Consonance and Dissonance
It was Schoenberg that said there is no such thing as consonance or dissonance any more. This seems like a reasonable statement to make but after almost 100 years those terms are still used with regard to music within that time period. Why? Why do these terms stick with such ferocity into the musicological repertoire? These terms make sense when used of music from before 1900 but with music after 1900 they should barely be mentioned in the same paragraph let alone the same essay! With this said they are still mentioned, even used as points of conversation within an analysis but why? Is it because musicologists do not want to be removed from their familiar phrases or is it because from a young age the musician is taught that consonance is nice and dissonance is harsh, major is happy minor is sad?
I completely agree that the young musician should be taught the fundamentals of harmony and the development from plainsong through to today but the teaching seems to concentrate around Bach and Mozart before commenting on Wagner’s chromaticism it doesn’t push forward any more than that. This in turn means that people try and explain contemporary music in out of date terms. Messiaen’s Les Offrands Oubliées is beautiful but in no way consonant, going on the younger musician’s teaching it is dissonant but its not harsh and unpleasant so this makes them question and leaves them confused. This is a fine example of why these terms should not be used but what can replace them? Unfortunately I believe the only words that can replace them are words that belong to feelings, words such as harsh or pleasant. I have been lambasted in essays for writing ‘such and such a passage feels pleasant’ yet I continue to write such terminology because I have not found anything else that will satisfy me. Feelings are the only true way to describe music, trying to distance the emotion from the sound is not right or even possible in the same way that trying to build a house without adequate foundations. Music is art, art is for emotion so is the best way to describe it not in emotional terms? Music today just is. If it has been written by the composer either with a specific idea or emotion in mind, why try and label it constant or dissonant?