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Expand upon the idea that music is just tension and release.

SimonCharlesHanna

Senior Member
I've heard the idea many many times that music is tension and release but I can't recall ever hearing/reading anyone expand that idea.

I understand the premise but it's very vague.

Any resources or information to share?
 

synergy543

Senior Member
Norman Ludwin goes into this in his course on 20th Century music (based on Perschetti's book 20th Century Harmony) when he discusses tension of intervals. Also, Hindemith covers this extensively as a compositional tool in his book The Craft of Musical Composition. In addition, there is a tremendous wealth of information in thesis papers published online. Searching for these is a bit like going after a needle in a haystack, but when you find one of interest, they are golden!
 

ed buller

Senior Member
I'm not sure what you mean but to my mind music from the common practice period is basically in one of two states. Tension and Release or Dissonance and Consonance . And music that really started in the 19th century expanded on that distinction and prolonged the Dissonance to breaking point . Wagner's Tristan prelude is a text book study in this. For most people the Musical 20th Century began with "prelude l'apres midi du faune" in 1894. By now Debussy had blurred the lines almost completely between the two states and the music just drifted along in a state of stasis. As if to emphasize this Debussy finally ends the piece with a fragile cadence. The only one !

Cadential activity is considered the briefest and perhaps clearest example of these forces at work.

G7 (2nd Inv ) to C root is a classic example with the tritone resolving outwards. This was an expected sonority throughout the common practice period . Beethoven began the Romantic period with his 3rd symphony and played about with our expectations in this matter but it really fell to Wagner and his use of two French 6 chords played sequentially , neither doing what was expected of them, that shattered the norms, causing a breakdown in society, soup kitchens and marshal Law throughout most of Europe.

By the twentieth Century all bets where off !......Schoenbergs "Pellas and Melisande" really took tonality and the business of tension and release as far as it could possibly go in what is perhaps the finest example of tonal foreplay ever heard !....he realized this himself and in a fit of pique threw away the rule book and invented the most nonsensical and unlistenable musical language just to get even. Thankfully BERG ignored him and wrote Wozzack and we got through it.

best


ed
 
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SimonCharlesHanna

SimonCharlesHanna

Senior Member
Thanks for all the responses so far.

I understand the concept of tension and release within intervals and Ed has touched on musical 'states' as being either 'tense or released' but only really applied it within the confines of intervals.

Does that mean that early music which didn't utilize dissonance fully never displayed tension and release? My guess is that it did (have tension and release) which makes me feel that the idea is more profound than just intervals.
 

StillLife

Senior Member
I don't think tension and release apply only to the tonal. There can be tension and release in rhythm, in velocity, in color... Tension - as I have come to understand it - is being led, for a period of time, off the clear musical path we were following and release is finding oneself on that that path again.
But I have studied no music theory. I did watch Mike Verta masterclasses though, and what he has to say about the concepts (and about contrast, patterns, the familiar and the unfamiliar) makes perfect sense to me.
 

bbunker

Senior Member
You say you want to read about someone expanding on the idea that all music is tension and release, eh?!?

Two words: Heinrich. Schenker.

Sorry. And you're welcome.
 

ed buller

Senior Member
Yes basically this is schenkerian anylasis in a nutshell .

Tension and release is possibly through color and rhythm . Speed too . Listen to Drumming by Steve Reich !

Early music was monophonic . The Notre Dame school expanded this greatly but most of the tension and release at this point was basically the resolving of what they then regarded as dissonance

Best

Ed
 

BenG

Senior Member
Schenkerian analysis truly exemplifies music's tension /release relationship and breaking down music into its most basic form quickly reveals this.

Even non-Western music follows the same premise of dissonance vs. consonance. E.g. Listen to Indian/Persian music and you'll hear the performer lean on dissonant intervals constantly (2nd, 4th, 6th, 7th) before resolving them.
 

gregh

Senior Member
Schenkerian analysis truly exemplifies music's tension /release relationship and breaking down music into its most basic form quickly reveals this.

