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I hereby dedicate this diary to Chili peppers and ice cream.  Oh, how well they go together!  The one too hot, the other too sweet.

This diary will be like our previous diary, The Physics of Music, but we'll go deeper to prepare us for more modern music.


What is an interval?  It's two different notes at different pitches.  Later, we'll use Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra to illustrate intervals.

We've already talked about fifth intervals.  Let's use the "Do re mi..." scale for illustration.  From Do up to Sol is a fifth.  Or from Re to La.  You can count it out on a keyboard using white notes.  "Do re me fa sol!"  Five!  Do and Sol constitute a fifth interval; Re and La likewise.

It shouldn't be hard to understand what a fourth is then, eh?  Let's start out at Mi and go up a fourth.  "Mi fa sol la!"  Mi and La is a fourth interval.  

There are two types of thirds.  There is a major third -- like Do to Mi in the major scale -- or a minor third -- like Do to Mi in the minor scale.  We talked about the difference between major and minor in our previous diary, Major Versus Minor.  There are also minor thirds within the major scale.  For instance, Mi and Sol, in the major scale, are a minor third apart.  You can tell the difference by counting the half-notes, a minor third being just one less.

Likewise, there is a major sixth, and a minor sixth interval, a major seventh and a minor seventh interval.  

Of course, it matters where you start at, too.  For instance, if you start at Fa and you go up a four notes, you do NOT get a fourth interval.  "Fa sol la ti!  It's four notes, yes, but if you count out the half-notes in between on a keyboard, you see that you lost a half-note somewhere because of the asymmetry of the major scale.  Fa to ti is just a half-note wider than a fourth interval, and just a half-note closer than a fifth interval.  And it's a royal pain in the ass.  

What do we call this interval, from Fa to Ti?  We can call it an augmented fourth, augmented being a musical term meaning the top part is sharpened a half note.  Or we can call it a diminished fifth, diminished being a musical term meaning the top is flattened a half note.  Or we can use the sexier name for this interval: tritone.  

Obviously I'm going to a lot of trouble to explain something that you may never need to know for any other endeavor in your life.  I promised a long time ago, I wasn't going to try to teach you how to be musicians, just how to appreciate the music you hear.  So bear with me!

We KNOW by now that a fifth is a powerful interval.  From our previous diaries, we know that the sound frequency Do and Sol are related by 3/2.  If Do is middle C on the piano (262 hertz, i.e., 262 vibrations per second), then Sol is middle G on the keyboard, and we can be sure that it's going to vibrate about 50% faster, 392 Hertz.)  You may not be able to count each of those vibrations, but through some magical voodoo, your ear does, and some low-level part of your brain processes that and says, Hmmm, Do and Sol are in a nice ratio relationship; that sounds pretty.

Likewise, there's a nice ratio between two notes of a fourth interval, like Do and Fa, 4/3.  Which shouldn't be very surprising -- If you start from Do and go backwards to Fa, you find it's just a backwards fifth!  That sounds pretty too.  

Major and minor third intervals are pretty, 5/4 and 6/5 respectively.  Major and minor sixth intervals are pretty, 5/3 and 8/5, respectively.  But a major sixth interval, like Do to La, if going backwards, is just a minor third, and we already knew that was pretty.

All of the above, except the tritone, make pleasant musical sounds.  They are consonant rather than dissonant.  

But we still have some intervals left.  A second interval comes in two flavors, major and minor.  A full note interval, like Do and Re, is a major second.  A half-note interval like Mi and Fa, is a minor second.  And they are very dissonant.  They sound nice enough when following each other closely, in a melody, but when played simultaneously, they can be ear-grating, especially the very close minor-second.  Looking at a table of ratios, we see that a minor second has the complicated ratio of 25/24.  That's tough arithmetic!  A major second's ratio is better, 9/8.  

A major seventh interval (Do re mi fa sol la ti!) like Do and Ti is about 15/8.  A minor seventh, (Re mi fa sol la ti Do!) like Re up to Do is 9/5, not so shabby.

