In my last post I promised to defend the chaste honor of harmony, which has Marc Geelhoed intrigued. The dastardly besmircher of harmony is Mathemusicality's James Cook, who criticizes an old analysis I did of Chopin's Op. 28 No. 4. I don't have a problem with the voice-leading analysis James uses to start his post, said voice-leading graphs being very important tools in music analysis. However, James has some very odd ideas about harmony, namely that it doesn't exist. He is attempting to move us back to pre-Rameau (1723) days where chords don't exist, everything is counterpoint alone. I was tempted to address his critique line by line, but I think I would end up repeating myself a lot, so I'm making a larger view.
Update: Spurred on by James, I have made a line-by-line critique here. And welcome to NewMusicBox readers.
Harmony does exist. Chords do exist. There are recognizable qualities of triads, seventh chords and extensions that engender clear tonal functions in any culturally invested listener.* A Major-minor seventh chord is rightly nicknamed the dominant seventh chord because its very sonority creates a sensation of dominant function, creating a desire to resolve to the triad a fifth lower, that mythical tonic chord. Likewise a fully diminished seventh chord will automatically be heard as a leading-tone chord, whether or not the listener is consciously aware of the categorization. If you play this fully diminished seventh chord and walk away, any listeners (including yourself) will sing, hum, play or think a resolution tone a half step higher than one of the notes in the seventh chord (it could be any of the four, if the chord was devoid of any other context). Thus far my examples, gleaned from years of teaching and party tricks, have been solitary chords, lacking any larger context. As soon as two or more chords are played together, they start creating perceptibly stronger harmonic relationships. And if there is a good melody along with it, there is no stopping the tonal functions from being present.
Heinrich Schenker's greatest realization was that the rules of counterpoint – set by 16th century compositional practice – had been altered by the evolution of tonality. Rules of voice leading had to take into account the scale degrees being used, something unheard of in modal counterpoint (except at cadences).
So, this is my first attempt at championing sweet Harmony's cause, undoubtedly hampered by my rusty blogging chops and the Leinenkugel Berry Weiss I just drank. I hope others will take up the cause celebre, or at least say that they believe in chords. I mean, c'mon, they're chords.
*By this I mean a listener who has either grown up in or been educated in Western music culture. These days this covers average people from nearly all industrial nations.