Minors and manners

TO: internet:harp-l@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

I've been following the various minor key discussions with more
interest in the tone of the combatants than in the actual
contents. My comment -

Lighten up, George. Music theory is not ordained by God Almighty,
nor does it contain any verifiable facts of nature. Different
logical constructs have been used at different times to explain
identical usages. And real usage often flouts the rule books.

Two cases in point.

Key signatures for minor keys in J. S. Bach's time commonly
skimped on both sharps and flats. For instance, D minor was often
written without any sharps or flats in the key signature (as in
the so-called Dorian Toccata), while E major might be written
with three sharps (as in Handel's "Harmonious Blacksmith"
sonata). So key signatures are not carved in stone as a reliable
guide to indicating the minor mode. It is usage and usage alone
which determines this. Much modern tonal music is moving away
from the use of key signatures and toward the use of
self-canceling accidentals due to the fluidity of both mode and
key center occuring in that music. Sic transit musica ficta.

Melodic minor scales are supposed to go up with the sixth and
seventh degrees major and go down with them minor. Thus saith the
rule book. Yet J. S. Bach delighted in breaking this rule - I had
a counterpoint teacher in university who frequently pointed out
instances of this. He had a deep knowledge of the counterpoint of
both Bach and Palestrina and was an accomplished continuo player.
He had nothing but contempt for this rule except for the most
basic pedagogy. Also, in jazz since 1945, the ascending version
of the minor has been used both ascending and descending as a
substitute dominant (for instance F melodic minor over E+7. Sure
this is messy in terms of enharmonics and proper assignment of
scale degrees, but that's what it's called in actual practice,
and it's the easiest way to convey the scale materials used.)

If someone wants to define a minor scale in terms of its
differences from its tonic major (three lowered modal degrees in
the scale) that's perfectly all right. This is a handy way of
pointing it the difference to a curious beginner without first
attempting to explain key signatures or modes. Later you can get
into the full-boat theory lesson if they need to understand it.

After all, the empirical evidence shows exactly that - Gee, C
major has all natural notes, while C natural minor has Eb, Ab,
and Bb - third sixth, and seventh. Anything else, like relating
it to modes and key signatures, is a logical construct into which
this phenomenon happens to fit. But there is no immutable law of
physics that ordains that this construct is the only way to
arrive at a minor scale.


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