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Johnny's Mystery Chords


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Revisiting Williams's ultimate mystic chord, worthy of Scriabin along with its two succeeding measures...

 

0:54

 

 
Disregarding faulty rhythm/tempo, how close do you reckon I am? With the rolled piano/synth chord I had to make an educated guess, based on similar moments in E.T., TOD and concert works like TreeSong. The second staff down is strings, winds and muted brass, third down is low strings and possibly a synth bass (going by low string doublings in THE RIVER), and the final one is of course muted trombones.
 
The short segment that immediately proceeding the Emperor's Theme statement is based on almost identical (cretic: long-short-long) rhythm to Keys's theme from E.T., scored for blended clarinets and flutes, with a gentle harp accompaniment in triplet quarter notes. Violin harmonics play a two note descending answer to the winds' question, harmonized in tritones.
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That sounds like the big chord. For the flutes in bar 3 though, I hear the highest note alternating between C# and G a few times. What is interesting to me is that a lot of this stuff goes unnoticed as background but there is so much interesting complexity in there.

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It's amazing how cleverly written these passages are.

 

Next one up is also from ROTJ, but it's incredibly challenging. It's the Bartókian bit for when Luke is being slowly circled by Vader in the Emperor's throne room ("Your thoughts betray you, father. I feel the good in you...the conflict.").

 

There's 27 chords in total, divided into two 8 chord phrases, resolving in a 10 chord phrase. The upper portamento line (muted violins?) seems to be harmonised in sixths, while the lower (celesta, harp and synth?) is less predictable. Sixths, thirds, maybe tritones. I can't make it out. Mostly the two lines move in contrary motion, with occasional parallel and similar motion.

 

 

I've worked backwards from the 27th chord, but left enough spaces for anyone here to fill in the rest. The rhythmic diminutions are ignored, so it's all regular half notes.

 

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It's amazing how cleverly written these passages are.

Next one up is also from ROTJ, but it's incredibly challenging. It's the Bartókian bit for when Luke is being slowly circled by Vader in the Emperor's throne room ("Your thoughts betray you, father. I feel the good in you...the conflict.").

There's 27 chords in total, divided into two 8 chord phrases, resolving in a 10 chord phrase. The upper portamento line (muted violins?) seems to be harmonised in sixths, while the lower (celesta, harp and synth?) is less predictable. Sixths, thirds, maybe tritones. I can't make it out. Mostly the two lines move in contrary motion, with occasional parallel and similar motion.

I've worked backwards from the 27th chord, but left enough spaces for anyone here to fill in the rest. The rhythmic diminutions are ignored, so it's all regular half notes.

That sounds good Sharky but it's not quite right. But the strings sound good and remind me of the tractor beam opening chords but expanded upon in ROTJ.

I completely agree with you these passages took some tender love and care and maybe one day we'll get details to the process that went in to creating them.

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What this is, is actually much simpler than it sounds: You have two pairs of sixths traveling in contrary motion, and that's all (no tritones etc, and it's all just four part writing).

The violin harmonics' high shimmer and the slides between them obfuscate the result, and make it sound more elusive. The motored vibraphone doubling the harp also makes the lower pair of sixths project a little less "obviously"...

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What this is, is actually much simpler than it sounds: You have two pairs of sixths traveling in contrary motion, and that's all (no tritones etc, and it's all just four part writing).

The violin harmonics' high shimmer and the slides between them obfuscate the result, and make it sound more elusive. The motored vibraphone doubling the harp also makes the lower pair of sixths project a little less "obviously"...

Thanks. I had a feeling I was overcomplicating it. Do both pairs of sixths remain as minor sixths or major sixths, or do they switch up?

To help me start off...

Violins 1st and 2nds: Ab6-E7, G6-Eb7, E6-C7 ...

Violas and Cellos: Ab5-E6, G5-Eb6, E5-C6 ...

Vibes/Harp: Ab3-E4, Bb3-Gb4, D4-Bb4 ..

Is that right?

It's amazing how cleverly written these passages are.

Next one up is also from ROTJ, but it's incredibly challenging. It's the Bartókian bit for when Luke is being slowly circled by Vader in the Emperor's throne room ("Your thoughts betray you, father. I feel the good in you...the conflict.").

There's 27 chords in total, divided into two 8 chord phrases, resolving in a 10 chord phrase. The upper portamento line (muted violins?) seems to be harmonised in sixths, while the lower (celesta, harp and synth?) is less predictable. Sixths, thirds, maybe tritones. I can't make it out. Mostly the two lines move in contrary motion, with occasional parallel and similar motion.

I've worked backwards from the 27th chord, but left enough spaces for anyone here to fill in the rest. The rhythmic diminutions are ignored, so it's all regular half notes.

That sounds good Sharky but it's not quite right. But the strings sound good and remind me of the tractor beam opening chords but expanded upon in ROTJ.

I completely agree with you these passages took some tender love and care and maybe one day we'll get details to the process that went in to creating them.

It also reminds me of these moments in ESB.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmy4YoO_7qA

0:28

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGzFbHLeGxQ

0:13

Although these are little closer to fourth species counterpoint so are less systematic than the ROTJ example.

We can only hope that some day we'll find out how Williams sculpted these moments, but sadly I think it'll be long after his passing. Like many highly intelligent craftsmen Williams tends to seriously undervalue his own work, which is why we'll probably never see the publishing of a John Williams film score in his lifetime. Ironically it's that same self-doubt and strive for perfection that makes his work so rich. See the Dunning–Kruger effect.

