La Figure humaine by William. F Powell

By William. F Powell

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Importantly, with respect to Shostakovich, tritones play a central role in the work of Boleslav Yavorsky (1877–1942), widely considered one of the founders of Russian music theory. 14 The crux of Yavorsky’s theory, then, concerns the fact that (in tonal music) listeners experience transience upon hearing a tritone, because tritones have a tendency to resolve. Motion is the medium for that resolution. Yavorsky terms this principle ‘auditory gravity’, and he intended the theory of modal rhythm to demonstrate how musical phenomena result from the motion of an unstable tritone to a stable resolution point.

If this approach seems an unnecessarily complex way of describing what is, at root, a ‘decorated’ tonic–relative modulation, then its utility can be seen when more complex examples are considered. The second subject from Symphony No. 10(i) 24 This passivity may result from the symmetrical invariance of the interval. In the tonal system, diatonic (and even modal) scales are asymmetrical, fostering the potential for hierarchy. Symmetry inhibits such hierarchy: consider, for instance, the difficulty in establishing tonal hierarchy within the whole-tone scale or, indeed, the full chromatic scale.

Importantly, this reflects our experience of the wider world: as mentioned above, nature constantly tends towards stability through the dissipation of unstable energy or, rather, through its conversion to more stable forms. Heavy elements decay through radiation; fires burn until fuels run out; heat radiates until evenly distributed; buildings crumble; televisions break; living organisms decay and die. Each example involves the rebalancing of imbalanced energies, a path from instability to stability.

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