Music theory question
  • PaixGioiaAmorPaixGioiaAmor
    Posts: 1,473
    For all of you who are great in this area:

    Are parrallel 5ths to be avoided even in modern compositions, or is this a dated rule from the common practice era?

  • athome
    Posts: 31
    Music is not at the the service of theory, rather, theory is at the service of the music.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,532
    This is a common rule of strict four part writing. It has been abandoned by many modern composers.It is particularly critical in a cappella performance because it destabalizes the tonal reference anchor of the ensemble. I avoid parallel fifths. It does not make for excellence in contrapuntal performance.

    Let me explain: The root and the fifth of the chord are the primary and secondary anchors of the tonal center. You always want to shift those critical tones to another voice part so that the tension of tonal center is compensated by another voice. In this way intervalic relationships maintain a check and balance by singing against each other. Two much dependence on two voices for two consecutive chords monopolizing the tonal center can skew the harmonics as the root is depending on the fifth and vice versa. I hope this is making some sense.
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,432
    Many modern composers use parallell 5ths, most notabley Durufle and Debussy. Howeverm they are not 'bare' but often are combined with othr voices that mask this motion, for example thirds on top of the fifth movement.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Unless you have an irrational love of Rameau, write what you want. Judge it by whether or not it sounds good, not whether it satisfies boring 18th century rules.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    Thanks, francis. I learned the rules in theory and composition classes, but wasn't explained very well then. I think it's good to know basic rules and why, then you can do what you want to do to create special effects. Of course theory came after actual works, but when you study master pieces you can learn a lot, and certainly it helps with what you are doing. Believe or not, many genious composers also studied and played other peoples pieces, which became parts of creating their own music. In any form of creating and producing music, knowledge is a plus, not a hindrance. I don't believe those composers who 'break the rules' are doing it at random. Music is not a random art. I believe that's why we have so called ' music education,' ( which is pretty minimum these days for most people.)
  • athome, I would disagree on this dichotomy. Music theory is the science that seeks to understand the structure and musical content of a composition. It "serves" musicians, not music. Through an examination of the compositional process, we gain a richer understanding the music we hear. Is it necessary? Not if you just want a surface-level appreciation of music. However, music has so much more to offer once you have investigated the theory and the aesthetic principals of the era in which a given piece was composed. Did a composer creates something magnificent within the accepted theoretical framework of the time? Bach and Mozart frequently did. Were they dolts for not throwing off all those silly rules? Just about every composer wants limits. Complete freedom often means complete bewilderment. OTOH did a composer push the limits of the accepted practices of his time? I offer Beethoven as exhibit A for stretching things just enough. Gesualdo OTOH pushed things a bit beyond the pale and is known principally as a wacky composer/murderer. My goodness, look at how much abuse Schoenberg still gets a hundred years after his first big free atonal works.

    The question was a simple one regarding parallel fifths. As francis and ghmus7 have objectively stated, modern (starting around the late 19th century) and post-modern composers no longer feel the need to avoid parallel fifths. Francis ably describes the reason for avoiding them in the tonal era, though, and why a current composer like himself would continue to do so if working in the tonal realm.
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    Right, so the question is, what do you want? If you want to write polyphonic tonal music with clearly independent lines that produce the richest possible sonorities, try to avoid parallel fifths as much as possible. The very process of trying to avoid them, while paying attention to other things, is stimulating. There are few police these days. If you want a parallel effect, and you have a good reason for wanting it, knock yourself out. After Debussy, it can sound gimmicky. For sacred music, I should think that one's thinking constantly refers to the text and how you want the music to convey or comment upon it. A good question to ask is whether the pros of using them really outweigh the substantial cons. Really.

    So I would also say that if a parallel fifth is well-hidden and permits a superior line to one that avoids the parallel, go for it. Your altos and tenors will thank you.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,532
    There are ALWAYS exceptions to the rules, but to be used with caution. I used parallel fifths on purpose in this piece. Totally for effect as described in the explanation.
  • RagueneauRagueneau
    Posts: 2,592
    I would say the main thing to do is know what you are doing. In other words, choose to do what you want to do. If the particular style of composition in which you are composing benefits by them, use them.

    There is not one "modern" style of composition. Some modern composers use parallel fifths in SOME compositions, and it works well.

    When I employ them, I employ them for a specific reason, and never just "one" of them. In other words, I know precisely what I am doing and I choose to do it because I want to. It is not a situation where I am trying to harmonize a Bach Chorale, and I accidentally use parallel fifths, and then say, "Hurrray! They are allowed now!"

    These are my thoughts at least.

    I give some examples of famous composers using them at the bottom of this article.
  • paul
    Posts: 60
    I think you should think long and hard about that very well put phrase of Francis': because it destabalizes the tonal reference anchor of the ensemble. What this means to the choral conductor is that music with parallel 5ths is just a lot harder to tune up. (Ubi Caritas by Durufle is an EXCELLENT example-beautiful choral texture and I always use it on Holy THursday, but I curse the composer while I'm dusting it off with my choir) I think a lot of times when you hear badly composed music with parallel 5ths, the reason you don't like it is because the singers aren't singing it in tune. My advice is, if you want people to like what you write, take who you're writing the music for into consideration. Chanticleer will have no problem with your parallel 5ths. Many church choirs will.
  • RagueneauRagueneau
    Posts: 2,592
    Composers sometimes make their singers do "tricks" to avoid parallels. Here is a PDF from the above-mentioned article that shows an excerpt by Lassus, where he avoids parallels by voice crossing. For myself, I've never been convinced of the value of things like this, because it puts such strain on the singers.
  • JDE
    Posts: 588
    According to the Gradus ad Parnassum, such evasions as the one you cite, while technically correct, are also to be avoided -- just as eating Bac-Os is not really keeping kosher.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,532
    Parallel motion is parallel motion. This is just sloppy part writing by the composer. We are all prone to the trap at times. Sometimes I see it in my own writing after time has lapsed and I revisit one of my earlier comps. It most happens when I am anxious to finish a piece because of time constraints, haste or simple carelessness. Right now I have the choir working an Adoramus Te which is riddled with crossing voices. It's a mess for the choir and the conductor. Now, I do admit that one is shifting the tonic and/or dominant to a different voice, but I think it is just better to compose it correctly from the get go.
  • PaixGioiaAmorPaixGioiaAmor
    Posts: 1,473
    Thank you for all your feedback. I appreciate everyone's comments.