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Audacious Euphony: Chromatic Harmony and the Triad's Second Nature, Richard Cohn, Oxford

University Press, 2012, 019977269X, 9780199772698, 237 pages. Music theorists have long
believed that 19th-century triadic progressions idiomatically extend the diatonic syntax of
18th-century classical tonality, and have accordingly unified the two repertories under a single mode
of representation. Post-structuralist musicologists have challenged this belief, advancing the view
that many romantic triadic progressions exceed the reach of classical syntax and are mobilized as
the result of a transgressive, anti-syntactic impulse. In Audacious Euphony, author Richard Cohn
takes both of these views to task, arguing that romantic harmony operates under syntactic principles
distinct from those that underlie classical tonality, but no less susceptible to systematic definition.
Charting this alternative triadic syntax, Cohn reconceives what consonant triads are, and how they
relate to one another. In doing so, he shows that major and minor triads have two distinct natures:
one based on their acoustic properties, and the other on their ability to voice-lead smoothly to each
other in the chromatic universe. Whereas their acoustic nature underlies the diatonic tonality of the
classical tradition, their voice-leading properties are optimized by the pan-triadic progressions
characteristic of the 19th century. Audacious Euphony develops a set of inter-related maps that
organize intuitions about triadic proximity as seen through the lens of voice-leading proximity, using
various geometries related to the 19th-century Tonnetz. This model leads to cogent analyses both of
particular compositions and of historical trends across the long nineteenth century. Essential reading
for music theorists, Audacious Euphony is also a valuable resource for music historians, performers
and composers..
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Music theorists have long believed that 19th-century triadic progressions idiomatically extend the
diatonic syntax of 18th-century classical tonality, and have accordingly unified the two repertories
under a single mode of representation. Post-structuralist musicologists have challenged this belief,
advancing the view that many romantic triadic progressions exceed the reach of classical syntax
and are mobilized as the result of a transgressive, anti-syntactic impulse. In Audacious Euphony,
author Richard Cohn takes both of these views to task, arguing that romantic harmony operates
under syntactic principles distinct from those that underlie classical tonality, but no less susceptible
to systematic definition. Charting this alternative triadic syntax, Cohn reconceives what consonant
triads are, and how they relate to one another. In doing so, he shows that major and minor triads
have two distinct natures: one based on their acoustic properties, and the other on their ability to
voice-lead smoothly to each other in the chromatic universe. Whereas their acoustic nature
underlies the diatonic tonality of the classical tradition, their voice-leading properties are optimized
by the pan-triadic progressions characteristic of the 19th century. Audacious Euphony develops a
set of inter-related maps that organize intuitions about triadic proximity as seen through the lens of
voice-leading proximity, using various geometries related to the 19th-century Tonnetz. This model
leads to cogent analyses both of particular compositions and of historical trends across the long
nineteenth century. Essential reading for music theorists, Audacious Euphony is also a valuable
resource for music historians, performers and composers.
"The culmination of twenty years of thinking about the tonally evasive music of the 19th century, this
book is a stunning achievement. The writing is vivid and engaging, the musical close readings are
rich and compelling in their detail, and at every turn there is something new to learn about music and
musical materials we had thought we already knew well." --Joseph N. Straus, Distinguished
Professor, CUNY Graduate Center; Former President, Society for Music Theory
"For sheer virtuosity in theory making and theory-based analysis, Audacious Euphony deserves the
highest praise. It lights up as never before the universe of triads domesticated in nineteenth-century
chromatic music. Were Richard Cohn not already a household name among music theorists, this
book would change that." --Kofi Agawu, Professor of Music, Princeton University; Author of Music as
Discourse: Semiotic Adventures in Romantic Music
"Audacious Euphony synthesizes and extends the influential neo-Riemannian approach to
chromatic tonality that Richard Cohn's earlier theoretical work helped develop. Lucid and engagingly
written, this book is indispensable reading for music theorists and indeed for anyone deeply
interested in 19th-century chromatic harmony." --Fred Lerdahl, Fritz Reiner Professor of Music,
Columbia University
"Audacious Euphony, as the definitive account of one of the most important recent theoretic systems
for nineteenth century music, is above all an argument for the essential independence of the logic of
chromatic harmony. As such, it will frame the continuing debate about nineteenth-century
chromaticism and be an essential reference point for the non-integrationist perspective. It is also
necessary reading for anyone interested in nineteenth-century music, reflecting a comprehensive
picture of nineteenth-century composers' use of harmony that penetrates deeply into the repertoire.
