In Search of New Scales: Prince Edmond de Polignac, Octatonic Explorer
In 1879, French amateur composer Edmond de Polignac (1834-1901) painstakingly devised a new way to create melodies and harmonies using a scale that alternated half and whole steps. This scale -- known today as octatonic -- was an important element in the music of Liszt and Rimsky-Korsakov, and would later figure prominently in the works of Ravel, Stravinsky, and many others. Sylvia Kahan, author of Music's Modern Muse: A Life of Winnaretta Singer, Princesse de Polignac, here publishes the Prince's octatonic treatise for the first time -- in both the original French and in English translation -- and comments extensively on what the treatise, and the Prince's little-known compositions, reveal about musical thought in late nineteenth-century Paris.
Given his aristocratic lineage, Polignac might seem an unlikely precursor of musical modernism, yet he was known as an advocate of "advanced ideas." Late in life, he married wealthy heiress Winnaretta Singer, who sponsored prestigious public concerts of her husband's bold works, interpreted by the greatest musical artists in Paris. Debussy and Fauré were admirers of Polignac's music, especially the 1879 octatonic oratorio Pilate livre le Christ (Pontius Pilate Hands Christ Over). Marcel Proust lauded his compositions and the "essence of genius of their author."
In Search of New Scales is based on bibliographic material in private archives, as well as letters and other documents in the Bibliothque Nationale de France. Sylvia Kahan's new book will become a permanent point of reference for all future studies of post-Romantic and twentieth-century composition.
Sylvia Kahan is Professor of Music at the Graduate Center and College of Staten Island, City University of New York. Her previous book, Music's Modern Muse, was published by the University of Rochester Press in hardcover and paperback.
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Prince Edmond de Polignac ca 1893
Childhood and Education 18341859
A Young Composer 18591877
1a String Quartet No 2 in F Major mvt 3 mm 114
2a Lamento mm 816
Polignacs Invention of Octatonicism 18771879
1a FantaisieTanz mm 310
Years of Plenty 18941899
the Brancovan family and guests at the Villa Bassaraba Amphion
Endings and Echoes 1900
Edmond de Polignacs Octatonic Music
Preface to Polignacs Octatonic Treatise
Known as MajorMinor Translation of the French Text
Edmond de Polignac Étude sur les successions alternantes
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7ème artistic autre bass Bertha BnF-Mss Bourgault-Ducoudray cadence Camille Camille de Polignac Cercle chant Charles Bordes choral chord chorus composer composer’s composition Comte Comtesse concert Conservatoire d’Indy d’une Danse du Serpent Debussy dessin diatonic dominante Edmond de Polignac EP to RM EP’s example Figaro ﬁgure ﬁnancial ﬁrst France French Gabriel Fauré Gamme gnac Greffulhe half step harmoniques harmony idem included inﬂuence Le Figaro letter LMLV Ludovic majeure médiante melody Ménestrel mineur Montesquiou musicale musicians musique NAfr octatonic collection octatonic scales octatonicism opera Opéra-Comique orchestral Paris pédale performance peut piano piece Pilate livre pitch pitch-class Poli Polignac’s music Polignac’s octatonic Prince de Polignac Prince Edmond private collection renversements RGMP Robert de Montesquiou Ruine du Temple Russian Saint-Marceaux scale degrees score sketches Société Stravinsky Taruskin tetrachord tonal tonic tonique tr-p tr-pp treatise triads tritone undated voice Wagner whole step Winnaretta Singer World’s Fair wrote