Damian Blättler

A VoicingCentered Approach to Additive Harmony in Music of ‘la Belle Époque’

This paper presents a voicing-centered model of chord structure and function for additive harmonic structures in the music of the French Belle Époque. In giving voicing a foundational role, the model corrects the widely acknowledged but as-of-yet-unaddressed inability of the conventional extended-triad model to (a) explain how chords are constructed and (b) describe how those pitch combinations function in context. This project also enriches the narrative of the development of Western tonal language in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Most research on this process details how innovation within certain horizontal-domain constraints allowed for the incorporation into tonal contexts of new harmonic successions; this paper demonstrates that a similar process can be read in the vertical domain, wherein adherence to certain vertical-domain constraints (e.g. skeletal chord voicings derived from common-practice chords, and generalized principles of consonant, ‘chordable’ pitch combination) allowed for the incorporation into tonal contexts of new chords.

This model consists of two parts. The first part concerns chord construction, and draws on music cognition research and several set-theoretical mechanisms to formulate a list of constraints on voicing; this list pares down the entire set of possible pitch-space chords into a set congruent with the range of verticalities found in the repertoire. The second part describes the ‘tonal plausibilities’ of that set of verticalities—the ways in which skeletal portions of chords allow novel pitch formations to access common-practice listening habits. Analytic examples are taken from the music of Chabrier, Debussy, Koechlin, Ravel, and Satie.