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Music theory trivia (Harry Potter)


Eric_JWFAN
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Everyone knows the famous celessta opening in the Prologue- for quick reference, the first :19 seconds of this clip ---> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJf38WFJsTg

The melody is in E-minor, but what does this melody contain that very few melodies have?

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Polytonality. or chromaticism. depending on how you look at it.

It takes a swerve in harmony that most film scores don't take, put it that way.

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Polytonality. or chromaticism. depending on how you look at it.

It takes a swerve in harmony that most film scores don't take, put it that way.

It's definitely very chromatic... but I'm looking for something more specific. There's something very interesting about this melody that you almost never find in tonal music, something that I feel JW did intentionally.

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Polytonality. or chromaticism. depending on how you look at it.

It takes a swerve in harmony that most film scores don't take, put it that way.

It's definitely very chromatic... but I'm looking for something more specific. There's something very interesting about this melody that you almost never find in tonal music, something that I feel JW did intentionally.

Probably you are refering to the D# F (natural) B part... in "common" music a passage of this kind would perhaps have ended on the tonic E (that's D# Fnatural E), in this way instead it also generates a thritone (hope the translation is right!). Williams combines here two unusual "jumps": an ascending diminished third and a descending diminished fifth.

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Polytonality. or chromaticism. depending on how you look at it.

It takes a swerve in harmony that most film scores don't take, put it that way.

It's definitely very chromatic... but I'm looking for something more specific. There's something very interesting about this melody that you almost never find in tonal music, something that I feel JW did intentionally.

Probably you are refering to the D# F (natural) B part... in "common" music a passage of this kind would perhaps have ended on the tonic E (that's D# Fnatural E), in this way instead it also generates a thritone (hope the translation is right!). Williams combines here two unusual "jumps": an ascending diminished third and a descending diminished fifth.

The descending tritone is definitely unusual, but not the answer I am looking for. I'll give you a hint. It has more to do with the entire 16 bar theme as a whole.

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Polytonality. or chromaticism. depending on how you look at it.

It takes a swerve in harmony that most film scores don't take, put it that way.

It's definitely very chromatic... but I'm looking for something more specific. There's something very interesting about this melody that you almost never find in tonal music, something that I feel JW did intentionally.

Probably you are refering to the D# F (natural) B part... in "common" music a passage of this kind would perhaps have ended on the tonic E (that's D# Fnatural E), in this way instead it also generates a thritone (hope the translation is right!). Williams combines here two unusual "jumps": an ascending diminished third and a descending diminished fifth.

The descending tritone is definitely unusual, but not the answer I am looking for. I'll give you a hint. It has more to do with the entire 16 bar theme as a whole.

Perhaps the fact that there are all the 12 notes of the chromatic scale (counting the A flat that is heard in the F minor chord)?

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Polytonality. or chromaticism. depending on how you look at it.

It takes a swerve in harmony that most film scores don't take, put it that way.

It's definitely very chromatic... but I'm looking for something more specific. There's something very interesting about this melody that you almost never find in tonal music, something that I feel JW did intentionally.

Probably you are refering to the D# F (natural) B part... in "common" music a passage of this kind would perhaps have ended on the tonic E (that's D# Fnatural E), in this way instead it also generates a thritone (hope the translation is right!). Williams combines here two unusual "jumps": an ascending diminished third and a descending diminished fifth.

The descending tritone is definitely unusual, but not the answer I am looking for. I'll give you a hint. It has more to do with the entire 16 bar theme as a whole.

Perhaps the fact that there are all the 12 notes of the chromatic scale (counting the A flat that is heard in the F minor chord)?

You got it! And the A-flat is actually a melody note (pickup to the 13th measure). So we have a tonal melody that is 12-tone too, an absolute rarity. Considering the movie's story and the hidden stuff that directors and composers like to secretly put in, I bet this was intentional.

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Perhaps the fact that there are all the 12 notes of the chromatic scale (counting the A flat that is heard in the F minor chord)?

You got it! And the A-flat is actually a melody note (pickup to the 13th measure). So we have a tonal melody that is 12-tone too, an absolute rarity. Considering the movie's story and the hidden stuff that directors and composers like to secretly put in, I bet this was intentional.

