Tell me: How do you keep a retard in suspense?
[Hmmm... Why would Dumbo begin a diary with such an offensive joke? He must have some ulterior motive...]
We'll get the answer to this and many other intriguing problems later on. But hang in there! This is going to be a longer diary than usual, with some educational material, it's true, but also a veritable orgy of Mahler embeds and analysis, as well as some Tchaikovsky, some Mozart, some Albinoni... and oh yeah, some Dixie Chicks.
Oh, I know, they aren't classical, but they tie in to the theme of this diary.
Skip on below for another musical chord lesson, as well as a lot of Mahler and a little Mozart.
The C Major chord. Remember this? We've seen it enough by now. Let's look on a couple of variations on this, called suspended chords.
This is called a Csus4 chord. It has a brother:
And this is called Csus2.
What's different about them? The middle note in the C chord has been nudged over, in the first instance, one note to the right, and in the second, one note to the left. The reason it's called suspended is that when we hear these chords, those nudged-over notes sound like they're in the wrong place. We expect them to slide over to the correct place (the E-note position). Those quirky notes are suspended in midair, like acrobats in a fantastic leap! When will they come back to earth and how will they do it?
Until then, though, they just sound a little wrong. Those two notes right next to each other conflict and create a little bit of dissonance. And it defeats our expectations of a neat, little major or minor chord.
The reason I chose Landslide, above, is because the chorus uses suspended note, which are actually very common in music, pop, classical, country, whatever.
At 2:10 "Well, I've been 'fraid of chang'in." The word "I've" is suspended, and it resolves down to a normal note immediately, with the word "been". "'Fraid" is on a suspended note. It resolves down to a normal note on the next word, "of". And the word "Changin' is suspended and resolved between the two syllables! Cute, eh? No rocket science, here.
The jargon of music has a number of names for the different types of suspended notes and suspended chords, too many to bother with for the purposes of our diary series. Appogiaturas, accaciaturas, 6th chords, retards, anticipations. If you are curious enough, you can read more about it in the Wikipedia entry on Non-Chord tones. They are listed as nonchord-tones because the notes themselves are perceived as being misplaced and don't form real chords which have third and fifth intervals.
Suspensions increased in importance in the later stages of the Romantic period, although they have been around a long time, dating back to the early centuries of polyphonic music, when overlapping voices could easily collide in brief dissonances that were quickly resolved. The concept seems a natural one.
And I love suspensions. Majestic at times, wistful, teasing at others. Dissonant but without the sharp edges of the dim7 chords we discussed last week. They don't have their own internal stand-alone harmonic logic the way a seventh chord does; our ears beg them for sweet resolution.
Ah! A late addition to the diary, Albioni's Adagio, composed 1708. Why didn't I think of this sooner. Such an easy, simple example of a flood of sus chords! I might have started the diary with it. One of the most beautiful works of the Baroque period. It has been used in many film scores, including, Gallipoli.
The first sus chord, actually a 6th chord, I believe, is at 0:33, then at 0:39 a sus2 chord... and it goes on like that. With a little keen listening now, you can guess at the others.
Oh, wait! What is a sixth chord? I made a graphic for that.
The note on the far right is the suspended note. It doesn't make sense there. It wants to fall back one step, join up with its brother on the immediate left, and make a simple C major chord.
Actually, I think I resent the name, sixth chord, because it's confusing. Yes, there is a sixth interval in it from right to left, woopty-doo, but a sixth chord doesn't have its own internal logic as a complete chord the way a seventh does. Here's a C major seventh chord, which we discussed in last week's diary, just for comparison.
Now this makes a little more sense. It is dissonant, just like a sixth, perhaps even moreso. But the harmonics of the rightmost three notes make a good old fashioned chord (E minor in this case), while the leftmost three make an old-fashioned C major. So there's some harmonic magic going on there. I can think of pop songs that end rather satisfactorily on a seventh chord. It's not a mistake, like the sixth chord. That note on the far right of the sixth chord just begs us to take out the eraser and fix it. That is where it gets its beauty and its utility.
But here's a question: Isn't a seventh chord a type of suspension? I'm asking! I don't know. Remember, I'm the dude just faking it because I never took music theory in college. You guys reading this who know better, jump in and correct me if I'm wrong. But very often, that rightmost note (the B in the Cmaj7 chord above) is used like a suspension, only there to tease us and resolve to a C on the very next beat.
Here are some more suspension examples.
One of my favorites from Mozart, the slow movement from his Piano Concerto #17 in G, one of Mozart's most beautiful works.
There, at 0:13: What we would call a Vsus2 chord which resolves on the next note to a V chord. (You do remember what a roman numeral V chord is, right? Last week's diary.) And then a few seconds later, we have another, an IIsus4.