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Anyone want to tackle what's going on from 1:45-2:30, especially in the choir? It gets pretty buried in all the sound. Love this bit.

 

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Wow, that was very cool! Will have to check out this soundtrack again…I’ve neglected it.
Starting at 1:45, there is a low G pedal with the chorus playing G in octaves as strings do an aleatoric pattern cresc while brass fanfares get increasingly annimated.

The G pedal maintains as chorus adds sustained cluster notes.

post-2883-0-15735500-1433348728.jpg

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Wow, that was very cool! Will have to check out this soundtrack again…I’ve neglected it.

Me too. Forgotten how good Murphy's recording is too--much 'punchier' than his usual sound. It doesn't have his characteristic Decca Tree blur on the brass, more of a spot-miced sound.

KK, if you have the score, you could check out this passage exactly as written. I think it's around the 600s page-wise.

I've got that too, but I didn't think this cue was included. What's its proper name/slate number?

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Wouldn't it be one of the versions of 6M5 Pt II / First Frozen Lake ?

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KK, if you have the score, you could check out this passage exactly as written. I think it's around the 600s page-wise.

Wouldn't it be one of the versions of 6M5 Pt II / First Frozen Lake ?

Cheers guys. Got it.

This is brilliant stuff.

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  • 4 weeks later...

To add to karelm the choir is basically a white note cluster with F# which increases in a staggered mannar. While the brass add a dissonant element adding in F# and Eb

Kinda reminds me a little of Close Encounters G major 7 + Eb . The 6- tuplet in the horns is a cluster E F# G A B

The trumpets play Ab F Bb F Ab F

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  • 1 year later...

The Shriek Chord:

FkqGBwS.png

...which you can hear in the winds when Darth Maul (or at least parts of him) falls to his death, at 2:13:

 

 

Pitches present: A#, B, C, C#, E, F#, G, G# (8 different pitches)

PItches missing: A, D, D#, F

Number of notes in the chord: 8 (each pitch used only once)

 

Piano version:

Orchestral version (try playing this one with the original track!):

Orchestral version, with horns added:

 

OK, so this chord looks like a giant mess at first glance.

But I think you can argue that there are two separate "parts" to this chord:

  1. the top C, G# and E played by the high winds, which act as an emphatic "shriek"
  2. the lower notes (played by wind and trombones, decorated with low strings) which serve to suggest an underlying harmony

Let's focus on the 2nd part first. The underlying harmony is not immediately clear (is there a harmony in the first place, even?), but one must look at these things in context. :D

 

Preceding the chord, we hear an A# played in the trumpets, which is also the starting pitch of the descending violin trill figure. And the first two pitches of the descending horn figure (right when that chord plays), are C# and A#. Hence, as a listener I immediately think of A# minor. And I think this might have been the tonal "landscape" Williams might have been thinking of when writing this segment, since the final note of that cataclysmic horn figure is also A# (barely audible at 2:19).

 

However, the horns' first 5 notes are: C#, A#, G, B, A#, the G suggesting a diminished 7th, and the B acting as a leading note towards the A# (because we know that John Williams never uses straight dim7 chords...) Notice that these five pitches are all present in the lower half of the overall chord (apart from the F#).

 

So, I think that what Williams is doing is hinting at a dim7 harmony, in this case the notes A#, G and C#, but obscuring it with a B and F# which act as leading tones to A# and G respectively, thus increasing the tension. Overall I believe that Williams came up with the horn line first, and then added the background to fit the horn line.

 

So, what about the upper "shriek"? Immediately I should start by pointing out that the most audible note in the track is the top E played by 2 piccolos. But E is just a tritone away from A#, and thus part of the dim7 harmony. And it's interesting to note that the first horn note, the C#, sits in between these two pitches, sort of preventing the C# becoming the dominant note by not making it equal to either the top note or the bottom note of the chord. Also, the trumpets preceding the chord are playing an A#, so the jump from A# in the trumpets to the highest E on the piccolos helps create that shrieking effect, as if somebody suddenly started screaming in your face. :D

 

One could view the top portion as a kind of open augmented triad, with the E forming the "top anchor", so to speak. So what about the D? Well, I think the C and D in combination act to form the greatest dissonant possible against the first horn note, the C# (albeit not in the same range, but in the octave above), as well as the top E (but an octave lower). What this does is, though it's barely audible, it helps draw the audience's attention towards the dissonant background. I am an idiot.

 

Anyway, I guess what makes this chord particularly interesting is its lack of any repeated pitches despite its large range (A#2 - E6). Narrow clusters are usually very striking and draw lots of attention to themselves, so Williams uses an open cluster to support the descending horn figure rather than drawing attention away from it. But I think it is immediately clear to any listener, regardless of their musical background, that whatever chord the winds + trombones are playing to support the horns sounds wrong and terrifying in a way. Add to that a terrifyingly implosive horn line, and you have one of the most striking moments in Williams' SW canon.

 

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You could say it's an F# chord in an open 3/6 configuration with a G chord in the same open 3/6 configuration added (transpose the D down an octave), creating lots of friction, along with a Caug on top.

 

Naamloos_zpsvobtoi81.jpg

 

EDIT: I forgot a B natural in the third measure:

 

13632726_1022007107912779_825106999_o.jpg

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Are we forgetting perhaps the "oddest" chord JW has written: the first chord heard on the acoustic guitar, in the main title of "The Missouri Breaks"? 

Not a mystery, but it does make one go

"ew". It's so wrong, but brilliant. :lol:

 

Ok, Ok, how about the quiet chord, as Luke locks lightsabres with Vader, in

"ROTJ"?