It will become an indispensible source for future research." --Music Theory Online
Richard Cohn is Battell Professor of Music Theory at Yale University. His work on chromatic
harmony has been the topic of a series of summer seminars convened by the late John Clough, and
has been developed in about a dozen doctoral dissertations, at Chicago, Indiana, Yale, Harvard,
and SUNY-Buffalo. His articles have twice earned the Society for Music Theory's Outstanding
Publication Award. Cohn edits the Oxford Studies in Music Theory series. In preparation is a general
model of meter with applications for European, African, and African-diasporic music, and a co-edited
collection on David Lewin's phenomenological writings.
I got this book because I wanted to learn about the next level of music theory and had heard about
Cohn from my professor at the time. When I completed my formal study of classical music theory, it
left me wondering what else there was to learn, because there were so many different techniques
and sounds that only got glossed over by classical harmony as either 'coloristic' chord progressions
or endless tonicizations. I think this strictly tonal idea of music is probably influenced a lot by
Schenker, and there are aspects of it that have become outdated. Jazz theory, on the other hand, is
to a large degree about finding the right scale and chord tones to improvise over any chord and thus
largely based on practice and practical application.
This book is totally different. It takes what you know about harmony and flips it on its head, in the
greatest way possible. If you've never read anything by Cohn or don't know about the Tonnetz, then
you are in for a wild ride! While the writing is extremely academic and at times I found myself looking
up a word every couple of pages, the tone of the writing is pleasant and fun. There is no snobbery
here; he is simply laying down every discovery that he has made about a different way that triads
can relate to each other. Also, as he says, you only need to have a very basic understanding of
theory to understand what he is explaining here. There are moments when the sentences get dense
with information but once you take it in slowly for a second time you will probably understand it. I
think that having a background in music theory sometimes slowed me down because he explains
things in a new way.Read more ›
I read several chapters of this book for a course in chromatic harmony. Having had zero exposure to
Neo-Riemannian theories, I found Cohn's writing lucid and engaging. Because his style is so
accessible, I was able to appreciate his well-thought-out and illuminating new theory of triadic space,
especially in nineteenth-century music. As a music student, I think it's important that basic theory
courses at least broach this very important subject! After finishing the basic sequence, I could
basically analyze Haydn, Mozart, and most Beethoven - but the Romantic repertoire was totally out
of reach. Cohn's work is helpful not only for theorists but for musicians beginning at the
undergraduate level. I would recommend this text to anyone who loves Romantic music and has a
background in basic music theory (Roman numeral analyses, basic chromatic chords). Cohn's book
really changed the way I understood Romantic-era music as well as the historical transition from
tonality to atonality.
I especially appreciate how he breaks the triadic cycles down to 6 primary movements which
singularly and in combinations allow a performer, improviser or composer to cycle through all of the
24 consonant triads using his explanation of the augmented triad as the bridge between the four
hexatonic groups. It's a fascinating subject, I will be studying the "Cube Dance" for a very long time,
I think it is one of the missing pieces of the puzzle for me as a musician.
[1] Richard Cohn’s eagerly anticipated monograph on nineteenth-century chromaticism
crystallizes Cohn’s decades of influential work developing an analytical framework for
chromatic harmony. It also fulfills the need of presenting a self-contained, accessible introduction to
Cohn’s theory, one that will be of great value to readers less receptive to the mathematical
orientation of many of the articles that mark essential milestones in the development of
Cohn’s theories. But Audacious Euphony also goes further, marking a stride forward in the
unification of Cohn’s theories and their extension into new analytical concepts and
techniques that promise to be widely influential in future work on nineteenth-century harmonic
practices.(1)
[4] Cohn also essentially divests himself of the dualist commitments implicit in neo-Riemannian
transformations. Although he defends dualism (37–39), it is no longer a deep theoretical
principle. He does not, as Riemann himself might have, claim that dualist nomenclature reveals a
deeper musical truth of inversional equivalence; instead he makes a purely formal argument that
dualist transformations reflect the fact that voice-leading distance is independent of direction.
