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June 2022

Calculating tonal tension

Journal/Book: Music Percept. 1996; 13: Journals Dept, 2120 Berkeley Way, Berkeley, CA 94720. Univ Calif Press. 319-363.

Abstract: The prolongational component in A Generative Theory of Tonal Music assigns tensing and relaxing patterns to tonal sequences but does not adequately describe degrees of harmonic and melodic tension. This paper offers solutions to the problem, first by adapting the distance algorithm from the theory of tonal pitch space for the purpose of quantifying sequential and hierarchical harmonic tension. The method is illustrated for the beginning of the Mozart Sonata, K. 282, with emphasis on the hierarchical approach. The paper then turns to melodic tension in the context of the anchoring of dissonance. Interrelated attraction algorithms are proposed that incorporate the factors of stability, proximity, and directed motion. A distinction is developed between the tension bf distance and the tension of attraction. The attraction and distance algorithms are combined in a view of harmony as voice leading, leading to a second analysis of the opening phrase of the Mozart in terms of voice-leading motion. Connections with recent theoretical and psychological work are discussed.

Note: Article F Lerdahl, Columbia Univ, Dept Mus, 703 Dodge, New York, NY 10027 USA

Keyword(s): MUSIC


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