Musical Logic in Writing Words

I have just finished reading and reviewing Wolf Wondratschek’s Self-Portrait with Russian Piano (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020). You can read my review at This book is the only one I have ever read that uses the logic of music to construct sentences, paragraphs, even whole chapters.

The logic of music is based on moving from a place of rest to tension or imbalance resolved by a return to peace, all expressed in sound. Music is constructed in phrases, drawn from human breathing. A phrase is as long as a person could sing on a single breath. A section within a piece of music is made up of a series of phrases that either take the listener to a place different from where the music started or sometimes returns him to the spot where he began.

Western music—tonal music—uses the major and minor scales made up of seven tones each. Melodies result from arranging a series of tones drawn from the scales so that they take the listener from a place of rest into tension and then return him to a place of rest.

Harmony results from sounding more than one tone at the same time creating chords. A triad, a chord made up of three tones three and a five steps away from one another, can be constructed on any tone in the scale as the bottom note. The resulting seven triads have harmonic functions that determine how they are used. The tonic chord, that uses the first note of the scale in the lowest position, is the starting and ending spot for a musical piece. The dominant, based on the fifth note of the scale, is the point of departure and return, always propelling the listener back toward the tonic. The other five chords push or pull the listeners in various direction. The seven chord, constructed from the seventh note of the scale, also called the leading tone, seeks resolution to the tonic and is sometimes used in place of the dominant chord.

More tomorrow.

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