Measuring Harmonic Tension in Post-Tonal Repertoire

Yvonne Teo


Despite the large body of research that has examined tonal and atonal harmonies to our perception of tension, there is no work that describes or explores the perception of post-tonal chords, but more specifically, chords that contain both tonal and post-tonal features. This article applies the concept of calculating the total amount of voice-leading movement, to examine its relationship to our perception of tension and release. To do this, three neoclassical pieces are selected to analyze the relationship between theoretical and perceived tension. The findings suggest that in addition to calculating the horizontal motion between harmonies, physical and acoustical factors play a critical role in relating theoretical to perceived tension. This approach is adaptable to other neoclassical works and in addition, this study could have implications in other musical fields such as performance practices and analyzing formal functions in post-tonal repertoire.


musical tension; post-tonal; neoclassical music; music perception

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