But the nastiest interval of them all is the tritone, that interval halfway between a fourth and a fifth.  The table shows it as 45/32, but that's fudging.  Since the tritone is exactly halfway up the scale -- either one, major or minor -- and since the musical scale constitutes a quadratic function, doubling at each octave, the tritone relationship is actually the square root of 2.  Which is an irrational number.  Irrational, in the mathemtical sense, meaning there is no whole number ratio possible.  Since Fa and Ti constitute a tritone, we can calculate that the frequency of Ti is about 1.41421356 times the frequency of Do...  Aw shit, let's just pretend it's 45/32.

But what if we go backwards?  Well, since it is exactly midway between the octaves, a tritone backwards is still a tritone.  

All of this was my way of convincing you that a tritone is a difficult bitch.  If a fifth or a fourth interval is sweet comfort food, then a tritone is a raw habanero pepper.  

Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra

Bartok composed his Concerto for Orchestra (strange name, I know) in 1943.  His second movement is the one I want to play now, sometimes called "The Game of Pairs."  The woodwinds, in pairs, take turns playing themes based on intervals.  It makes a nice illustration of things so far.  They sometimes use this to teach children about the instruments of the orchestra.

The little drum motif acts as a separator for the different parts.  First up, at 0:11, the two bassoons play their part in minor sixth intervals.  Next, at 0:40, the two oboes play their part in minor third intervals.  At 1:05, the two clarinets play in minor seventh intervals.  At 1:25, two flutes play in fifths.  And then there's some other stuff.


Intervals are the building blocks of chords.

Back in The Physics of Music, we talked about the three basic chords any crappy garage-band guitar player needs to learn if they want to take it -- the tonic, the dominant, and the subdominant.  If we are playing in C major, then that means C major is our tonic chord, F major is our subdominant, and G major is our dominant.  If you know those three chords, any others you learn are just showing off.  C, F, and G.  F is a fourth up from C; G is a fifth up.  Fourths and fifths.  What else do you need?

What is a chord, these funny things we have been talking about?  A basic chord consists of three notes: a root note, a note a minor or major third up, and a note a fifth up.  A C major chord consists of C (root), E (a major third up) and G (a fifth up).  Change the middle note to a minor third and you have a minor chord instead.  All basic review, yeah.

Seventh chords

But why stop at three?  A four-note chord might be even spicier!  Let's monkey with our C major chord.  C (root) + E (major third) + G (fifth) + B (major seventh) = the C major seventh chord.  Tada!

C Major chord

C Major Seventh chord

Spicy!  Like a chili pepper, only, well, maybe not a very hot one.  Let's look at the problems it introduces.  We have C+E+G+B.  C+E+G is a C major chord.  But E+G+B is an E minor chord.  Ooooh, there's a conflict here!  Plus, we have that seventh relationship in there, C+B, and we already talked about how dissonant that is.  We have the delicious mindfuck of two different chords atop each other, fighting for control, plus the added dissonance of C+B.  It shouldn't be a surprise then that seventh chords took some time to be fully adopted into western music.

The seventh chord (as a deliberate choice, not an accident) came on the western musical scene during the Renaissance.  The little history I can dredge up associates it with Ren composer Monteverdi.  Very rarely used during the Ren period, it saw increased usage during the Baroque era, more usage in the Classical era, and yet even more in the Romantic era.  

It changed the game of music.  And music is certainly a game.  Some of its rules emerge from the inherent nature of sound waves and our ears, but another big part of it is cultural, the result of the evolution of western musical style over the centuries.

Ninth chords!  Eleventh!  Thirteenth!

