Bartok at Harvard: An introduction to chromatic polymodality and tonal centricity

by Kim, Sun-Jung, Ph.D., STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK AT BUFFALO, 2009, 226 pages; 3372063


This dissertation investigates Bartok's polymodal language from the perspective his new concept of tonality, referred as "polymodal chromaticism," which superposes or juxtaposes two or more modes with the same fundamental tone. Bartok's polymodal music is based on the pentatonic and various folk modal scales. In particular, the pentatonic system in the Hungarian folk songs provides him with a rich resource as well as unique musical system. In addition, Bartok's compositional principle of polymodality is further developed by his free use of various scales, which ultimately lead to a new way of constructing phrases. Thus, his polymodal music comprises several prominent and unique features. First, in his creative concept of the key signature, he invents an unorthodox notational function for the key signature. Secondly, his cadential forms are represented in both melodic and harmonic configurations and are characterized by their distinctive modal features and bass-lines. Bartok also effectively articulates sections of his forms by using new kinds of cadences in different metrical positions. Finally, the unique formal structure, the Hungarian plagal form, figures prominently in his polymodal music. The two different plagal modulations, real plagal modulation and modal plagal modulation, are developed in terms of this form. In these modulations, we notice certain recurring patterns and the tonal motion of a descending fifth. This unique polymodal phraseology is generated from Bartok's great insight into the spirit of Hungarian folk songs. Bartok seemed to intimately understand the properties of these songs, which he eventually exploited in his chromatic musical language through his unique notation, harmonizations and formal structures.

AdviserMartha M. Hyde
Source TypeDissertation
Publication Number3372063

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