Harmonic Function in Chromatic Music: A Renewed Dualist Theory and an Account of Its Precedents

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University of Chicago Press, May 28, 1994 - Music - 337 pages
In this ground-breaking exploration of late nineteenth-century music and music theory, Daniel Harrison illuminates the structure and idioms of highly chromatic music, long resistant to investigation. Reanimating Hugo Riemann's notion of harmonic function Harrison explores the technical bases of post-Wagnerian harmony and ideas ancillary to it. He engages the work of Brahms, Franck, Strauss, Mahler, Reger, Busoni, and Wolf, creating new analytical methods to penetrate their harmonic complexities. Applicable on a wide scale not only to this repertory, Harrison's lucid explications of abstract theoretical concepts provide new insights into the workings of tonal systems in general. One of Harrison's central innovations is his reconstruction of the notion of harmony. Harrison understands harmonic power to flow not from chords as such but from the constituents of chords, reckoned for the most part as scale degrees of a key. This approach allows the analyst access to any harmonic formation, not just to one recognized either by convention or by consequence of a theoretical system. Harrison's theory of harmonic function suggests three distinct analytic approaches, each attuned to different aspects of harmonic structure. The first is the conventional method of segmentation into chords or longer units. The second takes the skepticism about chords to an analytically profitable extreme and seeks to connect unusual progressions or key relations to a controlling key by focusing solely upon scale-degree constituents of chords. The third is sensitive to the varieties of functional strengths and preferences in a passage, so that a phrase which contains many dominant-functioned entities - even if theybelong to different keys - could be said to have "accumulated" an overarching dominant charge. The second and third approaches constitute entirely new analytic devices. Harmonic Function in Chromatic Music also contains a critical history of nineteenth-century German harmonic theory, the inspiration and foundation of Harrison's analytical method. Tracing the development of Riemann's ideas on dualism and harmonic function and examining aspects of Riemannian theory in the work of later theorists, it provides the first thorough coverage of the history of music theory in the period 1850-1925. Combining theoretical innovation with a sound historical overview, Harmonic Function in Chromatic Music will be an indispensable tool for anyone studying this pivotal period of Western music history.

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I like the part where the man urinates on the pedestal. that is funny.

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This is a brilliant work. Harrison analyzes music from a basis informed by the work of Hugo Riemann. Riemann's ideas went into eclipse during the 20th century (obscured by those of Schenker), but there is an impressive body of scholars who are rediscovering his work. As I have found Schenkerian analysis to be part of the picture, but not all of it, I welcome non-Schenkerian perspectives. Harrison constructs a powerful set of ideas concerning the identities of the various degrees of the scale; when various of these are highlighted by a composer in the course of a piece, different aspects of the tonal space are "lit up". Though this perspective is not unique to Riemann or Harrison, I find (as a practicing musician and composer) Harrison's way of seeing it quite persuasive. He also does not advocate a "one-size-fits-all" approach to analysis, but in Chapter 4 recognizes that different pieces call for different foci. Since Schenkerian work can seem a bit Procrustean at times, I find this a welcome change. This is one of the most exciting works on music analysis I have come across. 


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About the author (1994)

Daniel Harrison is the Allen Forte Professor of Music Theory at Yale University.

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