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I hear the TPM "shriek chord" as (lower sonority) essentially stacked 5ths (B-F#-C#), with double leading tones (A#, G), and the upper structure as an embellishment, with C and D leading down to the B and C#, and the G# as a "brightening" of the lower G. 

 

For all its chromatic saturation, I hear it as essentially 'B centric'. Hindemith would claim it is because of the fifths...

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1 hour ago, Marcus said:

I hear the TPM "shriek chord" as (lower sonority) essentially stacked 5ths (B-F#-C#)

 

(...) For all its chromatic saturation, I hear it as essentially 'B centric'. Hindemith would claim it is because of the fifths...

 

Odd. I'd hear a perfect quintal triad (e.g. B-F#-C# here) as having the upper note (C#) as its tonal center. That's what makes its sound interesting to me - the "seventh at the bottom", as Williams once mentioned.

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4 hours ago, Jilal said:

You could say it's an F# chord in an open 3/6 configuration with a G chord in the same open 3/6 configuration added (transpose the D down an octave), creating lots of friction, along with a Caug on top.

 

I can definitely see where you're coming from with the F# open chord. I can kind of recognize it when listening because of the top C# in the horns. Although the idea of Williams placing a G major open chord on top of it, with the top D shifted up an octave, to clash with the F# major, doesn't sound like the right way to think about it for me. Your analysis makes sense though.

 

Personally, if somebody straight up asked me "What harmonies do you hear in this chord" I would probably end up saying "An A# dim7 with a C aug on top", like this:

Osv2mUV.png

Nice jazzy sound!

 

2 hours ago, Marcus said:

I hear the TPM "shriek chord" as (lower sonority) essentially stacked 5ths (B-F#-C#), with double leading tones (A#, G), and the upper structure as an embellishment, with C and D leading down to the B and C#, and the G# as a "brightening" of the lower G. 

 

For all its chromatic saturation, I hear it as essentially 'B centric'. Hindemith would claim it is because of the fifths...

 

Interesting. So you've taken my leading tones and turned them into your base chord, treating my dim7 notes as its leading tones. :D

 

I can definitely sense a clash between the A# and the B. If I saw that chord on its own, one of those would be my "tonal centres" and I wouldn't be able to tell which. The only reason I went with A# in the end is because of the preceding A# on the trumpets, and the C# and A# of the horns.

 

However, B G A# C# seems to be a fairly typical Williams sonority (0 8 11 2?) so I wouldn't be surprised if Williams' tonal "focus" was the B instead.

 

Treating the lower structure as a pentachord though your CD -> BC# theory makes sense. But what about the top E?

 

1 hour ago, Jilal said:

Odd. I'd hear a perfect quintal triad (e.g. B-F#-C# here) as having the upper note (C#) as its tonal center. That's what makes its sound interesting to me - the "seventh at the bottom", as Williams once mentioned.

 

I would sense the B as the tonal center as well, mainly because if the C# goes down to B, you have a B open 5th chord, which is much more stable than the B shifting up to C# which would give an inverted 5th chord (does that even make sense? I mean B - F# - B is more stable than C# - F# - C#). B - F# is part of the B-centric tonality anyway. Also, if you add an A#, you get a B major 9th chord.

 

I don't think that's what Williams meant by "seventh at the bottom". The seventh is not the seventh unless it is clearly harmonically the seventh (I mean technically it's a 9th below, which is equivalent to the 7th, but I think Williams was referring to a late-Romantic harmonic 'trick' ;) ). With B - F# - C#, that's more suggestive of B major (or minor) than C# major (or minor), because of the F#. For the B to act clearly as the seventh you would need an E#, E or G# replacing the F#, to suggest C# as the tonic centre, harmonically.

 

The "seventh at the bottom" sound is something more like in the opening of the third movement of the Daphnis et Chloe Suite No.2:

 

 

...where you clearly have the bottom A acting as the seventh of the B major chord on top. You can also have instances of the major 7th at the bottom, such as in the ending of The Firebird where you have a C major chord over B (though that's more like Stravinsky planing major chords over a B pedal):

 

 

The "seventh at the bottom" quote comes from Williams' interview regarding the music at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark (The Miracle of the Ark), however I can't actually find an instance of the "seventh of the bottom" (at least in the way which I understand it). A main musical idea in that track however is the idea of C minor, F# minor and C minor (the Ark motif) playing against a C in the bass. C against F# minor is an augmented 4th in the bottom, which has a similar function to the "seventh at the bottom", so I guess that's what Williams might have been referring to? :unsure: (compare C against F# to F against F#)

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@Jilal Interesting! I guess ears work differently. But with an A# as the lowest note, I guess that would be a sixth at the bottom, not a seventh (or were you referring to B as "tonic"?).

 

Still, I guess one could hear a cadential pull from the C and the D encircling  the C#.

 

But to me, the A#, F# and C# lend just a bit too much gravity to B. In fact, the whole chord could be written as an V on I sonority, actually F#b9#913addb6/B -now isn't that a nice chord!-  (implying the presence of a lower octave B, of course).

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@loert That's what I was referring to indeed, only using it in a slightly different sense. If I consider C# the tonic, the B is its Mixolydian flat seventh. There's a great Raiders moment too, Eb over a Db pedal:

 

 

30 minutes ago, Marcus said:

@Jilal Interesting! I guess ears work differently. But with an A# as the lowest note, I guess that would be a sixth at the bottom, not a seventh (or were you referring to B as "tonic"?).

 

Yes, I was referring purely to the perfect quintal triad B-F#-C#.