Even non-Western music follows the same premise of dissonance vs. consonance. E.g. Listen to Indian/Persian music and you'll hear the performer lean on dissonant intervals constantly (2nd, 4th, 6th, 7th) before resolving them.
probably not universal tho
https://www.nature.com/articles/nature18635
 

Wunderhorn

Active Member
Does that mean that early music which didn't utilize dissonance fully never displayed tension and release? My guess is that it did (have tension and release) which makes me feel that the idea is more profound than just intervals.
As was said before there are other forms of tension/release (rhythm, speed, dynamics) but I would like to add another aspect to this that people in earlier time did not hear what we hear today. Their perception of tension/release in music was not trained by thunderous crescendi of some trailer music but their perception stems from different references which to our ears might sound of little impact yet it should be seen in the context of their scope of available options. Music had to and did evolve in two parts. Not just making it, composing and developing techniques and ever more complex harmonies, but at the same time the ability to listen and comprehension had to go hand in hand with it.
 

Wunderhorn

Active Member
Generally music uses the semantics of the dualistic system here on earth. Even though it may be the art form that is closest in able to touch the concept of trinity, the third part that would describe the inclusion of all invisible and otherwise inexplicable. The realm of the absolute interacting with the realm of the relative.

Therefore it makes sense to observe all the elements that give music its narrative and expression. A weaving of patterns of various strings moving from one into its opposite - back and forth and sometimes simultaneously in multiple layers.
From consonance to dissonance, from sparse to thick orchestration, from bold to fragile - it is always two extremes in between we establish the conversation. As musicians all these we choreograph them together in a dance in an effort to conjure up the ineffable and to give it a shape and form that can be experienced.
 

leon chevalier

Piano roll musician
Too me, it's really telling a story that need tension and release. And writing music is telling a story. But that applies to everything : book, cinema, painting, architecture. If nothing happens, no change in angle, in color, in motif... You loose your audience, your public. Yes it's not an absolute rules -Their no rule in art- But it applies to most of what we see.

Let's take a paint. Imagine a hill in front, your eyes follow the shape of the hill, on top your eyes meet a blue sky with a transparent, almost inexistent cloud. You're wondering if the cloud shape is meaning more than you see. Then your eyes continue to follow the hill. That lead to a little tree at the back, that have an unexpected color, maybe it's in the shadow of the hill, [and so on...] Their we are. The painter told us a story.

To come back to music, any theme development from any master tell us a story, with... tension and release. If I imagine a music without ANY tension and release, it's a single note, constant pitch, constant volume, for 5 minutes... ;)
 

muk

Senior Member
Schenker is the right keyword. Another one would be 'Sonata principle'. It's basic idea is that in a sonata form harmonic tension is created by modulating to (Überleitung/transition) and establishing the dominant in the Seitensatz/second theme group. We now have two keys established (tonic and dominant), and these are two keys that strive towards different directions, thus creating tension. (That's why the second theme group is always in the dominant, never in the subdominant. The subdominant strives towards the tonic, thus releasing tension).
The sonata form gains it's impetus from that. In the reprise, the tension needs to be released. And this happens by the secondary theme group now being presented in the tonic key.

The 'Sonata principle'-theory states that sonata form is all about creating and resolving this harmonic tension between tonic and dominant. It has come a bit out of fashion in recent years. Newer theories take a more holistic approach and treat the harmonic tension as one important factor amongst others. But still the idea that tension and release are one factor in musical form is very present.
 

mikeh-375

old school
I've heard this expression, often delivered with some level of pretense / condescension, but it doesn't mean anything useful to me.
I'm surprised John....;)

I think tension and release is an essential over-arching principle in all the individual elements in music and as a whole, especially in fields that use expanded/chromatic tonality through to atonality, where the flow and rhetoric needs to be regulated by tension and release in order to create a coherent sense of emotion, travel and arrival.
Tension and release is surely important in film scoring too, from the crudest shift in emotion, or perhaps subtle shadings, or to a calculated energising climax, synched to picture.
 
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poetd

Active Member
Don't forget also tension and release through Dynamics - ala pretty much everything the Pixies wrote (and Nirvana ripped off - at least admitting they did so though, heh).

The masterwork of modern tension and release though has to be Disney's "Let it go" from Frozen.

From the musical Appogiettura, to the lyrics, to the vocal style and delivery - right down to the visuals to match - the hair transformation (tight ponytail to flowing hair) - the dress transformation (restrictive velvet gown to flowing silk dress) - the body language, the face, everything co-ordinated perfectly in one massive tension and release.
Love or hate Disney, they are geniuses.
 
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