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.  For historical and personal reasons, reference is also made to aspects of African, American, and African American musics.

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.

The use of the term
riffs connects the idea of a module to a basic technique of African American music.  A module is any collection of musical ideas that forms a unit. In this sense, Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle is a module.  Or James Brown's Sex Machine album.  For our purposes here, we will limit our discussion to modules - riffs, in a sense - 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 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 Johann Sebastian Bach to James Brown, 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

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.  In addition, the history of European music is taught as though ancient civilization had never collapsed and the Dark Ages had never occurred, as though there exists a continuous connection between the supposed glory that was Greece and modern times.  As documented in Martin Bernal’s Black Athena and in other works, this is an intentional fiction, a lie; ancient Greece was a brief appendage to a vastly more ancient and highly developed African and Middle Eastern civilization.  The notion of an ancient and continuous Western Civilization is a myth.

As documented in R. Montgomery Watt’s
The Influence of Islam on Medieval Europe, in Julian Ribera’s Music in Ancient Arabia and Spain, in Stanley Lane-Poole’s The Moors in Spain, in Henry George Farmer’s Evidence for the Arabian Musical Influence, in The Legacy of Islam, edited by Sir Thomas Arnold and Alfred Guillaume, and in Africans in Early Europe, edited by Ivan Van Sertima, modern European-dominated civilization is the result of the influence of Muslim civilization and particularly of the Moors (African Muslims) in Spain from 711 to 1614.  (The fall of Granada, the last Moorish kingdom, was in 1492, but the final expulsion of the Moriscos was in 1614.)

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 profound series of African influences.  In particular, the Moorish presence in Spain beginning in 711, the African captives brought to the western hemisphere (from civilized nations, it must be emphasized), and the African American descendants of those captives have all played a crucial role in the evolution of European symphonic music.

As an African American, I consider it a fundamental necessity that we African Americans and our African forebears be integrated into history-as-taught, simply because it is the truth:  WE ARE THERE!

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
Part One
Lester Allyson Knibbs, Ph.D.


The Chaconne

Cadential Structure

Unitary & Binary Structures

Linear & Periodic Structures

Riff Modalities

Structural Counterpoint

Modular Composition

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Appendix - Afro-Americana