 

32 minutes ago, loert said:

I would sense the B as the tonal center as well, mainly because if the C# goes down to B, you have a B open 5th chord, which is much more stable than the B shifting up to C# which would give an inverted 5th chord (does that even make sense? I mean B - F# - B is more stable than C# - F# - C#). B - F# is part of the B-centric tonality anyway. Also, if you add an A#, you get a B major 9th chord.

 

I know, rationally one would say B is the tonal center. C# feels more like it to me, however. I'm mostly considered far too rational for anyone's taste, but here I'll let my instinct guide me.

 

Theoretically I'd say both F# and B could be considered the tonic. Its inversion B-C#-F# (Bsus2) would technically resolve to B, whereas F#-B-C# (Fsus4) and C#-F#-B (C#sus7) would resolve to F#.

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2 hours ago, TheWhiteRider said:

This takes me back to the Golden Age of JWFan theory discussions.

 

Damn right. Thanks for reviving the thread, loert.

 

A few brief things I'd like to add:

 

- Take a look at the interval content of the chord, taking inversions into account. Three m2s, one M2, one M3, two A4ths, one P4th. Minor seconds and augmented are the only recurring intervals--it's no coincidence that these are also the most dissonant of all intervals.

 

- I'd have to agree with Jilal that the tonal implications of the lower structure are hard to avoid. If collapsed into one octave (F#-G-A#-B-C#) you'd have a very familiar Williams polytonal sonority. That's [01457] in prime form or 5-Z18 as a Forte number. Transposed and inverted to T7I, you get C-D-Eb-F#-G--a Cm triad embellished with a major 2nd and augmented 4th (or a ninth and augmented 11th)--AKA this chilling chord from Jurassic Park.

 

 

 

Now back to the TPM chord... Listen to the Force Theme statement at 1:52 in Bm. What's the supporting harmony in winds/synth? It's F#-G-A#-B-C#! The same chord, this time in "root" position. To me, this is polychord of F# and G functioning as an embellished dominant, with elements of the submediant. After the Force statement there's a brief passage in Ab/Em as Obi does his jump/somersault, Bbm as he makes the cut (with the violin trills), and finally back to Bm with this white hot, intestine-churning chord--which like Maul himself, is split in two halves.

 

- I'd call the upper structure a whole tone tetrachord [0248]. It's quite common for Williams to juxtapose a whole-tone complex (displaced by an octave or so) with a polytonal structure below or above, as in this case. 

 

 

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33 minutes ago, Sharkus Malarkus said:

Listen to the Force Theme statement at 1:52 in Bm. What's the supporting harmony in winds/synth? It's F#-G-A#-B-C#! The same chord, this time in "root" position. To me, this is polychord of F# and G functioning as an embellished dominant, with elements of the submediant. After the Force statement there's a brief passage in Ab/Em as Obi does his jump/somersault, Bbm as he makes the cut (with the violin trills), and finally back to Bm with this white hot, intestine-churning chord--which like Maul himself, is split in two halves.

 

Aha, I see now how the lower half would function as a dominant in B minor. However I'm still not convinced that the falling shot is in Bm. I think it would be simply more accurate to say that the F# and G polychord becomes the new tonal basis (which I perceive mainly as a diminished-7th-flavored chord). Do you actually hear Bm in there (in the original track)?

 

Btw, the Obi somersault passage is another mystery chord really (at least in how it's voiced)...it's something like a E F* G# A# B cluster, over an F* and A# bass (the two tones which prevent it from being a straight E major chord) . The presence of A#, E and B reminds me a bit of the G#-D-A trumpets right here actually (another falling scene :D ):

 

 

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25 minutes ago, loert said:

Aha, I see now how the lower half would function as a dominant in B minor. However I'm still not convinced that the falling shot is in Bm. I think it would be simply more accurate to say that the F# and G polychord becomes the new tonal basis (which I perceive mainly as a diminished-7th-flavored chord). Do you actually here Bm in there?

 

Hmm, not really. The more I think about it, the more E stands out. Not just as the highest and brightest note, but in the second bar of the descending horn figure (E, D#, B, G. F#, D#, E, G, C, B, G, E), which is clearly within Em. 

 

Quote

 

Btw, the Obi somersault passage is another mystery chord really (at least in how it's voiced)...it's something like a E F* G# A# B cluster, over an F* and A# bass (the two tones which prevent it from being a straight E major chord) .

 

There's no F in the chord--the only added note is Bb--a 9th to Ab or #4th to E. From lowest to highest, the pitches are G1, Bb1, G2, E3, G#3, A#3, B3, D#4, E4, G4, A#4, B5, E5, with the harp performing an Abm gliss, and the piano/strings doing aleatoric figures that also throw in C and F# from Em.

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31 minutes ago, Sharkus Malarkus said:

There's no F in the chord

 

Sorry, I meant F double-sharp :D (F* is the closest I can get to that notation!).

That might not be the right way to think about it though. I was thinking of it as a scale.

 

EDIT: Oh dear...I can't believe it! I notated the chord wrong in my initial post! I transposed the Eb clarinet in the wrong direction!

 

There is no D in the chord! It's just the piccolo clarinet playing a G#!

 

Abort! Abort! 607b46b77156.gif

 

(on the plus side that's one less note we need to worry about)

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28 minutes ago, loert said:

 

Sorry, I meant F double-sharp :D (F* is the closest I can get to that notation!).

 

Why don't you just say Fx (unless x already has some musical notation I haven't learned about, then ignore me)

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Phew! So just C+ in open voicing...

