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Two Roads Diverged, and that has Made all the Difference

Investigating Harmonic Divergence in Late Tonal Music

This article investigates a distinct process of dissonance-creation where melody and/or

accompaniment diverge from a single tonic while the tonic is clearly presented throughout the process.
Previous studies have dealt with cases in which melody in rock music diverges from the supporting
harmony, generated by the use of pentatonic scale.

This paper aims to reintroduce the concept as

more a general phenomenon as employed by composers such as Leopold Godowski, Heitor VillaLobos, Gyrgy Ligetti, Benjamin Britten, Paul Schoenfield, and a jazz pianist, Clare Fischer.
the examples, the dissonances are generated through the following two musical events.

In all of

First, one line

(either the melody or the accompaniment) clearly presents the tonic of the section. Second, the other
line diverges from the tonic via a pattern (e.g. circle-of-fifth or chromatic scale) and the pattern follows
its own logic irrespective of the tonic.

I will end my presentation with a close examination of Britten's

setting of a Welsh folk tone The Ash Grove to show the harmonic divergence of two lines illustrating
the persona's relationship with nature, and the parting of a loved one.

The use of pattern in the examples bears a special attention.

First, it serves as an agent which articulates the departure.

The pattern serves two functions.

Instead of using a melody which freely

departs without some sort of organizing feature, the pattern emphasizes the departure through repetition.
Second, I hear the pattern as creating some sort of musical inertia which delays the need of the
immediate resolution of the non-harmonic tones generated from it. As discussed by Larson and
Vanhandel, musical inertia is the tendency (attributed by a listener) of a pattern of motion to continue
in the same fashion, where the meaning of 'same' depends on how that pattern is represented in musical


Their empirical study also provides evidence that inertia is stronger than gravity or
Although the study is based on conventional tonal music, it presents a strong case of

delaying the immediate tonal resolution.

To clarify the definition of the divergence, I will use Godowski, and Schoenfield. Each
example presents different patterns.

Passacaglia on Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony by Godowski

employs a chromatic scale fragments (fig.1).

The theme clearly represents B-minor harmony while

the tenor melody (highlighted in the bottom box as circles connected by lines) employs seemingly
independent descending chromatic dyads from A to B. The right-hand mirrors this quasi-chromatic

Although it begins with B major-major 7th chord but the two chromaticized lines creates their

own paths.
In the third movement of Paul Schoenfields Caf Music, there are two short passages that use
similar musical gesture (fig.2).
setting up a pattern.

Consider the role of the first part (mm.115-116) of the excerpt as

In this case, the pattern is a descending scale with the series of lower-neighbors.

The second part (mm.127-131) of the excerpt begins similarly with the lower-neighbors.

But this

time, the melody descends down to B-natural while the bass reaches to B-flat thereby creating a
dissonant augmented octave. The resulting tension is shown in figure 3.

Although both upper and

lower lines begin in B-flat minor harmony, the upper line ends in B-natural minor harmony. The bass
B-flat then resolves up to as to B-natural. Here, the moment of dissonance is used as a link between
two key areas, B-flat minor and E minor. (B7 chord with added b9 is used as a dominant of E minor.)
Benjamin Brittens arrangement of Welsh folk tune Ash Grove presents more elaborated case of
melodic-harmonic divergence.3

As it is expected for a folk melody, the tune does not move away

from the tonic. There is a brief tonicization of V at the end of the B section (Britten harmonizes it as a
tonicization of iii), but it does not obscure the overall tonic in any way that I can hear (fig. 4).
1 Larson, Steve, and Leigh Vanhandel. 2005. "Measuring Musical Forces". Music Perception. 23 (2): 119-136.
2 In the study, Ending on ^1 is added to the three forces.
The full score is provided at the end of this paper.

In mm.

41-56, the pattern from the melody is presented in the right hand which articulates the departure (fig.5).
The pattern is based the line that is third above the original descending fifth progression.


departure is heightened with yet another line is third above the previous phrase. With the emphasis on
the C-natural in the following phrase (fig. 6) and the opening E-flat, the entire section is based on an
upward minor-3rd cycle (Eb-Gb-Bbb-C-Eb) which creates its own inertia independent from the tonic.
The text suggests the disconnection between persona and nature.4
By exploring how Britten used this process of harmonic divergence, we can fully understand
the expressive meaning of the harmonization of the simple melody. And by examining the process
employed by the other composers, we can unravel the harmonic complexity created by taking both
roads of the harmonic divergence.

Still glows the bright sunshine oer valley and mountain, still warbles the blackbird his note from the tree; still trembles
the moonbeam on streamlet and fountain, but what are the beauties of nature to me.

Figure 1. Leopold Godowski, Passacaglia on Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony

Figure 2. Excerpt from Schoenfields Caf Music 3rd Movement

Figure 3. Reduction of figure 2.

Figure 4. Reduction of Ash Grove

Figure 5. Divergence in Accompaniment in mm.41-56

Figure 6. Voice-leading sketch of the accompaniment in mm.56-64