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  Augmented chords  MartinY at 15:53 on 07 May 2011

I was editing some William Lawes recently and was rather taken by his idea of what can constitute a plagal cadence.... the plagal cadence at the end of the 2nd Fantazy in the 'Sunrise' suite goes iv I+ I. I had to check a few sources to see if it was correct. It is of course, but I doubt if it would gain you a distinction in a modern harmony exam by writing such a cadence.

I remember playing Lawes years ago from the Faber edition which says copyright 1979 and one of the players said Is William Lawes still alive, I said even if he had not been shot at the rout of Chester nearby the old numbering of platform 12 of Chester General station, I think it is not very likely he would be still alive! (Pub quiz question there.)

Of course augmented chords are used all the time in whole tone passage harmony. Other useful chords are V7-flat 5th and V7-aug 5th and lots of other permutations. However I have never seen I+ serve the function of iv before.

I do not use aug chords and flat 5ths enough in near common practice harmony or whatever you call modern tonal music. It is interesting that even in such a famous and melifluous piece as Gibbons' The Silver Swan there are two augmented chords.

  Re: Augmented chords  IanTipping at 12:18 on 10 May 2011

It's an interesting cadence certainly. Almost as if Lawes wants to delay the resolution as long as possible by allowing the notes to resolve independently of each other and in so doing builds the tension by interfering with expectation at the most predictable moment of all.

I love augmented chords - the colour, the shape, the voice-leading potential - although I find I also use them perhaps less than I could. It's interesting, as with so much in harmony, I came to augmented chords via jazz. Ellington uses them all the time, often to serve as colouration in otherwise fairly standard chord progressions, and soloists (particularly from Parker and Gillespie onwards but also prior to that on occasion) will very frequently imply a #5 on Dominant functioning chords, primarily as it adds an extra pivot tone (#5 on 'Dominant' rises a semitone to maj 3 on 'Tonic'... even if that 'Tonic' is actually a secondary Dominant!) to the usual set.

With reference to the context of the Lawes piece, in the jazz world it is extremely common for a sharpened 5th to be used in a tonic chord if it is held for longer than the surrounding chords. An example would be the end of the first 8 bars of Jerome Kern's 'All The Things You Are'. The standard chords are - Fm7///Bbm7///Eb7///Abmaj///Dbmaj///Dm7/G7/Cmaj///////. The final C major chord is often split into two - the first four beats as an E major triad over a C bass, followed by four beats of straight C major 7. In practice, this is perceived as C+maj7 resolving to Cmaj7, very much as in the Lawes piece you refer to, although without the preceding iv chord. In order to make the progression logical, it's commonplace to make the preceding chords Dm7b5/G7b9/ which keeps an Ab(G#) running throughout the four bars preceding the C maj7 continually becoming a more tense note (root, fifth, diminished 5th, minor 9th, aug 5th) until it finally resolving to the 5th of the new Tonic chord. This idea of holding an increasingly 'tense' note beyond it's natural point of resolution seems to be Lawes' aim too. It's something I've tried to use in my composition, whether successfully or not is a different matter!

  Re: Augmented chords  MartinY at 16:15 on 11 May 2011

I have a great interest in Jazz hormony and I have read several 'how to do' books on the subject. What they do not tell you is how to put together the chord functions over many bars. This is probably something that only comes with great familiarity with lots of tunes, riffs and chord sequences. It is fine knowing how to improvise over a given chord but the textbooks give a rather disjointed view of what is going on........

I had the strange thought that improvised music is somewhat elitist because you can't just drag 5 arbitary musicians off the street and put some music in front of them and get anything worthwhile. Do not know where this thought is going and I have to go out to a meeting tonight and will not be improvising anything.... - Bah........

The whole issue of composed versus improvised music and their interaction is very interesting and perhaps could be another thread.......

  Re: Augmented chords  IanTipping at 01:11 on 12 May 2011

I know. Interestingly enough, having spent a lot of time in the improvising world - and I suppose less in the 'formally composed' world (for want of a better expression!) I find it relatively easy to write music for basing improvisations on - the ubiquitous 'lead sheet' composition - marginally harder to write a through composed piece, but nigh on impossible to write anything that makes a successful marriage of the two. I can't seem to leave behind the need to 'write the notes'. I wonder if in part it is down to my experience that 'jazz' musicians tend not to play the notated stuff hugely accurately and the 'classical' players tend to either a) freeze or b) become so self-indulgent and experimental that any hoped-for link between the composed sections and the improvised parts are largely ignored.

I should add that I know many musician/composers who feel no such inhibitions about producing music of this 'hybrid' type with remarkable results. It's actually very frequently music of this type that I feel most affected by. Without exception the musicians in question come from a jazz background moving towards more continuously composed music (rather than vice versa) and also they play with small groups that always have the same personnel. I suspect this may be the key - if you have performers you trust, understand and can write for, you stand a much better chance of coherent results as you can make a guess that all the players will pull in the same direction. Certainly, referring back once again to Ellington, a large part of the success of his band was due (by his own admission) to his ability to keep musicians in the band for very long periods. Often, when a player left, songs that featured them would be discarded from the band's repertoire, such was the importance Ellington placed on writing pieces for a particular musician's 'voice'.

As far as the other point you make, you are right, often the best, most coherent improvisations in jazz are those where a soloist is able to produce logical harmonic movement across a series of chords, rather than isolating one chord, blowing on it, then the next, then the next etc. It takes a long time to get to this stage though, and some chord progressions make it far harder than others, needless to say. If you are interested though, have a look at Mark Levine's The Jazz Theory Book, which although it does begin from the point of view of 'this scale fits this chord' etc., pretty rapidly moves on to giving a rather more thorough approach to playing through chords or 'running the changes' as they say. If you fancy the challenge, good luck to you....!