 

I'm still sticking to my guns on that G#m/Em chord though. I've seen enough Imperial March statements surrounded (if not accompanied) by that selfsame i/b6 fusion to recognise it. i.e. the string chord that opens The Emperor's Throne Room from ROTJ: D-G-A-Bb-Eb-Gb..

 

48 minutes ago, Hawmy said:

 

Why don't you just say Fx (unless x already has some musical notation I haven't learned about, then ignore me)

 

Why not say G? I try to avoid double sharps at all cost.

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12 minutes ago, Sharkus Malarkus said:

I'm still sticking to my guns on that G#m/Em chord though. I've seen enough Imperial March statements surrounded (if not accompanied) by that selfsame i/b6 fusion to recognise it. i.e. the string chord that opens The Emperor's Throne room from ROTJ: D-G-A-Bb-Eb-Gb..

 

OK, but the Force theme in that instance implies a modulation into E major, so I would say that E is the root, not G#. However I see your overall point, that it's a tense sonority in itself which Williams likes to use (and that particular shot where Obi catches the lightsaber is definitely fitting for that kind of sonority).  

 

Oh yeah, and the chord at the opening of The Emperor's Throne Room is bloody fantastic! :up:

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3 minutes ago, loert said:

OK, but the Force theme in that instance implies a modulation into E major, so I would say that E is the root

 

I believe Sharkus stated that a couple of posts ago. ;)

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  • 1 year later...
27 minutes ago, Marcus said:

It's essentially a combination of Fm, Dbm and Em - a Hungarian minor conglomerate-, but voiced, as you said, as an Fmin9#11addb6/E. 

And beautifully orchestrated! 

 

5 hours ago, Ludwig said:

Keeping the E.T. analysis going, I thought it would be useful to resurrect Sharky's thread to revisit the end of 2M2 "Looking for E.T.", which has that great complex chord:

 

 

Some time ago, I took a crack at analyzing it below but am not sure I ever posted it on the forum. Essentially, I'm calling this a polytonal chord of F minor against the E pedal with loads of dissonance, or what I've labeled "bristles" (in closed noteheads). This conception blends well with the score's opening chord that I described in karelm's "sophisticated harmony" thread on Williams, but perhaps there are other ways of understanding this passage. Anyway, for those interested, what are your thoughts?

ET-02---_Finding-_ET-_end.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

There are several aspects, one of which is its temporal evolution. If we want to guess how JW might have conceived the whole thing, I think we should separate the first chord, which goes with the last note of the melodic line (C natural), from "the stuff that he added later".

 

Now, the first chord can be called in many ways, but I'd say it's F minor with E in the bass and added B (Horn and Bassoon). Given the preminence of the melodic C and the E in the bass, I tend to hear it more as a chord of E5+ with added F and B, but how to name this chord is somehow subjective (as long as all the notes are included!), as it has no further harmonic function. 

 

Then, in a second moment he adds the trumpets and in a third moment all the rest, but the displacement of the trumpets' entrance is small and merely serves as a dynamical buildup, so I would consider everything other than the first chord as a single entity.  

 

Now, inspecting the final chord, all and only the following notes are included:

 

C - Db - Eb - E (also appearing written as Fb) - F - G - Ab - B 

 

which is an octatonic scale. So, I think he might have reasoned in these two steps:

 

1) find "by ear" an appropriate chord for the ending of the melodic line,

2) add all the other notes needed to complete a chord based on the full octatonic scale.

 

All the rest is brilliant orchestration.

 

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5 hours ago, Score said:

There are several aspects, one of which is its temporal evolution. If we want to guess how JW might have conceived the whole thing, I think we should separate the first chord, which goes with the last note of the melodic line (C natural), from "the stuff that he added later".

 

Now, the first chord can be called in many ways, but I'd say it's F minor with E in the bass and added B (Horn and Bassoon). Given the preminence of the melodic C and the E in the bass, I tend to hear it more as a chord of E5+ with added F and B, but how to name this chord is somehow subjective (as long as all the notes are included!), as it has no further harmonic function. 

 

I agree that the temporal aspect is important and that it is best to hear the first chord as primary. I would stretch this idea back even further back to include the immediately preceding Bicycle Theme, since, as you point out, the chord harmonizes the last note of its melody. With that in mind, the chord we expect to hear with the final chord's melodic C here is a first-inversion C major chord. Though the outer voices of that chord are present, the inner voices certainly don't amount to a C major chord. I would also agree that its essentially an F minor triad, and would say that it replaces the expected chord, emphasizing the surprise of the camera panning over to E.T.'s hands (remember, we still haven't seen his face yet, or know whether he's benevolent or not).

 

I think the B with the F minor chord is stylistically important because it is possible to hear it with the C and Ab as part of a (014) set, which is one of Williams' favourite's for highly intense moments, especially in the spacing he gives, with the semitone dissonance spread out into a major 7th instead of a literal semitone. In this way, we might hear the first iteration of the final chord of this cue as an F minor chord overlaid with an intersecting (014). We might also include the trumpet's G as an additional dissonance (a bristling note, if you will).

 

5 hours ago, Score said:

Now, inspecting the final chord, all and only the following notes are included:

 

C - Db - Eb - E (also appearing written as Fb) - F - G - Ab - B 

 

which is an octatonic scale.

 

I think you're right that an octatonic scale is central to this chord, but F, Ab, and B would be part of a different octatonic scale than that containing C, Db, Eb, and E. The upper voices that are added a little after the chord's entrance - on C, Db, Eb, Fb, G - can all be viewed as a subset of a single octatonic scale. And also note that this octatonic subset contains several (014)s as further subsets, which is to say it blends well with what is already sounding.