[8] Throughout the book, Cohn adopts one of two different strategies—foreground and
background—for converting musical examples into triadic journeys. The difference is best
illustrated in chapters 5 and 6, with mostly foreground analyses in the former and background in the
latter. Local analyses chart literal progressions. They are of limited applicability since they require
isolated passages built out of a purely chromatic logic and avoiding dissonant chords, but such
analyses can be quite convincing in their restricted scope because they provide a relatively
comprehensive account. In background analyses Cohn charts the key relationships of longer
passages, including entire pieces (and even entire song cycles), as triadic progressions between
tonic chords. The divergence in method obscures the fact that these two strategies are
incommensurable: the background analyses are not simple summaries of what might be charted as
a long foreground analysis, because the process of reduction cleanses the local progressions of
conventional tonal harmony that makes a messy picture on the Tonnetz or Cube Dance. Cohn
addresses this issue in chapter 8.
[9] Cohn also, in both foreground and background analysis, typically summarizes passages in terms
of idealized, maximally efficient voice leading. In that sense, Cohn’s theory is not one of
voice-leading practice, but a theory of relationships between harmonic collections motivated by
idealized voice leadings. While he sometimes uses Schenkerian language when describing
harmonic reductions, he does not adopt the Schenkerian practice of relating idealized voice leadings
to observable voice-leading relationships in the music. This difference is in evidence, for instance, in
his analyses of developments from two Beethoven sonatas in chapter 6 (133–34), which
describe descending-fifth–saturated progressions as continual upshifts. Cohn’s
attribution of an ascending quality to the progressions is a formal consequence of the position of
N-related triads on the circle of voice-leading zones, but it is also a literal trait of the passages. This
is a non-trivial fact: descending fifth progressions are often realized with descending voice leading,
even though the ascending voice leading is more efficient in triadic voice-leading spaces. The
comparison of idealized voice-leading models of harmonic relationships with real voice-leading
practice is one potentially rich implication of Cohn’s theory that remains largely unexplored.
[10] Beginning with chapter 7, Cohn turns from his expertly crafted prix fixe entre to a tasting-plate
of diverse dessert selections. These last three chapters are more mixed, and on average more
tentative, than the preceding. Chapter 7 gives two answers to the question of how to extend insights
about triadic relationships to larger chords. The first is by deletion of dissonant notes. Cohn defends
the idea that Wagner treats the nominal root as the added dissonance in half-diminished seventh
chords with examples drawn from an earlier article, “Hexatonic Poles and the Uncanny in
Parsifal” (Cohn 2006). In the latter part of the chapter he develops a system of
seventh-chord relationships through analogy with the triadic system. Cohn puts more resources
towards constructing this extension-via-analogy than the extension-via-deletion. This two-front
strategy comes across as non-committal, because the two ways of dealing with seventh chords are
incompatible, implying that one should choose the approach based on the demands of the music at
hand. The first approach has the advantage of allowing seventh chords and triads to participate in
the same analysis. The second is capable of working with more thoroughly dissonant chords like
diminished sevenths and French augmented sixths. These differences seem to be artifacts of the
theoretical edifice, however; it is not entirely clear that they actually reflect distinct compositional
approaches to the use of seventh chords. Nonetheless, the analyses that Cohn presents in the
chapter make quite convincing cases for each approach individually, especially Cohn’s
remarkable catalog of hexatonic-pole relationships in Parsifal.
[11] The analogy between cardinality-three and cardinality-four systems in the second part of
chapter 7 is a potentially rich topic. However, one arm of the analogy notably fails to surface: the
four-note correlate to the Tonnetz. As noted above, in the three-note case the Tonnetz is essential
in performing one function: tracking common-tone relationships between chords, expressing, e.g.,
the concept of pitch-retention loops. But Cohn largely eschews the four-note Tonnetz, which cannot
be realized in two dimensions. As a map of common-tone relationships, however, it still merits a
place at the table. Cohn only refers to the four-note Tonnetz through citations of Gollin 1998
(141–42, 152, 189). More recent work (Tymoczko 2012) gives a more complete picture of the
Tonnetze for four-note chords and provides some corrections to Gollin’s earlier foray into
this subject. Exploration of the analytical implications of common-tone relationships in
Tymoczko’s four-note Tonnetz, guided by the example of Cohn’s analytic method,
should prove a fruitful direction for future work.
[13] Cohn’s final chapter re-attacks the problem of mixture of diatonic and chromatic
harmony from a surer footing. Rather than offering a new formalism, Cohn here provides a
compelling linguistic analogy, suggesting that the integration of diatonic and chromatic syntaxes
represents a harmonic bilingualism. Cohn produces ample support for the claim that there is no
cognitive barrier to mixing distinct musical syntaxes in a single composition by drawing on research
in bilingual speech. Where the analogy remains tenuous in the specific case of chromatic harmony
is that the syntax of chromaticism emerged historically from within the context of tonality, not
independently of it, and, unlike different languages, the two harmonic syntaxes share the same set
of “words.”