But why stop at four notes?  Why not five!  Okay.  Let's take our C major seventh chord and stick another note on the end of it.  We can't add an eighth onto it (that would just be another C) so we have to go to a ninth interval, which is an octave and one note up.  So we get C+E+G+B+D = C major ninth chord!  And with it come a whole new set of ambiguities and dissonances.  If we cannibalize the parts, we can make a C major or an E minor or a G major chord.  Plus we have dissonance of C+D+E in there, three very close notes, all scrunched up like the Three Stooges trying to get through a revolving door.  It's a habanero with mace on it!

But why stop even there?  C+E+G+B+D+F = C major eleventh chord!  And C+E+G+B+D+F+A = C major thirteenth chord!  And about at that point, we run out of notes, because a thirteenth chord uses all seven notes of the scale.  I suppose you could try to make a fifteenth chord, but you would just be repeating something.  And I wouldn't blame you if you thought this was all very silly and with limited usefulness.  Certainly, no garage-band guitarist would play such a monstrosity.  They only have six strings on their guitars.  Of course, they could always shell out for a Gibson Seven-String Guitar.  "It's better because it has one more string."

Although ninth chords were rarely used before the 20th century, they have proven very useful. You can't have jazz without ninth chords.  They're everywhere, like cockroaches.  They define the sound of jazz and blues.  

T. Bone Walker, "Mean Old World."  I did some searching to find a good example of liberal 9th chords.  Which chords are they?  The ones that sound dissonant, a bit shriller than the others, which are all seventh chords.  

For eleventh and thirteenth chords, the best example is still Maurice Ravel's La Valse, a waltz he wrote to parody the heavy-handed, over-orchestrated Germanic style of the period, well-personified by Richard Strauss.  The thick elevenths and thirteenths in La Valse give it a slightly disturbing, hysterical edge.

It takes a minute before the music really takes off.  And, by the way, this is one of those pieces of music you just cannot really hear right on shitty gear or with a shitty recording.  There is too much stuff going on.  But we must make do.

Part 2 is here.

The Diminished Seventh Chord

But let's back up to the seventh chord.  In a way, the ninth chord and eleventh chord are just more extreme forms of the seventh.  "Well, it's one more note, isn't it?" to paraphrase Spinal Tap.  But let's back up and look at a specific form of the seventh chord now, the diminished seventh chord.  

C Major Seventh chord (for comparison's sake)

C Diminished Seventh (Cdim7)

What do we see here?  A C major diminished seventh.  (Or, as it would be written in a guitar chord/tab book, Cdim7.)  C + E flat + G flat + A.  The fifth note, that so important fifth note, the note that keeps us in our harmonic comfort zone, has been substituted with G flat: the dreaded tritone!  It's interesting in other ways.  Like, it's symmetrical. C to E flat is a minor third.  E flat to G flat is a minor third.  G flat to A is a minor third.  How very cute, however dissonant!  

Ask yourself this: Could you make a diminished ninth chord?  Add another minor third on?  No, you can't!  Because going up another minor third gets you back to C, where you started from.  In fact, a Cdim7 is exactly the same notes as an EflatDim7 and a GflatDim7 and an Adim7.  Same notes, same chord, different names.  In fact, there are only three possible combinations of notes in the whole 12-tone scale that you can use to make a diminished seventh chord.  So it is just chock-full of cuteness on paper.

But, ew, that tritone makes it very dissonant.  More than that, it destabilizes the sense of a home key.  It's a hot chili pepper, very tasty, very exciting, but when used in conventional music, it makes us yearn for some homemade vanilla ice cream to soothe our palate!  It's a powerful dramatic device in music, helping to set up a minor crisis that requires resolution back to a home key, some home key, any home key, something the music-processing part of our brain stem can listen to and go, "Ah, thank God! A 3/2 ratio interval!  Now we can chill!"

The diminished seventh was one of the most powerful tools in the toolkit of the Romantic composers.  It was around before -- you can hear diminished sevenths in many of Bach's pieces, for instance.  Mozart, too, at times.  Beethoven, though, was the guy who went bananas with dim7 chords.  They gave him a powerful tool for creating drama, for creating violence, for creating a sense of the mystical, for achieving climax.  If you can remember any particularly tense, scary, climactic chord in a work by Beethoven (like the final thunderbolt in the storm from the Pastorale, odds are that it's a dominant dim7.  