 

So with all this considered, I'm probably now leaning towards hearing the chord as having several distinct components:

 

- E pedal

- F minor, blended with (014) and bristled with G

- octatonic subset

 

There are other chords in this thread that have several elements like this, meaning that it's a regular feature of Williams' writing. I don't know of any name for them, but I might suggest "composite chord" for such constructions so we can refer to them more easily.

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1 hour ago, Ludwig said:

I think you're right that an octatonic scale is central to this chord, but F, Ab, and B would be part of a different octatonic scale than that containing C, Db, Eb, and E. The upper voices that are added a little after the chord's entrance - on C, Db, Eb, Fb, G - can all be viewed as a subset of a single octatonic scale. And also note that this octatonic subset contains several (014)s as further subsets, which is to say it blends well with what is already sounding.

 

So with all this considered, I'm probably now leaning towards hearing the chord as having several distinct components:

 

- E pedal

- F minor, blended with (014) and bristled with G

- octatonic subset

 

There are other chords in this thread that have several elements like this, meaning that it's a regular feature of Williams' writing. I don't know of any name for them, but I might suggest "composite chord" for such constructions so we can refer to them more easily.

 

Yes, I understand what you mean, but I was just using the term octatonic in the general sense of "any scale of 8 notes that covers an octave", as I was taught that this is a possible use of the term. I think you are using the more specific definition for which every octatonic scale must alternate intervals of tone and semitone, and according to this definition the scale that I wrote does not qualify as a single one because of two consecutive semitones.

 

In any case, it is clear that Williams did not just write a random cluster, but he selected 8 specific pitches out of 12, and these 8 pitches have the property that, if arranged consecutively in the way that minimizes the adjacent intervals, they span an octave (as opposed, for example, to a sequence like C - C# - D - D# - E - F - F# - G). This is an objective information that we can get from the score, and since the sequence fits so well, I would bet that the idea of "completing the octave" was the guiding principle that he followed when designing that chord. Then, of course, the full chord can be separated and interpreted in different ways (also according to the orchestration, which splits subsets between different families), and it's perfectly possible that he followed your line of reasoning.

 

I would suggest, however, to use the term "complete octatonic chord", rather than "composite", as the former is more specific (unless you reject the use of "octatonic" for scales which include two consecutive semitones).   

 

I am curious to see other similar cases. Maybe I should just read this whole thread from the beginning... however, do you have specific examples ready? All this stuff is very interesting. 

 

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1 hour ago, Score said:

Yes, I understand what you mean, but I was just using the term octatonic in the general sense of "any scale of 8 notes that covers an octave", as I was taught that this is a possible use of the term. I think you are using the more specific definition for which every octatonic scale must alternate intervals of tone and semitone, and according to this definition the scale that I wrote does not qualify as a single one because of two consecutive semitones.

 

In any case, it is clear that Williams did not just write a random cluster, but he selected 8 specific pitches out of 12, and these 8 pitches have the property that, if arranged consecutively in the way that minimizes the adjacent intervals, they span an octave (as opposed, for example, to a sequence like C - C# - D - D# - E - F - F# - G). This is an objective information that we can get from the score, and since the sequence fits so well, I would bet that the idea of "completing the octave" was the guiding principle that he followed when designing that chord. Then, of course, the full chord can be separated and interpreted in different ways (also according to the orchestration, which splits subsets between different families), and it's perfectly possible that he followed your line of reasoning.

 

I would suggest, however, to use the term "complete octatonic chord", rather than "composite", as the former is more specific (unless you reject the use of "octatonic" for scales which include two consecutive semitones).   

 

I am curious to see other similar cases. Maybe I should just read this whole thread from the beginning... however, do you have specific examples ready? All this stuff is very interesting. 

 

 

Sorry about the misunderstanding. I'm so used to octatonic meaning a scale with alternating half and whole steps that I'd forgotten that some use it in a more general way. And of course you could call it an octatonic chord, but what does "complete" add to the label? What would an incomplete octatonic chord be? I'm just curious.

 

Other examples of this structure are throughout this thread. The ones I was thinking of were the "I can't remember what my parents look like" chord from EOTS, the Nazi-zapping chord from Raiders, and several chords Sharky posted from CE3K. 

 

Interesting that almost all of the chords we're discussing derive from that most prominent period of Williams' career, roughly 1975-1993. It may be that he drew on these kinds of composite chords more during that period than any other.

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16 hours ago, Ludwig said:

 

Sorry about the misunderstanding. I'm so used to octatonic meaning a scale with alternating half and whole steps that I'd forgotten that some use it in a more general way. And of course you could call it an octatonic chord, but what does "complete" add to the label? What would an incomplete octatonic chord be? I'm just curious.

 

You are right, "complete" does not add anything, actually (octatonic already means that there are 8 distinct pitches).

 

 

16 hours ago, Ludwig said:

Other examples of this structure are throughout this thread. The ones I was thinking of were the "I can't remember what my parents look like" chord from EOTS, the Nazi-zapping chord from Raiders, and several chords Sharky posted from CE3K. 

 

Interesting that almost all of the chords we're discussing derive from that most prominent period of Williams' career, roughly 1975-1993. It may be that he drew on these kinds of composite chords more during that period than any other.

 

I will check those out with the mindset of looking for these chords. Maybe there is something like that also in the Harry Potter scores...

 

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On 24/09/2017 at 5:04 AM, Ludwig said:

Some time ago, I took a crack at analyzing it below...

