Author: Day-O\'Connell, Jeremy
Title: Pentatonicism in Nineteenth-Century Music
Institution: Cornell University
Begun: January 1999
Completed: August 2002
Nineteenth-century pentatonicism is a more significant trend than has been acknowledged, with a great many examples pre-dating the more famous pentatonicism of Debussy and Dvorák by several decades. On a purely musical level, the development relates to subtle changes in melodic sensibility, epitomized by the “surrogate leading-tone” of the ^6-^8 plagal cadence. Pentatonicism’s various but related signifying functions -- as pastoral, primitive, exotic, and religious -- derive from identifiable musical, aesthetic, and ideological trends, the interaction of which has important implications for musical meaning. The ostensibly non-signifying pentatonic glissando, first exploited by Elias Parish-Alvars, capitalized on Erard’s innovative double-action harp.
Keywords: pentatonic, scales, plagal, harp music, Debussy, 19th-century music, harmony, tonality