Simple yet unusual: Bartók’s implied harmony

A melodic line can have an “implied” harmony, even if no other notes are sounding at the same time, because the melody is constructed in such a way that it strongly “suggests” a harmony that could accompany it. The listener’s ears fill in the missing notes, so that they can “hear” the implied harmony in their mind. In this way, an unaccompanied melody can imply a harmonic accompaniment, that is, the chords that are missing. Implied harmony is common in jazz and in unaccompanied solo pieces for string and wind instruments, for example, in Bach’s cello suites. It is quite rare in pieces written for the keyboard, where there are always plenty of fingers left to play the necessary chords in addition to the melodic line. Bartók’s Unisons is an exception, as I show in this blog.

Boating one’s way around the keyboard

Mikrokosmos contains 153 graduated piano pieces, assembled in 6 volumes. The first ones can be played by students in their first year (indeed, week) of piano tuition. The pieces in the last two volumes Bartók himself played in concert. All of them are witty, surprising, and instructive. And even the simplest ones, from the first volume, are never boring or primitive. Boating, from the fifth volume, juxtaposes several musical elements (pentatonic writing, quartal harmony, layering of sound) in the space of a little over one minute.

Schubert’s unique inaction and repetition

The Melodie Hongroise (Hungarian Melody) is a quintessentially Schubertian gem of a work: it is bittersweet, dainty and elegant, yet at the same time almost overwhelmingly haunting and penetrating. Hearing its folkish rhythms, articulation and lyrical qualities, one cannot mistake it for anything other than a work of Schubert. It has the unsaturated simplicity that sets Schubert […]

The Albéniz-Debussy connection

In the previous entry, I discussed the fascinating differences and similarities between Schubert’s single Diabelli variation and Beethoven’s 33 variations on Diabelli’s theme. Here I discuss another intriguing relationship between two contemporaneous works, Albéniz’s El Albaicin from the third volume of Iberia, and Debussy’s La serenade interrompue from his first volume of Preludes.  Debussy composed his first volume of Preludes […]

What’s in a chromatic line?

The chromatic scale, one of the most prevalent and recognizable figures in all of music, from the Baroque era to the present day, has many implications, both musical and rhetorical. One of the iconic examples of a chromatic line appears in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, where the descending chromatic line represents a descent into hell. Throughout the […]