You can find dim7's in all his sonatas, but I chose as an example this one, Beethoven's Piano Sonata 32 in C minor, because the beginning of the first movement is so rich in dim7 chords.  Sviatoslav Richter performing.

For a long time, I thought Beethoven and Mozart sounded too alike for me to tell one from the other.  The only distinguishing factor I could see was that Beethoven was more dramatic, more angry, and Mozart was lighter-hearted, more precious.  But more often than not, they sounded very, very similar to me.  The real distinction between the two is the dim7.  In fact, there are computer programs designed to distinguish the works of different composers by analyzing their chord usage.  They find that Mozart used dim7 chords but not nearly as often, often opting for the simpler and less dissonant dim5 chord (three notes rather than four).  

I didn't get as far as I had hoped today, but I didn't expect to cover everything.  So where is this going, then?  We're preparing to cover more advanced types of music, but here we are talking about basics, you say.  We need to establish the ground rules for music as we know it before we can see how many ways that different composers found to cheat.  Again, I don't want to teach you to be musicians.  If this were a real music theory class, you'd be expected to whip out your instrument (your musical instrument, please!) and play these things for yourself and learn to identify them.  I play a bunch of different instruments, most of them just okay, but honestly, I can't always tell only by listening a diminished seventh from a regular seventh or just a nastily played ordinary chord.  So if you can't hear these things well enough to identify them, don't sweat it.  Knowing the basic concept is good enough for our purposes.

As I said, music is a game.  Games have rules.  If you break a rule in a game, somebody else will usually yell foul, but since music is a creative game, the rules are of our own making.  In fact, breaking the rules is what keeps it interesting.  Just as Monteverdi livened things up with seventh chords, Mozart livened things up with his chromatic arpeggios, Beethoven livened things up with his gung-ho dim7 chords, later composers, even in the Romantic period, found new ways to break the rules.

Maybe you can also see a trend, developing here, of increased dissonance.  That nasty tritone, for instance, being substituted for our lovely, ice-creamy perfect fifth!  Some of the things done with dissonance in music can be quite off-putting if you aren't familiar with it.  But with a little preparation and warning, maybe we can realize that it's just a new dish, one with less carbs and more chili peppers.

The period of western music from the Renaissance up to the beginning of the 20th century is called The Common Practice Period, because our understanding of how the game of music is played was fairly standard throughout the period.  Beginning in the mid-nineteenth and then accelerating in the 20th century, rules that had been sacrosanct were violated.  We'll look at some of that in coming diaries.

Next week: If I can swing it, more chords, more dissonance, chord progressions, Roman numeral notation, cadences, and the basic principle of tonality.  And probably some Wagner.

Originally posted to Dumbo on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 05:32 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I think I'd put Monteverdi (4+ / 0-)

    as one of those who was not only on the cusp between late Renaissance and early Baroque, but one who helped introduce and develop the Baroque idiom.

    Among other things, this change involved moving from modal to tonal, polyphony to homophony, and the rise of the solo voice and the importance of text and melody in sung music.

    © sardonyx; all rights reserved

    by sardonyx on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 05:49:00 PM PDT

    •  we just had this past weekend..... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sardonyx, Dumbo

      .....a terrific performance of the Monteverdi Vespro della Beate Virgine by a visiting ensemble from Cleveland, Apollo's Fire, at the Cathedral Basilica.  Appalling acoustic (~7 second reverb), but the band did their thing regardless.

      "It's only in books that the officers of the detective force are superior to the weakness of making a mistake." (Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone)

      by chingchongchinaman on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 08:59:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  OK, but what I want to know... (4+ / 0-) how modern you're going to get on us.  I read somewhere that the Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha prohibited the study or performance of classical music composed after Stalin's death, and since Prokofiev died on the same day that always struck me as a reasonable prohibition.  

