MUSIC 376 - Composition Seminar

Karen Sunabacka

Estimated reading time: 1 minutes

Table of contents


Study notes for post-tonal harmony. From several textbooks.


Materials and Techniques of Post-Tonal Music

Chords and Simultaneities

Ambiguity may be introduced for inversion of tall chords (e.g., ninth).

Added 2nd or 4th can be considered as added 9th or 11th. Added notes: “wrong-note style”.

“split” chord members: add a minor 2nd. 7th chord with split 3rds is common. Others also occur.

open-5th chords: omitting third. Typically they are used to create an impression of the Orient or of the distant past.

Quartal (built on 4th) and Quintal (built on 5th) chords. Quintal: more open and stable sound. Diminished 4th and aug 5th, enharmonic with M3 and m6. Scriabin’s mystic chord.

Secundal chords: built from M2 or m2. these called cluster and tone cluster.

Mixed-interval chords: combine 2 or more interval types.

Whole tone chords: from whole-tone scale.

polychord: combines two ore more chords, but it’s important the harmonic entities are being juxtaposed.

Stravinsky’s famous Petrushka chord combines two triads a tritone apart: C major and F# major. another polychord: F# major/G major.

Harmonic progression and tonality

cadence: V-I, IV-I, viio6-I, iv6-V

root movements by 5ths tend to be avoided.

Debussy’s unpredictable progression. doubly chromatic mediant relationships: A major–F minor and Gb major–D minor.

pitch-centric: music that has a tonal center established through nontraditional means.

pitch center by assertion: reiteration, return, pedal point, ostinato, accent, formal placement, register, and similar techniques to draw a listener’s attention to a particular pitch class.

  • tertian pitch-centricity: chords built on 3rds
  • nontertian pitch-centricity: avoid such sonorities

Polytonality: similar to polychord. bitonal: polytonal music with two tonal centers.

Pandiatonicism: uses only the tones of some diatonic scale but does not rely on traditional harmonic progressions and dissonance treatment. Great vid from music matters

Atonality was a development even more radical than that of the various sorts of pitch-centricity used in post-tonal music.

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