Miguel Ribeiro-Pereira

Modulatory Consciousness: A Plastic Paradigm for Understanding the Conception and Perception of Tonal Space

The interest in grasping the phenomenon of tonality continues unabated today, perhaps even renewed, as evidenced by some recent studies (Cohn 2012; Tymoczko 2011; Rings 2011). In his latest work, however, Leonard Meyer (1989) recognized that one “cannot satisfactorily explain why the progression from subdominant [IV or ii] to dominant [V or vii] specifies a tonal center.” Is then this canonical progression in tonal music an age-old puzzling scriptum whose true meaning remains to be unraveled and still in need of a cogent rationale? Such indeed is my goal: to explain why and how that harmonic succession relates integrally (and intrinsically) to one central tone – the keynote.

Developed from Aristotle’s understanding of nature as an inner principle of change and stasis, and Aristoxenus’ music theory of functional transformation in music (metabole), the fundamental cognitive principle of ‘modulation’ is comprehensively defined as the harmonic reinterpretation (or shift in tonal meaning) of any single tone or tonal pattern. Therefrom derives my Plastic Model of tonal syntax, whereby I seek to comprehend both the inner dynamics and overall logic of tonal syntax as a gradual process of harmonic transformation in growing dissonant context through the cadence. Ultimately, it is an archetypal representation of the keynote’s inner life.This seminal notion of modulation is extended up to the highest hierarchical level of the major-minor key system. This is the epitome of harmonic duality, which fully integrates the perception of the third-interval and its attendant modulatory, changing nature. The historical evolution of this twofold tonality – expressing a humanistic nature and a linguistic function – is eventually interpreted in terms of cultural consciousness.The following analytical triptych (Bach’s Inventio 1, Beethoven’s piano sonata Op. 10 No. 1, and Schumann’s lied ‘Auf einer Burg’) is meant to illuminate the full artistic scope of harmonic modulation in tonal music.