    The most impressive thing about man [...] is the fact that he has invented the concept of that which does not exist--Glenn Gould

    by Rich in PA on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 05:57:22 PM PDT

    •  I guess I'm going to go as far as I can. (3+ / 0-)

      Here's my dirty little secret -- I don't like most modern music.  Some of it I actually hate.  I am rather opinionated, so I'm going to try to stuff it.  But I'm presenting this as a Music Appreciation 101 experience, so I think that obliges us to take a stab at the best parts of modern music.  My own lack of expertise (compared to a lot of people here) might become a hindrance at times, so I'm hoping some pros will jump in to add some light.

      But after we finish with the modern music, I want to circle back to Bach and Mozart.  I'm a Mozart fan.  I originally thought, before I started the series, that I'd just analyze some Mozart once in a while and the rest of the time would be a free for all.  However, I think the didactic nature of the analysis might be stifling some people from expressing their opinions.  Notek, for example, the huge number of posts we got a couple of weeks ago when I showed up empty-handed!

      •  It's funny, because I (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dumbo, SherwoodB

        barely like anything before the 20th century, with one exception: Mozart.

        (That's not entirely fair: I do like some stuff here and there, especially e.g. Mussorgsky.  But on principle my likes are more closely aligned with modernism than any other aesthetic.)

        Was thinking that a good example of ninths are Scriabin, but he tends to use them in his bass line, which makes them hard to hear.  The first of his op. 65 etudes uses ninths for the melodic line, but like a lot of etudes built around intervals, it's only so-so.  (Also, the second of the cycle is based on major sevenths, the third on fifths.  I'm a huge Scriabin fan, but they're not pieces I typically recommend.)

        Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

        by pico on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 06:34:09 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Scriabin is fascinating. (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Dumbo, Julie Gulden, pico, Rich in PA

          His life is almost as interesting as his music.  :)

          I'm not paranoid, I'm just well informed--SherwoodB

          by SherwoodB on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 06:52:02 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  I have to do some hunting (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Julie Gulden, SherwoodB, pico

          to get good easy-to-hear examples of ninth chords.  My first thought was, any jazz by Jobim, like Girl from Ipanema.  But the ninth chords are buried deeply amongst the more numerous seventh chords in a lot of jazz.  Then I thought, hey, that blues lick music they use in the Cialis ads!  I wonder what that is?  That's certainly a ninth chord.  Sadly, I couldn't find it.  Then I found the T. Bone, which is just right.  

          I do enjoy quite a bit of modern music.  But there are so many I don't like.  They are a challenge, and, like that discussion we had about windows of opportunity closing, I sjut the windows on those musical opportunities a long time ago.  I can understand the music, but I don't feel entertained or touched by the music.  

          Hmmm... Perhaps more than that, I don't feel IMPRESSED by the music.  That's one of the words that pops out at me when I think about why I like Mozart so much.  I can hear new subtleties in his music after repeated listenings.  And there is something subversive about it as well, as if he's trying to sneak his little chromaticisms past some patronage-system censor that would complain if they actually understood it.

          Yet, when I read the analyses of some modern musical pieces, for instance tone-row music that has note duration and tone tied together, I feel like, so the fuck what?  When I ask dumb questions of myself in my diary, they really are the kinds of questions I do or have asked of myself more than once.  

          •  Frank Zappa (no stranger to dissonance!) wrote (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            raboof, Dumbo, Rich in PA

            some 12 tone (serial) pieces early in his career and decided that there was no point: if the average listener never could hear/grasp the intricate mathematical aspects of the piece then it's a waste of time. Plus, he didn't think it sounded very good either!

            He went back to "Louie Louie!"

