Part One

Part Two

Introduction: Part One
Music Theory as the History of Music
This web site discusses the functional structure of music.  The primary focus is European classical music, and especially symphonic music of the tonal period - from Bach to Brahms, so to speak.  On occasion, reference is also made to aspects of African American and other non-European music.

The basic premises of my approach to music theory are: (1) music theory is a part of music history; (2) music history is a part of human history; and (3) all music is a varied repetition of other music.

A module is any collection of musical ideas that forms a unit.  In the broadest sense, Richard Wagner's
Ring Cycle is a module.  For our purposes here, however, we limit our discussion to modules that are small enough to be repeated and manipulated.  A fugue subject, a harmonic progression, the theme used for a set of variations or any of the variations, a short motif such as the four-note idea at the beginning of Beethoven's fifth symphony, or a phrase which combines several motifs - these musical ideas are modules.

This web site focuses primarily on two modules - the chaconne, and the tonal cadence (
[I-IV-V-I]) - and on the musical structures (other modules) that relate to them.

This is not an introduction to music theory.  I assume that my readers can read music and have already learned the basic terminology - the names of the degrees of the scale, of the intervals and chords and of the basic harmonic progressions.  Hopefully, we share some familiarity with similar musical repertoires - from
Baroque to Blues, so to speak.
Music Theory as Human History
I am tempted to avoid using the expression "music theory" although, in fact, the word theory is more appropriate here, in the scientific sense, than in other works in this area.  Most music books use theory in an unfortunate philosophical sense, piling conjectures atop conjectures until composers themselves start believing them and incorporate them into their compositions.  Rameau, as both theorist and composer, comes to mind.

The notion of harmony consisting of chords piled up in thirds is particularly silly, in my opinion.  Despite the convenient notation and terminology, the seventh of the dominant seventh did not evolve vertically upward from the root but horizontally downward as a passing tone.  Similarly, in the supertonic six-five chord (first inversion, so to speak, of the supertonic seventh), the seventh did not evolve upward from the root but as a suspension which resolves to the leading tone.

In other words, musical ideas - even the most technical - evolve as a historical process, not as an abstract
theoretical process.  Such musical developments constitute one aspect of music theory as history.

October 10, 2003
Revised April 18, 2004

The broader meaning of music theory as history, in this work, is in reference to the general flow of human history.  So often, music history is taught as though it is extraneous to human history.

My examination of the evolution of European classical music, and especially the development of tonal music, has led me to the conclusion that tonal harmony or, as I prefer to call it,
cadential structure is the result of a series of historical influences.  The centuries of Moorish and Arabian culture in Spain, the expansion of Europe after the voyages of Columbus, the trade in African slaves and other developments played a crucial role in the evolution of European symphonic music.

It is appropriate, therefore, that this discussion of
music theory as history begin with the chaconne, which was originally a sixteenth century Afro-Cuban dance.
to Introduction - Part Two
MODULES
Introduction
Part One

Lester Allyson Knibbs, Ph.D.

Introduction ---

The Chaconne

Cadential Structure

Unitary & Binary Structures

Linear & Periodic Structures

Modules and Modalities

Structural Counterpoint

Modular Composition

Appendices
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