Yes, I was meaning that the A flat makes its appearance where the harmony goes to the F minor chord. I agree, there is no doubt that this was intentional, it is a too much peculiar feature, it couldn't be accidental.

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It's the celesta. Tchaikovsky's Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy has a very similar feel to it, and probably blew the minds of the 19th century audience much as the Harry Potter Prologue blows our today. Also the melody starts off playing over a repeating pedal "e" in the left hand, giving the whole thing a slightly sinister/magical clockwork feeling. It sounds like a child's toy, but an unpredictable and mischievous one that could cast a nasty spell on the child at any moment.

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Indeed, it does contain all 12 notes of the chromatic scale, but by the true definition of 12-tone music, it does not qualify as such.

Yeah, I don't think I would call it exactly atonal. Sounds like it has interesting modulations, and enough passing tones to give each of the twelve tones a sounding. But it sounds tonal in a creative, more distant modulations, way.

Of course, I only listened to it once quietly, and it was the first time I had ever heard it, so I could easily be wrong.

Colin Thomson

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Of course, I only listened to it once quietly, and it was the first time I had ever heard it, so I could easily be wrong.

You should get the first Potter soundtrack (and all three, for that matter). It is one of Williams' best scores.

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Indeed, it does contain all 12 notes of the chromatic scale, but by the true definition of 12-tone music, it does not qualify as such.

Yeah, I don't think I would call it exactly atonal. Sounds like it has interesting modulations, and enough passing tones to give each of the twelve tones a sounding. But it sounds tonal in a creative, more distant modulations, way.

Colin Thomson

Of course it's not atonal. If it was atonal, including 12 tones would be easy. The fact that it includes all 12 tones AND remains completely tonal in e-minor is what makes it so special.

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Indeed, it does contain all 12 notes of the chromatic scale, but by the true definition of 12-tone music, it does not qualify as such.

You're right. I was thinking this too, but you beat me to it!

And..... for the theory geeks, just for the sake of discussion, can you really call this tonal? It's been a number of years since my theory courses in college. It seems there are too many borrowed or altered chords - which is typical Williams, and wonderful, and it sounds tonal because the melody is fantastic, but what's the limit for the number of borrowed chords before you determine that something modulated, or isn't tonal anymore? When you try to write this out, there are accidentals all over the place, which is usually the signal that you've modulated.

Here's the normal progression for things in the key of e minor - chords you can create with the scale degrees of the natural minor scale (e f# g a b c d e). I listed the V in case you do harmonic minor, in which case you get the d# which makes for a major V chord.

i iio III iv v(V) VI VII

e f#o G a b(B) C D

In this theme, after a lot of i-i-i-i-i, we have an open fourth, Bb-Eb - what do you even call that? Then a iii, v of V, iv, II, and back to i. So the only chords that are really in the tonality of e minor are the e minor (i) and the a minor (iv). So..... do you call this tonal? It does start and end with the same chord, and you don't really "feel" like it's gone atonal or too far away when you listen.

Or maybe I'm way off?

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Indeed, it does contain all 12 notes of the chromatic scale, but by the true definition of 12-tone music, it does not qualify as such.

You're right. I was thinking this too, but you beat me to it!

And..... for the theory geeks, just for the sake of discussion, can you really call this tonal? It's been a number of years since my theory courses in college. It seems there are too many borrowed or altered chords - which is typical Williams, and wonderful, and it sounds tonal because the melody is fantastic, but what's the limit for the number of borrowed chords before you determine that something modulated, or isn't tonal anymore? When you try to write this out, there are accidentals all over the place, which is usually the signal that you've modulated.

Here's the normal progression for things in the key of e minor - chords you can create with the scale degrees of the natural minor scale (e f# g a b c d e). I listed the V in case you do harmonic minor, in which case you get the d# which makes for a major V chord.

i iio III iv v(V) VI VII

e f#o G a b(B) C D

In this theme, after a lot of i-i-i-i-i, we have an open fourth, Bb-Eb - what do you even call that? Then a iii, v of V, iv, II, and back to i. So the only chords that are really in the tonality of e minor are the e minor (i) and the a minor (iv). So..... do you call this tonal? It does start and end with the same chord, and you don't really "feel" like it's gone atonal or too far away when you listen.

