Tubular Bells sounds nothing like those monks singing—the monks are all deep and long sounds, TB is short, jingly sounds.

    Don’t get me wrong, I believe that it’s the same tune, but I can’t tell it’s the same tune.

    It’s not the same tune, it’s a variation of it – some of the long tones have been replaced by flourishes composed of several tones, and then all tones were given the same short length with pauses of the same length in between.

    the Church did not use them, which is how they came to be the basis for secular music

    Not the other way around – the Church avoided them precisely because they were considered secular?

    Found a cover by Therion. Holy FUCK, this is awesome.

    Same lyrics (or at least parts of them), completely different tune.

    Tonality, and the major and minor scales in the sense we think of them today, was very much a part of sacred music as soon as it was developed.

    Can you think of a church song in major that is older than Großer Gott, wir loben dich?

  40. FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!) says

    God I love this place. The things you learn, or in this case: re-learn, ’cause this was all vaguely familiar but most of what I learned in my college music courses is lost in the tinnitus filled haze that obscures my youth.

    Thanks for the theory and history lesson consciousness razor. In a good bit of coincidence for me, I’ve been working on a piece in D Lydian and it’s been frustrating. The damn thing kept sounding like it was in A maj. Your discussion of modes made me realise that I was trying to write the thing as if it were diatonic. But that can’t work because the A to D motion doesn’t have the feel of dominant to tonic resolution. Nor does the C# to D feel like a resolution because of the lack of a tritone.

    Fortunately I wasn’t so far in that I couldn’t re-write it to avoid the A chord as much as possible and to drop the fifth from the C# chord. I’m sure there’s a more elegant solution to making it sound more modal, but those changes really helped. Anyway, cheers for the help. Coincidental or not I appreciate it.

    Oh, and when I played it the first time for my six year old she said it sounded “Happy.” After the changes she said “It [now] sounds kinda happy, kinda sad.” Success!

  41. consciousness razor says

    Razor, does “tempering” relate in anyway to what you wrote about@46?

    Yes, somewhat.

    Let’s keep it simple: the only pitches your instrument can play are those in the C major scale (however many octaves). There are lots of reasonable temperaments to pick from, so assume it’s any that it isn’t equal temperament. Let’s say it’s “just intonation,” to have a specific one picked out. With this instrument, there’s a whole lot of tonal music which you simply cannot do: functional concepts like secondary dominants, modulations, altered harmonies, etc., are no use to you, because you’d have to switch to a new instrument, or somehow retune it in the middle of the performance, if you were going to even attempt to play any music like that. If you could play the “other five” of the twelve chromatic pitches (by adding some holes in your horn or something), and the five you picked are those in just intonation, you would become more and more out of tune with yourself as you went “farther” from C major (i.e., how “distant” the scales are in terms of how many notes they have in common). In fact, if I asked you to play a Db or a C#, you’d count those as two different notes and they’d both be tuned in different directions, higher and lower than equal temperament’s C#/Db — there aren’t just five more notes to make twelve, there are both sharps and flats of the seven diatonic pitches which are all slightly different.

    Every major scale in this kind of a system would have different kinds of sonorities than every other major scale. They would in a sense be structurally different from each other, despite the fact that all them are “major scales” and even though you only did something extremely simple like a transposition. (Really, you didn’t simply transpose them but had to individually work them out mathematically according to your tuning system, but I’m trying to make this point as clear as I can.) You certainly could come up with some extremely elaborate theory to account for all of that (people did, and some still use it for different things), but equal temperament is about simplifying the problem by unifying those groups of scales into one identical thing, by making a small “adjustment” to each pitch from what you would expect in just intonation.

    In modal music, this isn’t really much of a problem. You almost invariably will stay in one mode for the entire piece. That’s pretty much the point of modal music: it’s in this mode, not in another mode, so you stay there and groove on that for a good long while until you’re done. If an accidental creeps in somehow, you just treat it as, well, an accident, and have nothing much better to say about it than that. Whoops? You don’t use functional concepts like modulations or secondary chords, so you just don’t need any of this “logarithmic scale” nonsense to do any of it. But once you get into tonality (if it isn’t going to be extremely limited), it does become a major issue.

  42. timberwoof says

    Twas Brillig, no, Even-Tempered is not simple linear interpolation between octaves; it is like the ratios you described. Our hearing is logarithmic, so what sounds like the same interval between two notes is the same ratio of frequencies. If a scale was linearly interpolated from C to C, then the intervals would be too big at the low end and too small at the high end. You can even transpose chords up or down as many steps as you want and they still work; if the scales were linear, you could not.

    The problem is that a simple approach of ratios stops working across octaves, and notes that ought to sound harmonious together don’t. In a well-tempered scale the adjustments needed to make that work get spread out over all the notes of the scale, as Conscisouness Razor described.

  43. says

    Left out is Liszt’s Totentanz for piano and orchestra (which BTW he was purported to have composed while under the influence of dubious substances and was ultimately embarrassed said composition)