Transcendental Oscillations in Popular and Classical Music Since the 1800s

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2021

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Abstract

In music both popular and classical since the nineteenth century, one finds everywhere chord progressions that alternate between two harmonies in ways that deviate from conventional “textbook” tonality. This thesis aims to answer the following questions: are there meaningful generalizations to be made about these progressions? What is their role in music history? Why have they been so popular with composers of the past two centuries? And how do they operate in specific pieces by particular composers? To answer these questions, I use methods such as Roman-numeral analysis, voice-leading diagrams showing how harmonic phenomena emerge from linear counterpoint, and multi-level readings of entire works. The study has four foci: Claude Debussy, Jean Sibelius, Stephen Sondheim, and modern pop music. I discover that modality has a symbiotic relationship with harmonic oscillation; that neighbor chords constituted important sites of innovation in nineteenth-century harmony; that transcendental oscillations can govern entire works in manifold ways; that the theatrical device known as “vamping” saturates Sondheim’s scores and produces transcendental oscillations; and that correspondences exist between styles that otherwise have little to do with one another, such as Impressionism and rap. This study explores the harmonic theory and analysis of music that is neither traditionally tonal nor atonal.

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Ramage, Maxwell (2021). Transcendental Oscillations in Popular and Classical Music Since the 1800s. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/22968.

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