Author Topic: Polychords  (Read 160 times)

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whitebark

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Polychords
« on: November 04, 2017, 09:33:01 PM »
One of the more interesting developments in modern harmony is the “Polychord”, consisting of two distinct chordal units played simultaneously.  The chords may have different roots, for example, C major and D major, or they may have the same root but be of a different type, such as C major and C minor.

Here are examples of polychords:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/t5z9jb3fwoiqa62/Polychords.pdf?dl=0

mp3:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/fwnufd98p9lmu6x/Polychords.mp3?dl=0

Example 1 shows a short musical work featuring a series of polychords.

To achieve the distinct sound of a polychord, the two chords comprising the polychord should be kept well separated in pitch. Blending the notes of the two chords will cause the poly chord effect to be lost - see Example 2.  Orchestration techniques can also define the polychord. The upper chord can be played by one group of instruments, and the lower chord by another.

Update:  This is Persichetti's concept of polychords.  A more broad-minded interpretation of the polychord idea can include polychords where the notes of the two constituent chords are mixed together, not necessarily separated in pitch. For this exercise, we will stick with Persichetti's concept.

Note that using the 2nd inversion in the lower chord can create a more resonant sound.

The most common type of polychord utilizes two major chords. There are eleven different types of this polychord - see Example 3.  For a C Major lower chord, polychords with an upper chord of G,D, A,E, and B are the most consonant and resonant.

A wider note spacing can create a clearer sound even with the less consonant polychords- see Example 4

Example 5 shows the 12 possible polychords using a minor chord over a major chord.

Example 6 shows the 12 possible polychords using a major chord over a minor chord.

“Chromatic Polychords” contain a diminished or augmented triad.  Example 8 shows some of the better (most resonant) examples of this type. When a diminished or augmented chord is used as the lower chord, it is helpful to space the notes widely to improve resonance - see Examples  9 and 10.

A series of polychords may be organized in two ways.  The outer voices of the chords may flow as a two part counterpoint, with the remaining notes of the poly chords filling in between them - see example 11.

A more subtle way of organizing the polychord flow is to use a two-part counterpoint of the notes comprising the  chordal roots -see example 12

For more information on polychords, see Persichetti’s Twentieth Century Harmony textbook.


Exercise:  write a short (16 bars or so) piece using polychords.




« Last Edit: November 09, 2017, 05:35:54 PM by whitebark »

Ron

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Re: Polychords
« Reply #1 on: November 05, 2017, 10:28:17 AM »
Thanks for posting this. I have to admit I have never been able to use polychords in any convincing way.
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whitebark

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Re: Polychords
« Reply #2 on: November 05, 2017, 02:51:59 PM »
You're welcome, Ron.  I'll attempt to compose an exercise soon.

-Jay

whitebark

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Re: Polychords
« Reply #3 on: November 06, 2017, 10:00:15 AM »
« Last Edit: November 07, 2017, 06:34:36 PM by whitebark »

Michel.R.E

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Re: Polychords
« Reply #4 on: November 06, 2017, 10:29:26 AM »
My master's thesis was on polychords and polyharmony, and in it I state that Persicchetti got the conception of polychords and polyharmony wrong. I vehemently disagree with him that the component triads have to be kept distinct. The richest use of polychords and polyharmony blends ALL potential inversions of any polychord.

By his strict - and limited - definition only a few distinct colours are achieved through the use of polyharmony, with the simple superimposition of triads often implying polytonality rather than actual polyharmony.

The "invention" that comes from the use of polyharmony is the search for harmonic "pull", for resolution from chord-aggregate to chord-aggregate.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

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whitebark

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Re: Polychords
« Reply #5 on: November 06, 2017, 10:51:42 AM »
Interesting! It looks like I kicked a hornet's nest with my polychord exercise.  After reading your post, I naturally had to rush over to my keyboard and play some "mixed" polychords, with the notes interlaced.   You seem to be right in that the mixed chords seem to function well and sound interesting.

Perhaps you should develop an excercise section based on your more advanced conception of polychords in blended and inverted forms.

-Jay
« Last Edit: November 06, 2017, 11:02:21 AM by whitebark »

Patrick O'Keefe

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Re: Polychords
« Reply #6 on: November 09, 2017, 11:33:57 AM »
It seems to me (based on gut intuition only) that the only value of keeping component triads distinct is that it aids in analyzing the music as polychordal and polyharmonic. It doesn't do anything for the music.   You can keep the triads distinct by range (or timbre if your instruments are timbrally unique) but I don't see a particular need to.  When you play two triads simultaneously you've got a chord of 4-6 notes stacked in some order.  Unless you are aiming for a distinct polytonal effect I don't see a reason to treat that 4-6 note chord as multiple separate chords at all.

But maybe I'm missing the whole point of a polychord.

Jerry Engelbach

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Re: Polychords
« Reply #7 on: November 10, 2017, 09:51:58 AM »
Jay,
 
That is a fun exercise.
 
Obviously in jazz we use the equivalent of polychords in some extended chords.
 
But I've never tried to write for polychords specifically. Here's my short, frantic take.
 
I used only chord tones for the melody, and I've included the chord symbols.
 
Audio file:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/5hunhhf0flqok2h/Polychords%20Exercise%20%2301.mp3?dl=0
 
Score:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/w45w1g317e5ct0m/Polychords%20Exercise%20%2301.pdf?dl=0
Cheers,
Jer
« Last Edit: November 10, 2017, 01:48:17 PM by Jerry Engelbach »
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whitebark

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Re: Polychords
« Reply #8 on: November 10, 2017, 02:44:28 PM »
Good exercise, Jer.  The polychord harmonies were interesting, and your chords flow nicely.  The violin note slide at the end was a nice touch!
« Last Edit: November 10, 2017, 06:17:15 PM by whitebark »

Jerry Engelbach

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Re: Polychords
« Reply #9 on: November 10, 2017, 04:09:05 PM »
Thanks, Jay. I was surprised at how consonant some distant polychords sound, especially in second inversion.
 
Parts of it are muddy. Like many beginners, I overdo it. I need to work on creating three transparent planes.
 
Thank you again for the challenge. I look forward to more.
 
Cheers,
Jer
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Michel.R.E

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Re: Polychords
« Reply #10 on: November 18, 2017, 09:53:38 AM »
Here's a piece by a composer who greatly informed my views on polyharmony (although stylistically we are day and night).

The opening measures mark very clearly delineated polychords, then as the music advances, inversions come into play.

William Schuman, Symphony no.7

His better-known 3rd symphony gets lots of airtime, and it's a stunning work, though I have a special fondness for his 4th, 5th, and 6th symphonies.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

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whitebark

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Re: Polychords
« Reply #11 on: November 19, 2017, 01:50:31 PM »
The opening of Schuman's 7th Symphony features a classic polychord sound, for sure - thanks for the example.  His 3rd symphony is one of my favorites, too.  I'll have to listen to the other symphonies you mentioned.

-Jay

Ron

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Re: Polychords
« Reply #12 on: November 19, 2017, 03:28:09 PM »
I am working on a simple exercise for this, but I can only write one measure a day.  This stuff is not easy. I'm filling nearly a page in a note book for every cadence.
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sandalwood

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Re: Polychords
« Reply #13 on: November 21, 2017, 05:11:27 AM »
For those who have not seen this one on the 7th symphony

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

some very interesting (for me) revelations...I'm glad I stumbled on it :)
« Last Edit: November 21, 2017, 05:29:40 AM by sandalwood »