            I'm not paranoid, I'm just well informed--SherwoodB

            by SherwoodB on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 07:19:24 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I've heard atonal music that I liked (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              SherwoodB, Rich in PA

              (not tone-row music, though).  It's a variable thing.  I'm very, very fond of Schoenberg's first atonal work, which was the final movement of his string quartet number 2.  He hadn't established any formal rules, at that point.  

              I also like the Twilight Zone theme song, perhaps the only piece of atonal music that most people can hum or whistle from memory!

              I think that the real source of good modernistic music for "the people" is in film score music.  

              •  Me too! (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Dumbo, shrike

                Twilight Zone theme is an all time favorite.

                Though atonal, it still has what is undeniably a catchy--though creepy--melody.

                I am a big fan of Ives. I like the way he mixed diatonic melodies (often quotes from hymn tunes or patriotic songs) with poly or atonal accompaniment, thereby changing the emotional effect of the tune.

                Serialists like Boulez, Carter etc... I just don't get anything from, but I totally agree about early Schoenberg--he was a real master. I believe his thinking before he developed the 12 tone system was that each piece should have a tonal plan entirely its own and that was how Pierrot Lunaire and other pieces of the time were constructed. I also think he had a weird sense of humor sometimes...:)

                I'm not paranoid, I'm just well informed--SherwoodB

                by SherwoodB on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 07:41:07 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Polytonality... (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  When we get to that, I'd like to post some of Mozart's Musical Joke.  I know it's a joke, but I still love it!  Even if it's supposed to be awful, it's wonderful in its awfulness, including the brief episodes of polytonality and whole-tone scale music that can slip by you if you don't pay attention.

                  There is a theory that he didn't really write this as a joke, but as an experiment.

                  •  Sometimes telling someone you are joking is (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    the best way to pull a fast one!  :)

                    I'm not paranoid, I'm just well informed--SherwoodB

                    by SherwoodB on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 07:49:37 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                  •  Great polytonal examples are in Charles Ives (3+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Dumbo, SherwoodB, Rich in PA

                    One of the variations on America is bitonal.  Much of William Schuman's George Washington Bridge is bitonal as well.

                    Interesting harmonies are also in Hindemith.  He liked to use quartal harmonies.

                    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White

                    by zenbassoon on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 08:09:29 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  +1 on Ives & Hindemith (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:

                      Hindemith has some very cool interval based music. I think a lot of Ives requires several listens, but the Unanswered Question is a great piece for a music appreesh class (short, accessible, and remarkably self-explanatory).

                      •  Indeed, my only Ives was in music appreciation (2+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        Dumbo, SherwoodB

                        101...and while I admire Ives as a musician and as an insurance innovator, I've never felt much urge to go back to him.  My bad, I guess.

                        The most impressive thing about man [...] is the fact that he has invented the concept of that which does not exist--Glenn Gould

                        by Rich in PA on Fri Oct 22, 2010 at 03:43:28 AM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

            •  Berio famously told Steve Reich (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Dumbo, SherwoodB

              if you want to write tonal music, write tonal music. Seminal moment of the 20th century.

          •  Debussy is loaded with 9th chords. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            nota bene, Dumbo

            Check out some of the piano stuff.  Claire de Lune is based on 9th chords

            "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White

            by zenbassoon on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 08:07:04 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  the key to 20th century music IMHO (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Dumbo, Rich in PA

            if it takes too much verbiage to explain, skip it.

            Dissonant, even atonal, I can get into; but IMHO the strict 12-tone/serial stuff was a stylistic dead end. A fairly limited group of composers got obsessed with it for a while mid-century; in the meantime, the rest of the world moved on. That being said, of the 12-tone guys, I think Berg is probably the most accessible. He tends to keep some sort of tenuous connection to tonal music.

            Yet, when I read the analyses of some modern musical pieces, for instance tone-row music that has note duration and tone tied together, I feel like, so the fuck what?