It's okay if you can't identify these things from their sounds. That's fine. I can't always name it, but I can hear it and I am moved by it. If a cadence is a period at the end of a musical sentence, a sus chord is a "..." ellipsis. They tease us. In the hands of the later romantics, who drew them out and did not resolve them very quickly, they became somewhat mystical, wistful, like a long sigh.
I'm still unsure about the first example I wanted to use today rather than Dixie Chicks but canceled, Gone with the Wind by Max Steiner. I was double-damn sure that it had a number of powerful sus chords in it, but at least one chord book on the Internet argued otherwise. I kind of suspect they are wrong, but why confuse matters.
Tchaikovsky LOVED sus chords. Here is one of hist most beautiful melodies, the horn solo from his Symphony #5:
As the English horn comes in, there is the first one at 1:04, the next one at 1:10... And it goes on like that, each one resolving back to a proper chord on the next beat.
But let's move on to the real feast of this diary, the previous examples having been just appetizers. Mahler: the overlord of suspension!
Several weeks ago, I did a diary on Mahler for his birthday that took an overview of his music without getting into too many details. Will I be ruining Mahler for you if we do get into the details, and examine one of his harmonic idiosyncracies? Is that like explaining a magic trick, edifying the audience while destroying the mystery and awe? I hope not. If it worries you, though, cover your ears now and go "La la la la..." until the diary is over. Seriously. I warned you.
Still here? Okay.
Mahler is one of the great late Romantics of the late-nineteenth/early-twentieth centuries. Having absorbed the harmonies of Richard Wagner (who we really will get to someday), Mahler and his peers like Richard Strauss and (early) Arnold Schoenberg gleefully employed a wider range of harmonies than were "according to the rules" of music at that time. Their music doesn't sound rebellious to our ears, we having been teethed on modern film music, which is rich in the same kind of late-Romantic Wagnerian harmonies and tricks (Star Wars, anyone?)
We'll go more into some of those exclusively Wagnerian tricks in future diaries. But today's diary is about simple, old-fashioned suspense chords. As modern and crazy as some people would like to portray Mahler (and that is fair), the signature move in his music is the suspension. Two weeks ago, I said that Beethoven went bananas with dim7chords. With Mahler, it's the sus and its relatives like the 6th, although he takes great liberties with tweaking them. They litter all his symphonies and songs.
One of our frequent commenters here, Zenbassoon, has a running joke that all Mahler symphonies are basically the same. That's fatuous bullshit, of course (and I mean that the nice way, Zen), but I think I see what he means. The devices Mahler uses, some of his recurring motifs, and oh yeah, yeah, yeah, those suspension chords, they link all his music together into a body of work with a strong, consistent, personal voice.
In preparation for this diary on sus chords, I planned early on to use Mahler's music for examples. Although I have never heard Mahler's music analyzed just in terms of its use of suspension chords, it turns out there has been quite a bit written about it, already.
From a Yale University music course (a transcript) labeled Modernism and Mahler. The class is listening to his lieder song, "Ich bin der Welt abhanden."
Professor Craig Wright: [...] We're going to go on now to 4'47", if you will, where he works up to a peak on this text, "Ich leb' allein in meinem Himmel, in meinem Lieben, in meinem Lied." [music playing] A little bit of dissonance, [music playing] back to the tonic, English horn comes back in, builds out the melody. [music playing]
Okay. Now we're going to pause it here because there's one other small point that I want to make and that has to do with a--what's called a suspension. A suspension is something that composers set up in music to sort of make us feel a particular way, and they'll start with this by having a note be consonant [plays piano] and then having--moving the harmony underneath of it [plays piano] to a dissonance [thereby suspending the upper note as a dissonance] and then [plays piano] resolving it to a consonant like that or maybe [plays piano]. And the longer they sit on the dissonance, the more feeling, I think, is communicated. And here at the end of the Romantic period it tends to be--they tend to sit on these dissonances inside of the suspension for a long period of time...
You can listen to "Ich bin der Welt abhanden" here, if you want. I'm not going to embed it because I prefer other examples.
Like Mahler's Symphony #2, the Resurrection. A gorgeious 90-minute monstrosity. A spectacle! It's a godawful shame to post Youtubes of this symphony, and most of Mahler's other works as well, because these are real stereo-busters with enormous orchestras and complex sounds that are lost on low-fidelity Youtubes. But we must bear on. I can testify, though, when I heard this performed live, in the final movement, with full orchestra and chorus bearing down, the seats in the auditorium actually trembled. Hey, maybe they were just poorly constructed, eh? But the effect can be quite adrenaline-pumping. I've been to rock concerts that shook the hall, but the consistently high level of rock concert volume, the tempo, the drums, sort of wash out the experience. The sneaky dynamics of Mahler symphonies, however, can be terrifying.
We don't have time (I don't have time!) to do the whole Resurrection symphony, so let's just cut to some cool examples of sus chords. Like the second theme of the first movement, here conducted by Leonard Bernstein:
Now skip to 4:18. Listen to the beautiful second theme, presented the first time by the strings. It walks up the scale, peaking at a beautiful sus2 chord. Skip forward to 8:20, and you can hear a variation on the same thing, more gentle, more yearning, same suspensions. I've heard different conductors treat this differently from Bernstein, really LINGERING on that sus2.
