22 thoughts on “Rose Room

  1. Anybody else stuck by the way that the harmony positively avoids resolution to the tonic in a manner reminiscent of Tristan? I’m sure it can’t be unconscious — they were too well-educated to miss something like that, and it’s so well executed.



      1. Um.

        Let’s see if I can do this without running afoul of guidelines against excessive verbosity.

        Western music is largely driven by a tradition of harmonic development. Within any given key, a set of chords are readily defined based on the lowest note in a particular way of arranging the notes. There evolved a set of rules determining acceptable and unacceptable sequencing of chords, most famously realized in Bach’s chorales.

        Every key has a tonic, or root, or home chord. This is the last chord you hear in the piece. Every key also has a dominant, which is usually the next-to-last chord you hear. There’s a sub-dominant, which usually precedes the dominant, and so on.

        The dominant is usually followed by the tonic, but there are alternatives, most notably the minor sixth (because it shares two notes with the tonic).

        Over time, composers kept pushing the bounds of these rules. To surprise the audiences, they would have chord sequences that were close to the traditional ones, but broke the rules in some form or another.

        This most famously came right up to the breaking point with Wagner’s prelude to the opera, Tristan und Isolde. He wanders around for seemingly forever before finally landing on the tonic — and then only briefly. The Prelude is followed by the Libestod, one of the most heart-wrenchingly beautiful examples of traditional romantic harmony.

        After Tristan, there wasn’t much room left to maneuver within the traditional bounds of harmony. Strauss (Richard, not Johann) took it to the ultimate with Elektra; the entire opera is like Wagner’s Prelude. After that came the great split: Strauss, Wagner, and most of the other big names re-embraced tonality, while Schoenberg, Webern, Berg, and the rest of the Viennese school abandoned tonality altogether in favor of serialism, also known as “twelve-tone” music.

        Listen again to Benny at the top. The short introduction establishes the tonic, the “home key,” right up front. But then, once Benny starts, he keeps skirting around it, avoiding as long as he possibly can, only to land on it very briefly and lightly before running away again.

        I’m sure YouTube must have a number of recordings of the Prelude und Libestod for you to compare it with.



        1. Not overly verbose, Ben!
          Two comments:

          There’s a sub-dominant, which usually precedes the dominant, and so on.

          I won’t let you off with an “and so on” here. Anything that precedes the subdominant tends to be LESS “by the book” than what comes after. So while I – of course – agree with the subdominant>dominant>tonic at the end of almost all tonal music – what comes before is less predictable.

          while Schoenberg, Webern, Berg, and the rest of the Viennese school abandoned tonality altogether in favor of serialism, also known as “twelve-tone” music.

          The word serialism wasn’t used by the Second Viennese School (Schönberg/Berg/Webern) but only came into play (bad pun, Trine, bad pun) when Stockhausen and Boulez entered the stage after World War II. Dodekafon music (Second Viennese School) Only makes rows out of the pitch (Twelve different notes to each row) Whereas the Darmstadt School (Boulez, Stockhausen et al.) used rows for rhythm, tempo, pitch and dynamics. (End of music history lesson!)

        2. Well, I simply can’t NOT comment when a subthread goes this far into music theory.  Euterpe compels me!

          I’d caution against thinking of “the rules” as applying to what chords can or should precede/follow one another.  Chords, or discrete harmonies, are emergent.  The rules really only have to do with voice-leading.  Certainly there are better and worse sequences of harmonies (which are judged w a variety of loose criteria), but there really aren’t rules that say, for instance, “the sub-dominant must precede the dominant”, or “the dominant must follow the sub-dominant.”  

          To illustrate this emergent quality: Let’s say we’re in the key of “C.”  We’ve struck the tonic triad, and want to proceed to a triad built on the next note in the scale, “D.”  We must avoid parallel fifths, so the top of the tonic triad (“G”) moves to “A” first, then the bottom two voices can each move up a step.  That intermediate harmony is what we now call the sub-mediant.  A composer can then elaborate on the sub-mediant by having the bass descend a minor third, creating an octave w the soprano (on “A”), and this intermediary now displays fifth-motion in the bass (A up to D – an inverted fifth).  This can be further elaborated/strengthened by adding a “C-sharp” to the intermediary harmony, which will of course resolve to “D.”  AND…that “C-sharp” itself would have been derived as yet another way to avoid parallel fifths.  Going back to our original “C” triad, the bass would’ve proceeded to C-sharp first, then the upper two voices could’ve resolved to F and A.

          In this way, was harmony born.

          I believe Schoenberg’s preferred descriptor was “pantonality.”

          1. So precise! Thank you. And I do think you’re right about pantonality – I know he didn’t much care for Dodecaphony as a term – and since atonality was already defined – and used, he used pantonality.
            Alban Berg even quoted the Tristan-chord in his Lyric-suite. 😉 They knew what they were doing!

          2. Hmm. I should’ve read through this before publishing. Couple of nit-picks:

            We wouldn’t have to assume any key at all for those examples to demonstrate how harmony arose from contrapuntal practices (like the 5-6 exchange, of which the soprano moving from G to A was an example).

            Also, in an extremely local sense, G over E and C-sharp should resolve down to F. But I was only trying to show how in a background, harmony-establishing sense, a tritone (C-sharp against G) can resolve by similar motion to a fifth (D against A). (This can also happen in a local context, but…eh, it’s complicated.)

            If anyone was wondering.

        3. Well, I hardly expected the Spani^W^W to set off such a discussion on music theory!

          Yes, TrineBM and JS1685 — no disagreements from me. I thought about making many of the points both of you did, but refrained for the porpoises of brevity. In particular, TrineBM’s point that there’s much more maneuvering room (traditionally) before the dominant than there is after, and JS1685’s point that most of this emerged organically from voice leading rules. To the latter point, I’ll note that many great composers long past the abandonment of tonality still did fantastic things with voice leading (or consciously broke its rules for effect); in particular, see Stravinsky.

          And, of course, TrineBM — there’s an awful lot more to enjoy in this bit from Benny than just the harmonization. It’s just that the harmonization in particular struck me on this one, in a way that hadn’t registered before.

          Really, it’s some really amazing music — especially for a clarinetist!



        4. Wagner may have gone back to more conventional tonality in Die Meistersinger and The Ring, but in Parsifal, the move back to less conventional harmonies is evident.

    1. That’s a good way to listen to this recording. But notice also the elegance in all exchanges, from one solo to the other, from theme to improvisation and back. So elegant.

    1. Harold Wilson on violin. Ha! Sir Kenneth Clark, bass sax, General de Gaulle on accordion and Val Doonican as himself. Marvellous.

    1. Ee, by gum, I never knew that ukuleles were such fun. Here’s a ukulele solo played by none other than Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, starting about 1 minute into the interview.

  2. Charlie Christian and Lionel Hampton together! (Swoon)
    The elegance of of playing in this outfit is amazing. Light and fluffy and exquisite (sp?) like French macaroons, or summerclouds or … sigh
    Thanks for posting.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *