(musTh 212) Melody and Voice Leading

Given the wide range and variety of post-tonal music, one cannot find any unified set of characteristics that define post-tonal melodies. Still, we can outline some usual, if sometimes contradictory characteristics:

  • more disjunct than tonal melodies (less lyrical, less vocal, less flowing, more angular, more fragmented)
  • wider pitch range
  • unconventional rhythms (less regular than tonal melodies)
  • more chromaticism
  • more expression marks (dynamics, articulations, accents, etc.)

In terms of organization, motivic devices from tonal music such as repetition and variation still occur. Newer developments include:

  • use of pitch class sets (pitch class cells, in Kostka terms)
  • use of twelve-tone melodies
  • less regular phrases
  • sometimes, the designation of primary and secondary lines (Hauptstimme and Nebenstimme)

Voice leading in post-tonal music moves beyond variations of common practice guidelines. Important concepts include parallelism in voice leading and the “emancipation of dissonance.”

Harmonic parallelism, or planing, can be diatonic (the quantity of intervals remain the same, but the quality will vary from chord to chord), real (exact transposition), or a mix of both.

The “emancipation of dissonance” refers to the free treatment of dissonance, meaning that not only do dissonances not have to resolve according to common practice guidelines, dissonances do not have to resolve at all.


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