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No Great Music Without Great Tension

Anthony Tommassini, classical music critic for The New York Times, invites us all to a mini-lecture at the piano on dissonance. With a series of examples by well known composers, Tommassini elaborates on one of the most crucial components in Western music.

Two or more notes sounding together in such a fashion as to create great tension are said to be dissonant. These notes seem to yearn for release. In music theory terms, such release is called resolution. At the beginning of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 in C-Major, for example, the opening chord is dissonant. The chord that follows it is consonant. The notes in the opening chord that create the tension move to notes that no longer create tension, which is the resolution. Some dissonant chords don’t resolve. The “Dance of the Adolescents” from “The Rite of Spring” pounds along without relief. Some dissonances resolve so grandly that they provoke visceral responses of great joy. The ending of Bach’s massive Passacaglia and Fugue in C-Minor is a case in point. Not only does the dominant seventh chord resolve, but it also moves to the radiance of C-Major on the final chord.


/patrick

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