 

The way you've analyzed looks perfectly fine based on the score, but the Fb just seems weird to me. Why not simply write an E? All the other octaves use an E. And when I hear the chord I distinctly hear a C major chord over an Fm/E chord. The top two notes in the vibraphone are really prominent. My instinct is that Williams set out to write an F minor major 9th chord, with an E in the bass to avoid a sense of finality, and the added notes being B, Db and Eb to act as coloristic tones (colouring the overtones of the muted brass, maybe?). But then he shifted the high E up to an Fb for some reason, possibly to make it look neater on paper.

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7 minutes ago, Loert said:

 

The way you've analyzed looks perfectly fine based on the score, but the Fb just seems weird to me. Why not simply write an E? All the other octaves use an E. And when I hear the chord I distinctly hear a C major chord over an Fm/E chord. The top two notes in the vibraphone are really prominent. My instinct is that Williams set out to write an F minor major 9th chord, with an E in the bass to avoid a sense of finality, and the added notes being B, Db and Eb to act as coloristic tones (colouring the overtones of the muted brass, maybe?). But then he shifted the high E up to an Fb for some reason, possibly to make it look neater on paper.

 

Because there is an E flat right there.  It would be easier to read as F flat and E flat rather than E flat and E natural.

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2 minutes ago, karelm said:

 

Because there is an E flat right there.  It would be easier to read as F flat and E flat rather than E flat and E natural.

 

I understand that, but my point is that the F flat sounds to me like the E in a F minor major 9th chord (F Ab C E G, not F Ab C Fb G). And if that's indeed how it functions then I think that should take priority over whether or not it appears neat on paper. I find it hard to see how it doesn't function that way...

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4 minutes ago, Loert said:

 

I understand that, but my point is that the F flat sounds to me like the E in a F minor major 9th chord (F Ab C E G, not F Ab C Fb G). And if that's indeed how it functions then I think that should take priority over whether or not it appears neat on paper. I find it hard to see how it doesn't function that way...

 

karelm is right. Don't expect notation to be always "theoretically correct" (the concept itself is not even well defined in this case), it should also be easy to read. 

 

Think about the harp (in general, not in this example). The notation is always in function of how the instrument is made. Suppose one wanted a very fast repetition of a single note, say Eb, while the other instruments are playing, say, some Eb major chord. Then it would be easier to do it by plucking two different strings alternately, one tuned to D# and one tuned to Eb. And the notation would be exactly like this. It would be unpolite to write only Eb's just for the sake of theoretical correctness and let the player figure out that he has to alternate between two different strings. The example above is slightly different, but the idea is to simplify notation, and at the end, what you hear does not depend on how it is written. 

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25 minutes ago, Score said:

Think about the harp (in general, not in this example). The notation is always in function of how the instrument is made. 

 

That's different. That's particular to the harp. But in this excerpt, you have one of the flutes playing an Fb (2nd staff from top). Why? The flautist can read an E too. I can buy the neatness argument for the vibraphone, because Db Eb Fb G looks better than Db Eb E G. But not for the flute. I know exactly what happened: Williams wrote Db Eb Fb G in the sketch, and then wrote something like "Vibraphone + Wind" above it. So Spencer wrote Fb for the 2nd flute. But then you try to analyze it and you don't know what to do with the Fb. When it sounds really clear to me that treating it as a "diminished octave" above F is problematic when you have E everywhere else. It's not a huge deal since the full score was never intended for the eyes of the public, but I just find that notation very ugly when taken in context of the entire chord.

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41 minutes ago, Loert said:

 

That's different. That's particular to the harp. But in this excerpt, you have one of the flutes playing an Fb (2nd staff from top). Why? The flautist can read an E too. I can buy the neatness argument for the vibraphone, because Db Eb Fb G looks better than Db Eb E G. But not for the flute. I know exactly what happened: Williams wrote Db Eb Fb G in the sketch, and then wrote something like "Vibraphone + Wind" above it. So Spencer wrote Fb for the 2nd flute.

 

Yes, it's very likely.

 

41 minutes ago, Loert said:

But then you try to analyze it and you don't know what to do with the Fb.

 

 

Actually, you know exactly what to do with the Fb: it obviously sounds like E, and therefore, since this way of writing does not strictly respect all the enharmonic rules, it should be considered at all effects as E, although it was written differently.

 

In other words: since E sounds exactly as Fb, you are basically only criticizing the fact that the pitch was written as Fb while in other staves you find E. What I am suggesting you is not to worry at all about these things, since the composer himself does not care :) (and rightly so, in my opinion). What matters most, in this atonal writing, is the pitch.  

 

(By the way, if you don't like enharmonic issues of notation... be careful in opening Janacek's scores!!! Some violins playing in F# major while other violins play in Gb major is a common occurrence...)  

 

 

 

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Here's a chord from Jaws I've been curious about for a while. It's from "The First Victim" (such a great little cue!) and is at the moment that Chrissie is first bitten by the shark:

 

 

Jaws_01_-_The_First_Victim_Chrissie_s_De

 

Though the chord is over in a flash, I've been wondering what notes he chooses to create this massive hit point. Note that I've transcribed this myself from the nearly illegible score. There is a fan-engraved version but it's full of mistakes. Ive done my best to read what is there in a way that hopefully makes the most musical sense. The notes I'm unsure of are those in the middle of the harp chord. I just can't be certain what those notes are, but my instinct is that they double notes that are already in other parts (excluding the sustained chord's D).