The first time I heard this symphony, there were so many recurrences of this same lingering sus2 through all the movements (and I didn't know what a sus2 was, then, I just knew I liked it) that I thought it must be the motif of the symphony, like Beethoven's Da-da-da-da. Nope. All of Mahler's symphonies have this same chord/motif. Almost a compulsion. After a while, they become familiar, old friends. You listen to his music waiting for them. As the years progressed, the suses in his music proliferated.
Hey. Let's hear Urlicht, the fourth movement of the Resurrection! Kathleen Ferrier singing, and oh, how I love her. It's not riddled with sus chords, but the lingering sus2 at the end is so typical (and beautiful of Mahler). Rather than ending on a V-I cadence (remember last week's diary?), Mahler opts frequently for V-Isusp2-I, suspending that one note from the V chord just a little too long before dropping it. It harkens back to our previous example.
And let's listen to the finale, that overpowering chair-shaking finale. I'm not going to link to the whole movement (it's more than half an hour), just a four minute Youtube excerpt. Again, I apologize for the fact that Youtube quality is Youtube quality.
Let's count some of the suspensions. First one at 0:05, at 0:14, at 0:18, at 0:22, at 0:27, and, oh, a beautiful one at 0:31. It goes on like that. Notice that they are all built on the same motif from the first movement, the ascending scale with a suspension.
If we're talking about Mahler and suspensions, how could we pass up the Adagietto from Mahler's Symphony #5? It's the single most famous and popular piece that he ever wrote, often quoted in film scores, and often emulated. The harmony is at times so Wagnerian it approaches anarchy, but the suspensions are what shine through and leave us in awe.
Already, at 0:16. We have an upward scale, followed by a suspension (kind of), an I7 chord that resolves to I. Does it sound familiar? At 0:24, we have our next one, an IIsus4 that resolves to ii. The feeling is lush, contemplative. And now the chords become way-too complicated for me to describe or explain, above my pay grade.
But let's skip forward to one of the best parts. (You don't want to? Want to keep listening? Knock yourself out.) At 3:55, the movement reaches a climax, a crisis moment, where Mahler goes nuts with the harmony in a way characteristic of the late-Romantic composers, dense, turbulent, almost anarchic. And he passes through to the other side, the clouds lift, and here it comes a truly glorious string of suspension chords. You'll hear why I chose Daniel Barenboim's performance of this. This is masterful and passionate conducting. Suspensions at 4:53, 4:59, and a beautiful, almost otherworldly one at 5:07, a rising scale followed by sus2, straight out of Mahler's Resurrection, first movement. More rising-scale/suspensions.
After a little mini-climax, we reach a plateau followed by more rising-scale/suspensions, but there is a kind of sexual urgency to it now, like Wagner's Liebestodt, with the violas repeatedly swelling and decreasing in volume, each small crescendo accompanied by a rising-scale/suspension, until, at 6:41, it dies out, and we have this magical suspension (or ninth chord?) that ends this, brings us back to the home key, and starts the (sort of) recapitulation. Hang in there for the coda; there are even more suspensions, ending it in majesty.
I have time for one more example: Mahler's Ninth symphony, the first movement. This is very complicated and beautiful music. In fact, this music explores the outer boundaries of where late-Romanticism was capable of going before it fell under the weight of its own harmonic richness. But I bring this to your attention because of... the beautiful suspensions! There have been so many analyses of this symphony, most of them focusing on it from a metaphysical perspective, seeking its meaning in terms of human relationships to death and nature, etc. etc. I went into that a little bit in our OPUS 2 diary on Mahler, so I won't repeat any of that. What is interesting about the first movement of Mahler's ninth is the way he uses suspensions throughout without bothering to resolve them. He just leaves them hanging there, the acrobat suspended in mid-air and looking around embarrassed. We are left to imagine the resolution of the suspension.
Mahler's Symphony #9 in D major, conducted by Leonard Bernstein
Listen to the first melody:
da da Daaaaah.../
Daaaaah..., of course, being the suspended chord. If the cadence is the period of western music, the unrelieved suspension chord must be the ellipsis (...)
The whole movement is built on this. For those of us familiar with Mahler from his prior works, like the Resurrection and the Adagietto from the Symphony #5, this is familiar Mahler, even though it is breaking rules. Not big rules, in this case, mind you -- they are just unresolved suspension chords.
We could really go on forever with Mahler and his suspension obsession, but it's 5:27, so I'll quit here.
Man, this was a dense diary, at first educational, then a Mahler-orgy! I hope you enjoyed it. I
Next week: I don't know. Wagner or modes? I'm also open to handing next week over to a guest-host. If you are interested, step forward.