Download Added-Tone Sonorities in the Choral Music of Eric Whitacre

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A fifth factor to consider when determining the underlying triad is the roothood
tendency of the lowest tone. In the absence of contradictory information, the lowest tone
of a sonority asserts itself as the root of a chord. If, for instance, a piece starts on a single
tone, listeners will likely interpret that tone as the root of a triad (more specifically, the
root of the tonic triad) until such a point as that assumption is disproved by subsequent
musical information. In much the same way, given the choice of hearing the bass tone of
one of Whitacre’s chords as the root, third, or fifth of the underlying triad, I suggest that
listeners will generally prefer to interpret the bass tone as the root.125 Thus, we finally
arrive at our final interpretation of the 013578t chord type as a minor 037 triad enhanced
by the addition of pitch classes 1, 5, 8, and t. Again, this does not mean that this chord
type will or should always be interpreted in this manner; the context may well point to a
different interpretation. However, in the absence of any information to the contrary, this
interpretation is the “best” one. As a fairly ambiguous chord type like this one is
stretched out in time, it gradually loses its connection to context and becomes more and
more like its “default” interpretation.
The final rule of interpretation has to do with the higher significance placed on the
third of a triad rather than the fifth in tonal music.126 When confronted with a chord type
that does not contain a complete triad, I suggest that listeners will be more likely to use a
125
If such an interpretation is not possible, listeners will prefer a hearing which interprets the bass as the
third of the chord, and then as the fifth of the chord, in keeping with the preference for first-inversion over
second-inversion triads found in traditional tonal music.
126
Though Schenker writes that the fifth as boundary interval is the most important interval in determining
the identity of a triad, common-practice harmony does not always bear this out. The fifth is often omitted
from seventh chords, for instance, and is sometimes omitted from the final tonic of a piece in order to place
more emphasis on the root of a triad.
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