Dai Griffiths

Elevating Form and Elevating Modulation: So-called Popular Music as Music and as Discourse

My study of modulation has to date presented a four-part schema based on empirical analysis. My aim was to explain the examples against the background of the standard harmony textbook, using familiar concepts such as cadence types, transposition levels, and modulatory processes. The historical question is therefore begged: how does the elevating modulation compare with examples in so-called classical music, or music written as a score awaiting its eventual performance? I have no answer to this question, but can begin to illustrate its status by reference to harmony textbooks.

As a popular-music text, the elevating modulation often presents two interesting aspects which put it in an unusual position: that it belongs to the domain of arrangement rather than composing or song writing, and that it often belongs to the instrumental domain within a song rather than including the voice. This is a problem for ideas of authenticity, in which personal expression via authorship and vocal expression are of decisive importance. However, the elevating modulation is also critically derided, which is an interesting aspect of the device in terms of conceiving music as a whole: modulating from tonic to dominant in the major-key sonata form, or the augmented sixth chord, suffer no comparable denigration. The denigration and dubiety belong to discourse, rather than the music itself or, to use terms of Robert Bailey on Wagner, while the elevation is an expressive use of tonality is without doubt, as an associative use of tonality, the problem arises (i.e. it can be a cliché). I shall illustrate this conundrum, while my nomenclature (elevating form and modulation) attempts a more neutral description.