Or maybe I'm way off?

Well it's tonal because it starts and ends in e-minor. He doesn't stay on any of those borrowed chords long enough for us to lose sense of e-minor. In fact when we get that iv (a-minor) chord near the end I feel it clearly sounds like the sub-dominant. And this iv chord actually gets replaced later in the piece by a i 6/4 which even more emphasizes our e-minor key.

And that borrowed II can really be called a V/V.

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It is absolutely tonal, exactly because, even if Williams uses chords that don't belong to the usual e minor key (f minor, g minor etc...), at the end he comes back to e minor and, since all the changes happen in few bars, you don't have time to get accustomed to any new keys. It goes far, but it comes back home immediately. To estabilish a new key, the composer has to do several things (of course there is not a fixed rule), but it's not correct to say that the music has modulated only because at a certain point you suddenly hear a borrowed chord. And if it hasn't modulated, it is tonal, and the only key is e minor.

A famous example of a classical passage that uses all the 12 notes (without becoming atonal) is in the last scene of Don Giovanni, by Mozart (the cue begins with the "Commendatore" saying "Don Giovanni, a cenar teco mi invitasti, e son venuto" - that means, "Don Giovanni, you invited me to dinner, and I've come"). The cue is in d minor. At a certain point, the "Commendatore" sings in long notes the following succession, if I remember correctly (I haven't listened to it for a while and I don't have the score here now):

A - F# - D - Bb - Eb - D

Eb - Bb - C# - F - B - E - (D) - C - A

Only the G and G# are missing, but they are present in the harmony, in some very important points. So, you hear in few bars all the 12 notes. A very strange and unusual effect, but it remains tonal (also if here it is modulating).

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Knowing nothing of music theory, I was rather wondering if a melody can be atonal. The word "atonal" suggests to me that there's no distiguishable melody. Probably I'm wrong though, judging by what I seem to understand from above posts. :D

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"tonal"/"atonal" isn't directly related to a melody, but the underlying harmonies. Even without hearing the harmonies, Hedwig's theme is clearly in e-minor due to enough characteristics of e-minor in the melodic line (despite the passing notes and borrowed chords). "Atonal" rather means that there's no distinguishable tonality; a melody doesn't need tonality, it's sufficient that the listener recognizes its succession of notes.

I'd make a distinction between "atonal" and "free tonal", I don't recall the exact definitions right now, but the one doesn't have tonal chords at all (or very little), so it sounds very dissonant usually, the other has tonal harmonies (major and minor chords), but no clear tonal center, so you can't say "it's in G major" or so.

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I haven't got a clue what any of you are talking about ;)

Anyone want to elaborate this for someone with no musical knowledge at all?

Tonal music (music that sounds 'normal' to us) is written in a certain 'key' that is made of up seven notes, and centers around the first note of those seven. Atonal music (usually sounds 'weird') cares not for the seven notes, using all twelve available, and does not center around any one tone (of course, there is a lot more to each of these discriptions, but this is the basics).

What is unusual about this piece is that it centers around one tone (the E note) but uses all the tones available to do so, which is something that is not easily done.

Hope this clears things up and is easy enough to understand :D

Colin Thomson

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The first 8 bars of the Imperial March (in fact, THE imperial March) also features all 12 notes of chromatic scale, by the way :mrgreen:

Very interesting, I never realized that. Although one could argue that this one actually does change keys very briefly to C# minor as it stays there all of measure 6. And even though it's very brief it does indeed sound like a new key (unlike any of the non-functional chords in Potter). I probably wouldn't label it a "key change" but it's a bit more than just a passing chord.

