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Neither Major, nor Minor: The Affective Fluctuating Third in Central-European Art Music ca. 1840–1940

Loya, S. ORCID: 0000-0002-9156-2804 (2020). Neither Major, nor Minor: The Affective Fluctuating Third in Central-European Art Music ca. 1840–1940. In: Hinrichsen, H-J. & Keym, S. (Eds.), Dur vs. Moll: zum semantischen Potenzial eines musikalischen Elementarkontrasts. . Cologne, Germany: Böhlau.


From the middle of the nineteenth century onwards, several composers have attempted to capture a phenomenon of unstable major and minor intervals in folk music. Looking at the transcultural impact of this representational drive, this paper focuses on one particular scale degree – the third – and on particular contexts where the modal fluctuation of the third subverts the traditional ethos of major and minor, inherited from the eighteenth-century art music. Bartók’s interest in the neutral third has received some attention from Olsvai (1969) and more recently Riskó (2015), but the affective meaning of this third within Bartók’s largely triadic harmony deserves more attention, even if of a speculative nature. Applying a circumplex model of affects (originally devised by Russell, 1980) to ‘Major and Minor’ from Bartók’s Mikrokosmos suggests the manipulation of traditional mode-related affect had additional consequences for the perception beginning, middle and ending of this short masterpiece. In the second part of this paper, a similar application of both formal and affective analysis will look at earlier works by Dvořák, Brahms and Liszt, where triadic harmony would normally invite a tonal analysis that would cover up the phenomenon of the fluctuating third and its transcultural affective impact. To narrow down the analysis to comparable cases, this part is limited to works by art-music genres that represent traditional Central European musics, all exhibiting an energetic and positive mood.

Publication Type: Book Section
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D901 Europe (General)
M Music and Books on Music
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > Performing Arts > Music
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