Author Topic: Where does Debussy lie in the tonal spectrum?  (Read 517 times)


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Where does Debussy lie in the tonal spectrum?
« on: March 09, 2016, 03:48:18 PM »
Debussy is an easier listen, but I would not label him as 'atonal' just because he is 'not tonal' in the traditional sense. 'Atonal' means "having no tonal center," and this is not the case with Debussy.

 Debussy worked freely, ignoring function, and his music was tonal or 'tone-centric' in places. However, it could suddenly shift into a different region. We might hear a 'cadence' or resting point, but these are not prepared, as they would be in tonality.

 Another factor in the argument that Debussy's music is not 'atonal' (yet not functional in a tonal sense) is his use of scales, such as the pentatonic, whole-tone, diminished, and 'synthetic' scales, such as the lydian with flat-7 scale.

 To use a scale implies a 'starting point' which proceeds upward through the octave, until the starting pitch is reached again in the next higher octave. This in itself implies and creates, to our ears, a sense of tonality, since scales are like "indexes of pitches" which can be drawn upon freely, in any order (unlike tone-rows), and which can have their own harmonic function by building triads and stacking thirds on top of any scale note.

 Additionally, these 'synthetic functions' do not need to have arbitrarily assigned functions; the functions arise naturally as a result of their degree of dissonance in relation to the starting 'root' note. The functions will be ranked (by our ears) in terms of the most consonant being the most important or related harmonically to the tonic note, and so forth, towards the most dissonant. This is a self-evident 'harmonic truth' which applies to any scale, whether it be 'world music,' folk music, or any tone-centric music.
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