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I'd say the C# and following Eb minor bars are chromatic alterations functioning as subdominant and dominant. Try playing the theme with these two bars lowered a minor second. Then you have a standard t-s-d-t pattern. The half-tone shift upwards is what makes it interesting (the "unaltered" gm - cm - dm - gm pattern would then be the Zimmer version :P:mrgreen:)

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I'd say the C# and following Eb minor bars are chromatic alterations functioning as subdominant and dominant. Try playing the theme with these two bars lowered a minor second. Then you have a standard t-s-d-t pattern. The half-tone shift upwards is what makes it interesting (the "unaltered" gm - cm - dm - gm pattern would then be the Zimmer version :P:mrgreen:)

I tried it, and I can totally hear what you described, interesting.

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It's not entirely unique. The first 8 bars of Petticoat Lane from Jurassic Park has all of the 12 notes too.

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Hm, definitely JW using a tritone in that theme speaks for itself too, and would very likely spark the interest of those church circles calling HP books a subdued invitation of innocent children to wicked witchcraft and devil worship ... Mi contra Fa, diabolus in musica! :) (Though it's pure rubbish of course, my ever-favourite use of tritone is the beginning of Holst's Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age (a famous repetition of F-B and Eb-A chords), ever so thoughtful and delicate ... :thumbup:)

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Hm, definitely JW using a tritone in that theme speaks for itself too, and would very likely spark the interest of those church circles calling HP books a subdued invitation of innocent children to wicked witchcraft and devil worship ... Mi contra Fa, diabolus in musica! :) (Though it's pure rubbish of course, my ever-favourite use of tritone is the beginning of Holst's Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age (a famous repetition of F-B and Eb-A chords), ever so thoughtful and delicate ... :thumbup:)

That is interesting. Liszt's tritone usage in the 'Inferno' movement from his 'Dante' symphony is another good example. It is interesting to me how these associations go. At one point both the fourth and fifth intervals were considered dissonant, and a tritone was the worst possible nightmare. Now, every seventh chord has a tritone in it, and we know how common they are.

Colin Thomson

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It's not entirely unique. The first 8 bars of Petticoat Lane from Jurassic Park has all of the 12 notes too.

Hmmm.. I don't think the opening has a G or an A-flat in the melody. Also, remember Tink's theme has all 12 pitches, but that melody has 16 bars and a lot more notes. Imperial March reaches it in just 33 notes, but it isn't quite as firmly entrenched in its starting key as Hedwigs. What makes Hedwigs so interesting is it reaches all 12 pitches by just the 27th note and never at any point even hints at a tonality other than e-minor.

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Yes, I see your point.

Btw the most well known tritone is perhaps the opening in the violin solo in Saint Saens' Danse Macabre. Which was an ironic gesture of course :lol:

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Btw the most well known tritone is perhaps the opening in the violin solo in Saint Saens' Danse Macabre. Which was an ironic gesture of course ;)

But of course, don't know why I didn't think of that before. :lol:

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Does anyone have any examples of atonal main themes or something like that? I'd be interested to see (hear) if I indeed do find it sounding somewhat out of the ordinary, what with my having no knowledge of music theory whatsoever.

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Hm, surely it was Schoenberg whose music practically defined atonality, though quite some more composers wrote in that direction, amongst them Prokofiev and Scriabin. Concerning soundtracks, I guess e. g. CE3K (most of it, at least) would pretty much qualify.

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Does anyone have any examples of atonal main themes or something like that? I'd be interested to see (hear) if I indeed do find it sounding somewhat out of the ordinary, what with my having no knowledge of music theory whatsoever.

Though not a film music composer, Alban Berg is a good example of atonality. And if you want to listen to some of his stuff online, there are demos for VSL of three of his pieces. Go to the link below and scroll down to the pieces by him, and click on them.

Not a fan myself, but, hey, maybe you'll love the stuff.

http://vsl.co.at/en/67/3920/4687.vsl#

Colin Thomson

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Atonal music is such a difficult subject. It's cold, forbidding and hopeless music that I can't stand. Maybe it's simply weakness, but I hate it. I want to hear some small degree of warmth and understanding. Not cruelty. Atonal music is NOT cruel by definition, but it is arduous to write and listen to. Suffice it to say that some amazing talent and skill goes into the best atonal pieces.

