PBS 6: Harmony

For some time now I’ve been coming to think that the harmony question is an important one for composing today.

Harmony as François defines it: harmony as a relation between sonorities; harmony as a horizontal logic of succession of vertical objects; a logic of relation between their constituent pitches; a harmonic syntax, rather than a simple ‘field’ or spectrum or serial logic with a derived vertical dimension.

Importantly, this has to do with the question of perceptibility of the logic, which takes us back to ideological groundings: it has to do with the development of the aesthetic consciousness of humanity in music, however alienated in the present moment.

Leaving the harmony question untreated leads us either to outdated and false harmonic structures (and hence false emotions) or to insufficiently perceptible structures. What a composer has to do today is to keep aiming to develop harmonic structures (and a general logic!) that are sensible as such, but only after considerable work from the listener, or after considerable musical erudition. Sounds simple, but it is not a particularly popular position today.

And in fact, practically speaking this is immensely tricky, because there’s no new general principle available or avenues for exploration in clear view, so one must simply test out possibilities and experiment with pushing lines of harmonic logic developed in recent composers.

For better or worse my ears currently leading me to investigate some of Messiaen’s more harmonically interesting moments (e.g. the first movement of Éclairs) as well as Carter’s harmonic world – potentially also that of Dufourt. This will no doubt lead to other composers and other harmonic ideas, but one step at a time dammit!

Of course at our historic moment, one can’t leave aside the question of tones outside of the 12-tone equal temperament system. But that is the subject of a post to come.

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One thought on “PBS 6: Harmony

  1. Reblogged this on lenoirdeletoile and commented:
    Nicely put. This is the – deceptively simple – gist of what I see as our contemporary harmony problem; harmony syntax. It’s easy to frame, but as Liam points out, it seems as if there are no avenues clearly open for fruitful exploration…

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