I got rhythm

Sigh. I was just thinking back to my undergrad music history, even music theory, courses. Most of my professors perpetuated the misapprehension that a primary difference between baroque/early classical music and late classical/romantic music is that the former generally employs faster harmonic rhythm, and the latter is more expansive, harmonies changing much less frequently.

It’s not really accurate to say that.

The true, background harmonic rhythm we observe in music from either era is all over the map. There is no “usual.” Musicians who assert the above distinction reveal their ignorance of how skillful composers achieve unity and organicism by elaborating, often with great complexity and at great lengths, one harmony (or scale-step, as Schenker would have said). Then again, sometimes the scale-step is not adorned so richly – there’s a time and place for this, too. The problem is that too many musicians perceive elaboration as essential content – they’ve mistaken the plaster for the lath.

Perhaps a reason for this misapprehension is that Romantic era decoration is often more obvious – it will often contain great amounts of chromaticism. Earlier composers were more frugal with their use of chromaticism, but the elaborations are still there. Just because a sequence of chords comprises only diatonic pitches does not mean that the sequence isn’t a passing construct. Indeed, the idea of “passing constructs” itself seems to be a foreign one to many musicians. Too many musicians think of decoration only at the level of individual pitches: passing tones, non-chord tones, appogiaturas, anticipations, etc. Skillful composers have been fleshing out the idea of decorative pitches for centuries by unfolding them.


6 Responses to “I got rhythm”

  1. September 13, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    To the contrary my friend, the only reason that those embellishments and elaborated chords existed in the “Romantic” era is because of the previous work and experimentation done in the baroque era. Not the other way around. To suggest, that future techniques appeared in previous music goes against the natural order of musical creation only because after we discover a new way of looking at things can we then go back in time and see similiar patterns that we can now recognize but were not nessacarily thaught of in that same way back when they were bein implamented. The baroque era is a generalization and there is a consistent style that most composers like Leopold Wes and Vivaldi, Bach etc all seem to implemant a similiar structure to their music as opposed to the romantic era where the music seemed to be more emotionally based and structured to portray a visual or story oriented direction for the music, not just pure musical formal, Hence, composers like Debussy and his “Stormy Day on the Sea”. -Charles “the man, the legend, the apostle of the guitar” Watson

    • September 13, 2011 at 9:29 pm

      Lisi – are you being serious?

      • December 12, 2011 at 7:24 pm

        AGH! It just erased my WHOLE reply!!! No, I did not write this, charles did, he likes to write things that will get reactions. To sum up what I wrote….I like your posts but, don’t know enough about the content to have an opinion either way so, I probably won’t ever comment but, I like reading them to get my “musical beef” on and learn a few things about that which I have forgotten about since college. ALSO, I said you should get these published in a classical music magazine or even become a writer for one and have a column…people would love your articles. They are funny and obviously you know what you are talking about so..there you go!

      • December 12, 2011 at 9:25 pm

        Oh. Yeah, I didn’t think it sounded like you.

        The thing about me writing for real publications is that nobody seems to share my views. I really don’t think any of this stuff would get picked up. I don’t toe the “it’s all good” line that “open-minded” intellectuals today are supposed to toe. I am swimming upstream, for sure.

  2. December 19, 2011 at 7:05 am

    “Just keep swim-ming, just keep swim-ming.”

    It occurs to me, Beethoven occasionally decorated with silence.

    And, responding to your 1st paragraph, it’s too easy to respond: Well, it’s easy to slow down the harmonic rhythm in a S-A movement of upwards of 750 bars or so. As opposed to only 300.


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