            Believe it or not, it is possible to train yourself to hear mathematical subtleties like that, but I personally am not about to lock myself in a room for six months listening to nothing but Webern and Boulez. The fact that you picked out Bartok for the diary entry speaks to your good taste. =)

            Re: 9th chords....look thru Hendrix tunes, Police tunes (Message in a Bottle is a good place to start; note the shapes outlined by the guitar riff). Debussy will have lots of cool extended harmonies (the piano preludes make a good place to look for easily audible chords). The song Dust in the Wind has a bunch of 9ths in it. Barber's Adagio probably has a few extended chords. There will be an unending supply of strange chords in the Thelonious Monk songbook. Etc.

            •  Oh they're everywhere. (0+ / 0-)

              Even Peace Train has ninths in it.  I thought at first anything by Jobim would be good, but it turns out that I'd have to say, "listen at the 1:32 mark" or something like that.  Better to find something that bombards you from the start like the Beethoven or T. Bone pieces.

      •  Yay, Mozart! (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dumbo, Rich in PA, Lujane

        I can't even begin to comment intelligently on this diary, but I still enjoyed it (does that make sense?). Looking forward to whatever comes next and thanks so much for your work.

      •  blasphemy! (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dumbo, SherwoodB

        Here's my dirty little secret -- I don't like most modern music.  Some of it I actually hate.  I am rather opinionated, so I'm going to try to stuff it.

        Pick a century and stick with it!

        How could you give up Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Mahler, Shostakovich, Bartok, Gershwin, Copland, Sibelius and so many others for the 18th century?

        "The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason." - Thomas Paine

        by shrike on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 07:32:59 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  But I like all those! (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          SherwoodB, shrike

          You didn't mention Protopopov though, or Carter, or Hindemith, or Boulez, or Tcherepnin the younger...  All of whom I either would rather just skip or I actively hate.

          And there's a lot of Shostakovich I could do without, as well.  Some of his music is just long, slow, and boring.  If it weren't for his fantastic first and fifth symphony, I might just assume there was nothing there to him at all and not even bother with him.

          Which is not to say they are bad composers.  I tried it, and I just don't like some things!  

          I don't expect everybody to like Mozart.  God knows Glenn Gould hated him, and I love Glenn Gould.

          •  Dumbo, I also find much Shostakovich long, (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Dumbo, Rich in PA

            slow, and boring.

            I would like to make a recommendation for you in case you haven't heard it:his Piano Concerto #2 is wonderful. Definitely the opposite of long, slow, and boring--even the slow movement has a nice energy to it.

            There a great version by Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic that is pretty easy to find.

            I'm not paranoid, I'm just well informed--SherwoodB

            by SherwoodB on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 07:45:59 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

              •  both DSCH piano concerti are worth it (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                I'm obviously the opposite of you and SherwoodB when it comes to DSCH (I love his stuff, though not all of it and not unreservedly), but different strokes and all that.

                "It's only in books that the officers of the detective force are superior to the weakness of making a mistake." (Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone)

                by chingchongchinaman on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 09:02:22 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Sure, I'll try them. (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  It's the symphonies after #5 that I can't really stand.  They have some really good moments in them, but they are often long and dreary (to me) and sloooow and make me feel like I want to get out of the car and help push it.

                  And, by the way, that funny little march thing in the third movement of the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, the "Interrupted Intermezzo."  It was a parody of Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony, which Bartok had recently heard and despised.  And I can identify with that.

                  •  agree with you in places (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Dumbo, Rich in PA

                    Among DSCH's post-Fifth symphonies, the weaker ones include, IMHO, Nos. 7, 11, and 12 (the last would be pretty good film music, which makes it sort of a trashy guilty pleasure, especially when the Concertgebouw Orchestra plays it for Haitink).  But I'm generally OK with DSCH's long movements, like the 1st movements of 6, 8 and 10.

                    BTW, you meant the 4th movement of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, of course, with respect to DSCH 7.  I have a volume of writings on DSCH, edited by Laurel Fay, taken from a Bard Music Festival devoted to DSCH's music some years back.

