Post-Tonal Harmony

New England Conservatory
Analysis of post-tonal music is an exciting field, however, sometimes confusing. The confusion can arise from the fact that there are many ways to approach post-tonal music: one can analyze textures and its densities, one can approach the music in terms of chaos versus order, one can approach it in terms of timbre based on spectral analysis, etc. In this class, post-tonal music will be analyzed from a harmonic viewpoint. The course is divided in three main units. First, the classical duality between consonance and dissonance will be reconsidered according to research based on perception. This leads to a full spectrum from consonance to dissonance with many gradations in between. Therefore, measuring the degree of consonance will be our first topic. Second is a discussion how voice leading (or prolongations) is used in post-tonal music. This topic has a long tradition with heated debates. A recurring problem is that prolongation is well understood and defined in tonal (that is triadic) contexts. How to transfer this concept to post-tonal music seems problematic. In this unit we will evaluate different perspectives addressing the topic of dissonant prolongations. Third, to conclude this course, we will bring these two approaches together: chord construction and prolongation. Once a clear understanding of the degree of consonance is established, the concept of prolongation can be adjusted to the context of post-tonal music. This will give a good understanding of what the harmony is and how the harmony acts in a post-tonal composition. Throughout the course, a wide variety of music will be studied coming from different styles and aesthetics. The method of analysis is not applicable to one composer or style, but can be used to all post-tonal music in which harmony plays a prominent role. While this class is focused on analysis, this approach can equally be used as a compositional tool for harmonic development.
Access for Master students and doctoral students.
The main goal for this course is to establish a new perspective on harmony that allows describing accurately harmonic post-tonal structures. Note that this is not an extension of traditional harmony, but a concept of harmony based on the praxis of post-tonal composers.

Further information

  • assessment
    Exam with grade E , Semester grade S , Comprehensive exam CE , Other (The relative weight of the work in this course is: Homework - 25% Tests - 30% (15% each) Project No. 1 - 15% Project No. 2 - 30%)
  • level
    Advanced, Expert
  • Completed Semester
    1st or 2nd Semester
  • How many semesters does the course last?
  • hours per week
  • Link of the course
  • Target group of course
    Instrumentalists, advanced
    Music theory students, advanced
  • credits
  • Type of Course
  • Degree Level
    Master, PHD
  • e-learning-elements
    online exercises
  • Course
  • students #
    Max. 20
  • Hours per year
    • Robert Hasegawa: Tone Representation and Just Interval
    • Ernst Terhardt: The Concept of Consonance
    • Plomp & Levelt: Tonal Consonance and Critical Bandwith
    • Roy Travis: Towards a New Concept of Tonality
    • Steve Larson: The Problem of Prolongation in Tonal Music
    • Joseph Straus: The Problem of Prolongation in Post-Tonal Music
    • Olli Väisälä: Concepts of Harmony and Prolongation in Schönberg Op. 19 No. 2
    • Unsuk Chin: Piano Étude No. 2
    • Franco Donatoni: Spiri
    • Georg Friedrich Haas: String Quartet No. 8
    • Magnus Lindberg: Granduo
    • Morton Feldman: Coptic Light
    • Olivier Messiaen: Turangalila Symphony – V “Joie du sang des étoiles”
    • Schönberg: Op. 19 No. 2
    • Scriabin: Sonata No. 9
    • Oliver Knussen: Songs without Voices
  • evaluation grid
  • evaluation grid
    and document



current position

Full time Faculty in the Theory Department


New England Conservatory

Be a part of our european project !

This European project (KA 203 Strategic Partnership) created by Salvatore Gioveni promotes cross-border collaboration in the field of Music Theory through sharing knowledge and transferring pedagogical innovation. It thus responds to a lack of centralised source and framework to deepen reflection by means of cross-disciplinary study at European and international level.

There is a significant wealth of educational practices from one country to another in this sector, especially in terms of harmonic musical notation and analysis. However, HMEI's are facing the nonexistence of a European network for pedagogical staff in Music Theory so far. To improve the situation, the project will among other things develop several intellectual outputs such as Online Platform (IO 1), an EU Bibliography (IO 2), a Repository Courses (IO 3), a Multilingual Glossary (IO 4) and an Exchange Online Learning Platform.

Besides the Conservatoire royal de Bruxelles as leader and manager of the project, the following partner institutions are involved: Music Academy S. Moniuszki Gdańsk (Gdańsk, Poland), F. Liszt Academy of Music Budapest (Budapest, Hungary), Estonian Academy for Music and Theatre (Tallinn, Estonia), HfMTh "Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy" (Leipzig, Germany).

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