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Topic: Modal music question

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  1. #1

    Modal music question

    Hey all,

    Last night I was listening to a Leonard Bernstein commentary on Dvorak #9, and he was saying that one of Dvorak's melodies was a modal melody, using the aeolian mode in particular.

    Why did Lenny describe it like that? Doesn't that just mean it's in a plain old minor key? Nothing too fancy about that. Or is there an important distinction he was making? He was specifically talking about the second theme in the 2nd movement (a woodwind, or maybe two, over the top of quiet tremolo strings).

    Thanks

  2. #2

    Re: Modal music question

    Hi Guy,

    The Aeolian mode consists of the notes ABCDEFGA, unlike the key of A minor which has G#. (Please pronouce it Ee-olian, nor Ay-olian).

    Here Dvorak has transposed it up a minor third so that the scale starts on C#. It's not in C# minor, which would have had B#'s; here we have B naturals (= G natural in the true mode).

    Terry Dwyer

  3. #3
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    Re: Modal music question

    It is curious just how effective that flattened seventh is. It occurs often in old music and music derived from it, for example Vaughan Williams's (and others) use of the folk tune Green Bushes.

  4. #4

    Re: Modal music question

    Quote Originally Posted by dermod
    It is curious just how effective that flattened seventh is. It occurs often in old music and music derived from it, for example Vaughan Williams's (and others) use of the folk tune Green Bushes.
    Do you mean Greensleeves? That's in the Dorian mode (DEFGABCD) with chromatic alterations at cadences. VW did this deliberately because it is what the Elizabethan composers did, i.e. use the modes but change notes chromatically at cadences to make the parts move more smoothly. They used the so-called Tierce de Picardie (sharpened 3rd) at the end of every phrase because they didn't like to end on a minor chord. It was this behaviour that started the breakdown of the modal system and the inception of the modern key system.

    Terry

  5. #5

    Re: Modal music question

    Correction! I've just noticed that in my first post I said Dvorak transposed the Aeolian mode up a minor 3rd. It's a major 3rd, of course.

    Terry

  6. #6
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    Re: Modal music question

    Dorian mode is correct,there being no flattened sixth in the tune I had in mind. It featured in VW's English Folk Song Suite where it is attributed to the folk tune My Bonny Boy. The melody is more usually known as Green Bushes sung to an alternative set of words, and under that name was of course the basis of Percy Grainger's passacaglia. I think George Butterworth also orchestrated the tune. The melody is completely modal with no altered notes of any kind. Another striking modal melody is Bonny At Morn, from a Northumbrian collection. I was fascinated to hear almost the exact same tune on radio one morning as part of a mass setting dating from medieval Spain. How well a good tune travelled in the days before global communications.

  7. #7

    Re: Modal music question

    Hi Terry,

    Hmm I'm confused. Natural minor and Aeolian are the same, aren't they?

    So are you saying that when someone refers to a melody in a "minor" scale, it's assumed that they mean "harmonic minor"?

    I'm also confused because the key signature for A minor is no sharps/flats...

    Thanks

  8. #8

    Re: Modal music question

    Quote Originally Posted by dermod
    It is curious just how effective that flattened seventh is. It occurs often in old music and music derived from it, for example Vaughan Williams's (and others) use of the folk tune Green Bushes.
    Hmm really? I would have thought the opposite. Don't the majority of modern pop songs (the minor keyed ones) not use the raised seventh? The raised seventh sounds very, hmm, folksy?

  9. #9

    Re: Modal music question

    Quote Originally Posted by Guy Smiley
    Hi Terry,

    Hmm I'm confused. Natural minor and Aeolian are the same, aren't they?

    So are you saying that when someone refers to a melody in a "minor" scale, it's assumed that they mean "harmonic minor"?

    I'm also confused because the key signature for A minor is no sharps/flats...

    Thanks
    Hi Guy,

    I think the term "natural minor" can be a bit misleading. It is certainly natural in the sense that all the notes are naturals (in A minor), but natural in the sense of "that which comes naturally" only if we are thinking modally.

    To think tonally, i.e. "We are in the key of A minor", G#'s must be taken as normal, not G naturals. It is often stated that the minor scale has three forms, Harmonic, Melodic Ascending and Melodic Descending. This may be true of scales, but to think in terms of key there is only one form of the scale from which we draw our chords, and that is the Harmonic. G isn't in the key, nor is F#; these are chromatic notes, to be introduced under certain carefully observed conditions.

    And if by "natural minor" we mean Melodic Descending, then it certainly isn't synonymous with Aeolian, because in the Aeolian mode we would use it even when ascending.

    Keys work differently from modes.

    As for the key signature of A minor having no sharps, this is true, and we have to sharpen the G each time we use it. This is due to the historical evolution of key signatures. Properly, the key signature of A minor ought to be one sharp - G#. But there could be a reason we don't do that: it would be all too easy to confuse it with G major (F# in signature) at a glance. Whatever the reason, we are stuck with this anomalous system.

    Yes, Guy, if someone refers to a melody in a minor key (not scale), we assume it to be the harmonic minor. Once you talk about it being in a scale, what do you say about a melody that uses all three forms of the scale as it goes along?

    Terry

  10. #10

    Re: Modal music question

    Quote Originally Posted by dermod
    Dorian mode is correct,there being no flattened sixth in the tune I had in mind. It featured in VW's English Folk Song Suite where it is attributed to the folk tune My Bonny Boy. The melody is more usually known as Green Bushes sung to an alternative set of words, and under that name was of course the basis of Percy Grainger's passacaglia.
    Dermod,

    There is confusion here. Green Bushes and My Bonny Boy are two different tunes, both found in the same movement in the VW suite. My Bonny Boy is Dorian, but Green Bushes is Myxolydian.

    Terry

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