In an experiment, over 100 listeners reported associations with crime and detectives when presented with musical examples that were not originally intended to evoke such responses. These examples all involved melodic and harmonic tritones or half-diminished seventh chords, which have long been standard features of the music of crime-themed films, radio programs, and television shows.
The use of tritones and half-diminished chords in these contexts owes as much to their function as a style indicator of certain types of jazz—and as a genre synecdoche of people, places, and activities associated with that style—as it does to its history of harmonic ambiguity and associations with drama and woe in the European classical tradition.
This according to “Tritonal crime and music as music” by Philip Tagg, an essay included in Norme con ironie: Scritti per i settant’anni di Ennio Morricone (Milano: Suvini Zerboni, 1998, pp. 273–309).
Below, The man from U.N.C.L.E. brought a plethora of tritones to family televisions in the mid-1960s.
Darwin’s On the origin of species and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, both completed in 1859, share an articulation of the shift from one worldview to another: from change as a repetitive circular movement to development as a cyclic process. Darwin’s treatise is more than a scientific theory—it is an aesthetic account of the wonders and beauty of nature. Wagner’s opera is more than a subjective work of art—it clearly reflects dimensions of evolution akin to scientific explanations of the phenomenon.
This according to “Darwin and Wagner: Evolution and aesthetic appreciation” by Edvin Østergaard (The journal of aesthetic education XLV/2 [summer 2011] pp. 83-108). Below, the unresolved harmonic tensions of the opera’s prelude create (in Østergaard’s words) a feeling of ongoingness, unfinishedness, and incertitude in a performance by Zubin Mehta and the Bayerisches Staatsorchester.
Filed under Opera, Science
In response to a heightened anxiety regarding the preservation of a pure, authentic French identity and spirit as contacts with exotic cultures increased, the collection and dissemination of French traditional songs blossomed during the 1890s and the 1900s.
With harmonizations employing modal inflections, ambiguous tonalities, and unconventional voice leading, these collections presented traditional songs as historical evidence of a clear progression from provincial folk tunes to the sophisticated musical language of the fin de siècle. These harmonizations offer unique insights into the ways in which the French consciously manipulated how they wanted to be heard and understood during this period.
This according to “Harmonizing the past” by Sindhumathi K. Revuluri, an essay included in our recently published Music’s intellectual history.
Above, a page from the original edition of d’Indy’s Chansons populaires du Vivarais, op. 52 (Paris: A. Durand & Fils, 1900) illustrates his approach to modal harmonization.