                    The British composer Robin Holloway, who publishes regularly in the Brit magazine The Spectator, is himself not on the DSCH bandwagon, and has said so quite vehemently in his writings.

                    "It's only in books that the officers of the detective force are superior to the weakness of making a mistake." (Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone)

                    by chingchongchinaman on Fri Oct 22, 2010 at 03:35:11 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

            •  This is great Shostakivotch. (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Dumbo, SherwoodB

              I also like his ballet "The Age Of Gold"

              "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White

              by zenbassoon on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 08:04:57 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  Ok - but what I was trying to do was pin you (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            to the 18th century.

            19th vs. 20th?  I don't want to go there!

            Mozart and Bach alone are tough enough and throw in Haydn and its a shoving match.

            Good diary again.

            Best wishes to your child for which it is written and we can also enjoy.

            "The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason." - Thomas Paine

            by shrike on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 07:46:11 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  re: Hindemith (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Dumbo, Rich in PA

            try Ludus Tonalis. Fits pretty well with the theme of the diary actually.

            Shostakovich has some killer string quartets. Mozart never really did that much for me....

  •  thanks for writing these! (4+ / 0-)

    i've listened to Greenberg's lecture series on the history of Great Music, and his series on Opera.  I've played a lot of music, but I'm weak on theory.  Thanks for the refresher!

  •  A very satisfying diary (4+ / 0-)

    Thank you. This brings back the pleasure of some (very long forgotten) classes in music theory.  It is a game - a glorious game.  It is a pleasure to enjoy it with you.

  •  Grin! Thank you. Great series and I'm sorry (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo, Julie Gulden

    this is the first I've seen of it.  heard

    REMEMBER THE GULF! Republicans want to get the country moving by taking us from D to R for Ramble.

    by maybeeso in michigan on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 06:21:44 PM PDT

  •  I'm learning basic (chords) piano now... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo, Julie Gulden, sandav, Lujane

    It's really fun to just sit and tap out some songs.  They aren't great, but I can play about three or four cover songs fairly well...well, good enough for me.

  •  Good explanation of a difficult topic. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo, Julie Gulden, SherwoodB

    About the only thing I'd disagree with you about is the tritone: I think if you're more heavily schooled in the classical (or popular) tradition, it's exactly as you describe it, but like a fine wine it can grow on you until you prefer it to the vanilla!

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 06:44:36 PM PDT

    •  Well, I need to exaggerate the "nastiness" of it (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Julie Gulden, pico

      to lay the groundwork for explaining its uses.  But it really is very dissonant, from an objective point of view, stuck midways between the fifth and the fourth.  Dissonant isn't bad, though.  Just spicy and an acquired taste.

  •  I once read... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo, SherwoodB

    that Medieval churches were banned from using the diminished 5th interval in their bells because it was the sound of the devil...

    In order not to believe in evolution you must either be ignorant, stupid or insane-- Richard Dawkins

    by sandav on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 07:36:40 PM PDT

  •  I think a better representation of dim 7th (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo, chingchongchinaman

    chords, whether fully or half diminished would be this gem by Wagner:

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White

    by zenbassoon on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 08:02:53 PM PDT

  •  Beethoven, "the man who freed music" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    A really unique figure in music at a unique time.
    The modern piano was being developed  versus the harpsichord and clavichords and the symphony orchestra came into being. Beethoven developed these media to the fullest extend possible and stupified his contemporaries who struggled to keep up with his innovations.
    OTOH, the other budding art form--opera was too difficult for him, he wrote one, Fidelio which
    never completely satisfied him or his contemporaries.
    He was the first modern 'bravura' piano virtuoso as he was the teacher of Czerny who was the teacher of Liszt and the whole virtuoso school.
    Then you add in his deafness and strong personality
    and you have a genius developing in isolation.
    Beethoven was born into a time when a genius was still a serf and dared not express himself in the presence of his betters and he refused to be intimidated.

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