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Pentatonicism from the Eighteenth Century to Debussy

Pentatonicism from the Eighteenth Century to Debussy

Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 566
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  • Book Info
    Pentatonicism from the Eighteenth Century to Debussy
    Book Description:

    Pentatonicism from the Eighteenth Century to Debussy offers the first comprehensive account of a widely recognized aspect of music history: the increasing use of pentatonic ("black-key scale") techniques in nineteenth-century Western art-music. Pentatonicism in nineteenth-century music encompasses hundreds of instances, many of which predate by decades the more famous examples of Debussy and Dvorák. This book weaves together historical commentary with music theory and analysis in order to explain the sources and significance of an important, but hitherto only casually understood, phenomenon. The book introduces several distinct categories of pentatonic practice -- pastoral, primitive, exotic, religious, and coloristic -- and examines pentatonicism in relationship to changes in the melodic and harmonic sensibility of the time. The text concludes with an additional appendix of over 400 examples, an unprecedented resource demonstrating the individual artistry with which virtually every major nineteenth-century composer (from Schubert, Chopin, and Berlioz to Liszt, Wagner, and Mahler) handled the seemingly "simple" materials of pentatonicism. Jeremy Day-O'Connell is assistant professor of music at Knox College.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-690-5
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Throughout the world musicians routinely, inevitably, eschew the vast continuum of musical pitch in favor of scales—modest collections of discrete, more or less fixed, notes. And among the limitless variety of potential scales, one, the pentatonic, has long impressed commentators for its “truly extraordinary diffusion” in world music.¹ First described by Westerners variously as the “Chinese” or the “Scotch” scale, the pentatonic scale figures prominently in such diverse musical cultures as those of the British Isles, West Africa, Southeast Asia, and aboriginal America, among many others.

    The apparent ubiquity of pentatonic systems throughout the world contrasts with the veritable...

  6. Part 1: Scale

    • Chapter One The Rise of 6 in the Nineteenth Century
      (pp. 13-44)

      Ethnomusicologists and theorists of non-Western music maintain a useful distinction between “scale,” and “mode”: that is, between an abstract collection of tones in a given musical tradition, and the actual conventions of melodic practice in that tradition. Example 1.1, for instance, illustrates the tonal hierarchy and motivic dispositions that transform the undifferentiated pitch material of a Hindustanithat(“scale”) into araga(“mode”), the governing syntax for a piece or improvisation.¹ In short, mode “is more than merely a scale.”² While typical inquiries into unfamiliar musical systems engage mode as a matter of course, recent studies of the Western major...

  7. Part 2: Signification

    • Chapter Two The Pastoral-Exotic Pentatonic
      (pp. 47-98)

      The famous Turkish ceremony from Lully’sLe Bourgeois Gentilhomme(1670) is a seminal instance of musical exoticism, boasting a modest assortment of conventional exotic signifiers: a solemn march, a minor-mode aria accompanied in parallel octaves, a handful of harmonic and melodic indelicacies, and perhaps most notably, the unrefined monotony of the choral interjection shown in example 2.1. This excerpt further contains a time-honored cliché of “otherness,” but one for which Lully was not himself responsible: the orchestra’s pentatonic countermelody (reduced here for piano), is in fact the work of J. B. Weckerlin, who prepared the 1883 vocal score. This countermelody...

    • Chapter Three The Religious Pentatonic
      (pp. 99-142)

      The final movement of Fauré’s Requiem, the “In paradisum,” is an extraordinary piece, befitting its subject. It is both a prayer for redemption and at the same time a mystical glimpse of that redemption, a gracious answer to the prayers of the other six movements. Whereas the preceding “Libera me” ended in utter bleakness—with its stern D minor, its painful diminished-seventh cadence, and its oppressive march-rhythm—the present movement leaves no doubt as to where the soul now rests. (The movement is reproduced in its entirety as P338.)

      The movement opens with a curious bass-line ostinato, the pentatonic incipit...

  8. Part 3: Beyond Signification

    • Chapter Four The Pentatonic Glissando
      (pp. 145-157)

      In the last two chapters, I have focused on pentatonicism as signifier, a network of musical and extramusical signs derived from a multitude of historical sources and marshaled by nineteenth-century composers for the purpose of representation. It would be doctrinaire, however, to suppose that compositional decisions were solely the product of ideological forces and programmatic tendencies: musical elements don’t just stand to impress a composer as (conceptually)right, but also as (acoustically)good. And even granting that “sounding good” entails aesthetic (and hence, ideological) assumptions, we must acknowledge a broad class of pentatonicism whose derivation can be said to be...

    • Chapter Five Debussy and the Pentatonic Tradition
      (pp. 158-182)

      The nineteenth-century harp pentatonic (leaving aside its more recent incarnations) and its analogue in piano music are exceptional among the diverse repertoire considered thus far for their ostensible non-signification. The explorations in consonance that were pioneered by Parish-Alvars anticipated a late-century aesthetic concern with sheer sonorous beauty, one distinctive aspect of the pentatonic style of the Impressionists. At the same time, programmatic music was also of great concern to these composers, who inherited the traditions of pentatonic signification outlined in part 2 of this book. Moreover, for all their compositional daring, the Impressionists wrote tonal music after all and hence...

  9. Afterword: Beyond Debussy
    (pp. 183-192)

    Debussy was not alone in relishing the syntactic-structural resources of pentatonicism “en soi.” The pentatonicism of Mahler’sDas Lied von der Erde, long associated with the work’s Chinese-inspired texts, has been shown to involve far-reaching structural functions.¹ Bartók and Kodály have been credited with pioneering an “organic synthesis of the music of East and West,” namely, the melodic thinking of pentatonicism and the harmonic thinking of the “acoustic scale”;² Bartók himself referred to the pentatonic scale as “the most suitable antidote for the hyperchromaticism of Wagner and his followers,” even as he also instructed that “the simpler the melody the...

  10. Catalogue of Pentatonic Examples

    • Preface to the Catalogue
      (pp. 195-196)
    • Chronological Index of Catalogue Examples
      (pp. 197-204)
    • Catalogue of Pentatonic Examples
      (pp. 205-474)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 475-498)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 499-514)
  13. Index
    (pp. 515-530)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 531-535)