1. Readers will immediately notice one novel feature of the book: scattered throughout the text are
references to supplementary online materials accessible through the publisher’s website.
The online component is not essential; the reader without a computer handy will be able to follow
the text throughout. It is also more prominent in some chapters than others. Yet, the online materials
are certainly worth the price of entry: they make it more convenient for readers to reference full
scores that accompany Cohn’s more extended analyses, and, most impressively, allow
Cohn to illustrate his arguments by means of animations timed to musical performances. These
animations bring many of the Tonnetz analyses, whose dynamic properties are often hard to
reproduce on the printed page, to life. The coordination of analyses with performances encourages
us to perceive the harmonic moves as temporally delineated actions and gestures.
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the Society for Music Theory.
"The culmination of twenty years of thinking about the tonally evasive music of the 19th century, this
book is a stunning achievement. The writing is vivid and engaging, the musical close readings are
rich and compelling in their detail, and at every turn there is something new to learn about music and
musical materials we had thought we already knew well."-Joseph N. Straus, Distinguished
Professor, CUNY Graduate Center; Former President, Society for Music Theory "For sheer virtuosity
in theory making and theory-based analysis,Audacious Euphonydeserves the highest praise. It
lights up as never before the universe of triads domesticated in nineteenth-century chromatic music.
Were Richard Cohn not already a household name among music theorists, this book would change
that." -Kofi Agawu, Professor of Music, Princeton University; Author ofMusic as Discourse: Semiotic
Adventures in Romantic Music(Oxford, 2008) "Audacious Euphonysynthesizes and extends the
influential neo-Riemannian approach to chromatic tonality that Richard Cohn's earlier theoretical
work helped develop. Lucid and engagingly written, this book is indispensable reading for music
theorists and indeed for anyone deeply interested in 19th-century chromatic harmony." --Fred
Lerdahl, Fritz Reiner Professor of Music, Columbia University
This book is a major contribution to the field of music theory ... Cohn targets not only music theorists
but also music historians, conductors, performers, and any interested music listener with a modest
level of music-theory training. Avoiding excessive theoretical jargon ... he presents analyses ... that
are illuminating regardless of one's theoretical background ... Highly recommended
Many nineteenth-century theorists viewed triadic distance in terms of common tones and
voice-leading proximity, rather than root consonance and mutual diatonic constituency. Audacious
Euphony reconstructs this view and uses it as the basis for a chromatic model of triadic space,
developing geometric representations from blueprints of Euler (1739) and Weitzmann (1853). The
model renders coherent many passages of romantic music (e.g. of Schubert, Liszt, Brahms, Chopin,
Wagner) that are disjunct from the standpoint of classical tonality. Semantic attributes commonly
ascribed to romantic music are ... More
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1st mvt acoustic arrow augmented triad A bass Boretz region B cadence century chapter
Chopin chromatic chromatic space classical tonality Cohn common tones compositions connection
consonant triads Cube Dance C David Lewin diatonic collection diatonic scale diatonic space
diatonic tonality diminished seventh chord dissonant harmonies dominant seventh downshift dyad
D D enharmonic equivalent E f minor Ftis fifth figure four function f G major
graph G G harmonic hexatonic cycle hexatonic pole hexatonic region hypermeasure initial
interpretation keys L/R chain Lerdahl Lewin Liszt major third measures melodic minor triads motion
motivic move nebenverwandt nineteenth-century octatonic pair pan-triadic Parsifal passage phrase
pitch pitch-class Prelude presents progression prolonged relation represent Riemann role root
Schubert score segment semitonal sequence Sonata song structure subdominant substitution
suggests Symphony syntactic tetrachords theorists theory tion tonality tonic Tonnetz Tonnetz model
transformations transposition trichords Tristan Tristan-genus Tymoczko 2011b upshift voice leading
voice-leading zones Weitzmann region
Reconstructing historical conceptions of harmonic distance, Audacious Euphony advances a
geometric model appropriate to understanding triadic progressions characteristic of 19th-century
music. Author Rick Cohn uncovers the source of the indeterminacy and uncanniness of romantic
music, as he focuses on the slippage between chromatic and diatonic progressions and the
systematic principles under which each operate.