Quirks in Tonality: Aspects in the History of Tonal Spaces


ACLS Fellowship Program




This project examines one of the primary ambitions of music theorists. They sought to explain the foundational concepts of the tonal system using identical or perfectly symmetrical principles for both the major and minor modes. While a logical enterprise, such a construction never quite works out, leaving their systems with a “quirk” or adjustment somewhere along the way. The project focuses on five pivotal nineteenth-century music theorists from the German and French traditions in order to pinpoint how their quirks shaped nineteenth-century perceptions and conceptions of harmony in ways that are different from our own today. This historical reading of tonal theory offers the opportunity to recapture a distinctly nineteenth-century way of hearing music and explaining its meaning.