Though not a film music composer, Alban Berg is a good example of atonality. And if you want to listen to some of his stuff online, there are demos for VSL of three of his pieces. Go to the link below and scroll down to the pieces by him, and click on them.

Not a fan myself, but, hey, maybe you'll love the stuff.

http://vsl.co.at/en/67/3920/4687.vsl#

Colin Thomson

This is interesting stuff. It's not really atonal, more like free tonal.

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Atonal music is such a difficult subject. It's cold, forbidding and hopeless music that I can't stand. Maybe it's simply weakness, but I hate it. I want to hear some small degree of warmth and understanding. Not cruelty. Atonal music is NOT cruel by definition, but it is arduous to write and listen to. Suffice it to say that some amazing talent and skill goes into the best atonal pieces.
Though not a film music composer, Alban Berg is a good example of atonality. And if you want to listen to some of his stuff online, there are demos for VSL of three of his pieces. Go to the link below and scroll down to the pieces by him, and click on them.

Not a fan myself, but, hey, maybe you'll love the stuff.

http://vsl.co.at/en/67/3920/4687.vsl#

Colin Thomson

This is interesting stuff. It's not really atonal, more like free tonal.

Right. Berg used Schoenberg's 12 tone scale, but he also did not shun using more familiar methods for producing emotion. Sometimes he even has hints of a semi-tonal melody line, but they are always short, and the larger part of his music I would definitely call atonal. So perhaps over-all, his music is free-tonal, because parts get close to tonality, but other parts are firmly atonal.

Colin Thomson

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To be honest with you, I really don't like the term "atonal" to describe music that just sounds less traditional.

What does "atonal" mean anyways? Without tone.

Well, all of Schoenberg's work uses tone. Any 12-tone serialism piece uses tone. In fact, it revolves around the concept of different tones.

I'd say there is no such thing as an atonal piece of music. Perhaps a percussion piece...but even then with cymbals, the harsh sound is just because there are so many tones squished together.

Therefore, every single piece of music is tonal. Some just sound differently than others, and use different techniques. I can't even say that it doesn't sound traditional, because one man's noisy bells is another man's gamelan music...

Just my little opinion, I suppose :blink:

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To be honest with you, I really don't like the term "atonal" to describe music that just sounds less traditional.

What does "atonal" mean anyways? Without tone.

Well, all of Schoenberg's work uses tone. Any 12-tone serialism piece uses tone. In fact, it revolves around the concept of different tones.

I'd say there is no such thing as an atonal piece of music. Perhaps a percussion piece...but even then with cymbals, the harsh sound is just because there are so many tones squished together.

Therefore, every single piece of music is tonal. Some just sound differently than others, and use different techniques. I can't even say that it doesn't sound traditional, because one man's noisy bells is another man's gamelan music...

Just my little opinion, I suppose :lol:

Atonal does not mean music that is less traditional. Like Henry said, it just means that it does not center around one tone. So perhaps there could be a better word than 'atonal', but that is the one we are stuck with to describe not music that sounds weird, but musc that does not center around one tone.

Colin Thomson

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Atonal does not mean music that is less traditional. Like Henry said, it just means that it does not center around one tone. So perhaps there could be a better word than 'atonal', but that is the one we are stuck with to describe not music that sounds weird, but musc that does not center around one tone.

Colin Thomson

My point exactly. There should be a better term that comes around for that sort of music. Atonal, in my opinion, is a gross misrepresentation of the music.

And in regards to the term "tonal" which was coined relatively recently in regards to having some sort of pitch center...I think this is a bad term for that as well.

Modern musicians are in such a rush to correctly label and categorize music these days. What you get is one definition of music which actually is proven faulty in just a few years.

I think we musicians need to be careful about what definitions we throw around and use. There are some real intellectual bad habits out there.

By your definition, Henry, tonal music must resolve to a tonic note. But there are plenty of works by many composer out there that don't resolve to the tonic note at all! Hindemith's Symphony in Bb, for example. The first movement ends on a chord that includes every note EXCEPT Bb. By your definition, that would make the first movement non-tonal. One listen of the piece proves this incorrect.

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