Christophe Guillotel-Nothmann

Conditional Asymmetry and Spontaneous Asymmetry of Harmonic Progressions in Madrigal Cycles from Verdelot to Monteverdi (c. 1530-1638)

The theory of harmonic vectors identifies the asymmetry of root progressions as one of the most outstanding characteristics of tonal harmonic syntax. My talk aims at explaining this phenomenon by considering the evolution of the relationship between contrapuntal constraints – especially the dissonance treatment – and the asymmetry of root progressions through a corpus study of madrigal cycles by Arcadelt, Verdelot, Lassus, Rore, Wert and Monteverdi of the period 1530-1638. This computer-assisted statistical analysis determines, from a synchronic and diachronic point of view, the links between the overall asymmetry and the asymmetry associated with dissonances. Furthermore my talk investigates the bonds between the asymmetry of root progressions and other characteristics of the harmonic syntax – especially phenomena of polarization and the hierarchical articulation of tonal syntax.
This paper shows a deep evolution between a conditional asymmetry and a spontaneous asymmetry: the first, constrained by contrapuntal rules and intervallic structures – the second, acting on voice leading and resulting from a dynamic understanding of the fundamental bass. I argue that this trend is crucial for the crystallization of tonality in the narrow sense. On this basis, the technical aspects which have fostered this development are identified: the growing hegemony of triadic harmony, the increased use of specific irregular dissonances and the growing importance of the lowest voice. For a better understanding of the intensification of spontaneous asymmetry, I examine the factors that permit to deduce it by considering the morphology of chords and the emergence of specific counterpoint licenses. Finally, this talk aims at identifying the compositional possibilities and theoretical implications of a growing dynamic interpretation of the fundamental bass. On the one hand, it gives rise to a larger distance between the foreground and the deep structure. On the other, it coincides with a shift between the hierarchies inherent in the diatonic system and the hierarchies of tonal harmonic functions.