 

It seems that the chord is basically composed of three components: a tertian chord rooted on Eb, a tertian chord rooted on A, and the three-note sustained chord on top. The Eb and A chords derive from an octatonic scale. The Eb chord is an Eb7(#9) which is hammered out in the piano and lower notes of the brass, and the A chord I would say is an A major triad. The juxtaposition of chords a tritone apart (Eb/A) has already been heard together several times in the cue in those tinkly harp and piano lines at the start, meaning that they are a kind of harmonic motive for the cue (and score). At this moment of "first strike", however, there are more notes added to the mix. The A major triad is intermingled with G# and Bb, then the F# that the violins glide up to. We could always group these notes together under a single chord symbol, but that seems rather beside the point. For one thing, the G# isn't part of the octatonic scale that houses the Eb7(#9) and A major triad. Second, both the G# and Bb clash with the highest chord tone of the A major triad, meaning their effect will be stronger because they will be more audible at the top of the harp's chord. So I suppose I'm inclined to hear these as "bristles" against the A major triad. Though with so much dissonance already, it's hard to know how meaningful it is to distinguish between chord tone and non-chord tone here.

 

The last component is the sustained three-note chord high up in the strings and winds. This is definitely not tertian, so stands out nicely from the Eb/A polychord in chord type, rhythm, and of course register. I would probably just call this a set class of (016). Interestingly, the D in this chord is not a part of the octatonic scale of the chords below it, so it works as a kind of boundary that distinguishes it from them. The G and C# at the very top are actually present in the Eb chord at the very bottom, so they blend well with the overall mass of sound.

 

Feel free to comment on any of this.

 

In all, I would call this another composite chord (or mixed polychord, if you like). What's most interesting to me though is not what to call the chord, but that it is drawn from the octatonic materials of the preceding music in the cue. It's not drawn from "out of the air" as a randomly dissonant chord or from a standardized way of writing stinger chords, but from the musical ideas already in the cue. This is what I love about Williams' film music - once some of the basic ideas are established, it seems to grow largely out of itself.

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It's a great chord, and adding to your observations, I'll just mention that it features several of Williams' "sonic pets" in one resonant flash:

 

-At its base lies the 0,8,11 (min6maj7) chord, which is Williams' "go to"-tension sonority (regardless of its harmonic function), and at its summit another "pet", 0,4,11 

 

-The Bb-F# melodic gesture implies a typical williams-esque (prokofiev-esque) "bVI#9-I" cadence, here as a superimposed Eb#9 to G#11, amidst an A(maj)7/Eb(maj)7 polychord

 

-The main polychord obscures its inherent octatonicism by featuring both leading tones, adding more chromatic color and tension as they encircle each of the central notes (Eb and A) 

 

 

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3 hours ago, Ludwig said:

The notes I'm unsure of are those in the middle of the harp chord. I just can't be certain what those notes are, but my instinct is that they double notes that are already in other parts (excluding the sustained chord's D).

 

I will read the analysis later, when I can focus better, but let me first comment on the deciphering phase (the manuscript is really hard to read, almost impossible at points, and with very short chords it's difficult to compare with the recording). I think the right hand of the second harp has A - D# - Bb, so a D# instead of E natural. D# also matches enharmonically the pizzicato note in the first violas (Eb). Also, I'm not sure, but I think the first eighth of the second violins is a bi-chord, D - Bb, while the second eighth looks like a single note, F#, as you transcribed.

 

(None of these two points affects the harmonic analysis, anyway).

 

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8 hours ago, Marcus said:

It's a great chord, and adding to your observations, I'll just mention that it features several of Williams' "sonic pets" in one resonant flash:

 

-At its base lies the 0,8,11 (min6maj7) chord, which is Williams' "go to"-tension sonority (regardless of its harmonic function), and at its summit another "pet", 0,4,11 

 

-The Bb-F# melodic gesture implies a typical williams-esque (prokofiev-esque) "bVI#9-I" cadence, here as a superimposed Eb#9 to G#11, amidst an A(maj)7/Eb(maj)7 polychord

 

-The main polychord obscures its inherent octatonicism by featuring both leading tones, adding more chromatic color and tension as they encircle each of the central notes (Eb and A) 

 

Great observations, Marcus! Agreed on all points. Nice how the [0,8,11] chord meshes with the Eb7(#9), as though the latter is a filled-out version of the former.

 

5 hours ago, Score said:

 

I will read the analysis later, when I can focus better, but let me first comment on the deciphering phase (the manuscript is really hard to read, almost impossible at points, and with very short chords it's difficult to compare with the recording). I think the right hand of the second harp has A - D# - Bb, so a D# instead of E natural. D# also matches enharmonically the pizzicato note in the first violas (Eb). Also, I'm not sure, but I think the first eighth of the second violins is a bi-chord, D - Bb, while the second eighth looks like a single note, F#, as you transcribed.

 

(None of these two points affects the harmonic analysis, anyway).

 

Yes, I think you're right about the harp. I think it makes more sense for Williams not to double a note in the same instrument when it comes to these highly dissonant chords. Otherwise it's kind of a waste of musical real estate, if you know what I mean - the whole point is to create loads of dissonance in the same timbral groupings so the ear hears the dissonance in each orchestral group. So yes, probably D# makes more sense than the E.

 

You could be right, but I'm not entirely sure about D in the 2nd violins because that would mean having a non-polychord note there. I'm thinking Williams probably saves the D for the sustained chord only. It's just the score is so hard to read, a splotch could be a note or nothing at all!

 

Since we're talking about splotches, what is that notated under the first violin chord?

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