| home   authors | new | colophon | newsfeed | print |  
markus heuger's



  Abstract 0371
  Wagner, Naphtali (2001), "Tonal oscillation in the Beatles songs." In: Yrjö Heinonen, Markus Heuger, Sheila Whitely, Terhi Nurmesjärvi and Jouni Koskimäki (eds.), Beatlestudies 3. Proceedings of the Beatles 2000 conference. Jyväskylä: University of Jyväskylä (Department of Music, Research Reports 23), 2001, 87-96.
  Oscillation between two well-defined tonal centers is a simple solution to a fundamental compositional problem: how to "stop time" without paralysing movement. Back-and-forth motion between two alternative tonics neutralizes the forward march of notes and thereby stop, as it were, the hands of the musical clock; the music moves and stands in place simultaneously. The hypnotic movement of the tonal pendulum may give listeners a sense of mediative rest or put them in an ecstatic mood, depending on the conditions of the oscillation (tempo, rhythm and intensity).
  In the Beatles' music, the oscillation technique is one of a series of stylistic features that includes "harmonic regressions"; avoidance of dominant on certain structural levels; use of dominant substitutions; avoidance of upward resolution of leading tones; and "passive resolution" of dissonant notes. The aesthetic common denominator of these features is a weakening of tonal directionality. This article limits itself to the subject of oscillation, as it attempts to adapt Schenker's method of monotonal analysis to bifocal tonality.
  The appearance of oscillation in Beatles' music is not limited to calm lyrical songs, such as "Cry Baby Cry" or "And I Love Her"; it is also found in assertive and temperamental songs such as "Run For Your Life". The oscillation might occur between relative keys but other relationships may be found as well. In "Good Day, Sunshine", the two main divisions of the song have the relationship of Major second (B-A). Each time the verse leads back to the refrain, "Good Day, Sunshine", there is a motion from A Major to B Major, i.e. movement towards the "bright side" of the circle of fifths. "Doctor Robert" also oscillates between the same two keys: the verse acts as a transition from A Major to B Major, while the refrain functions as a retransition from B Major to A Major. Repeated alternation between Major keys a Major second apart are not uncommon in the Beatles' songs, perhaps due to their frequent use of bVII and II#. Such oscillations may also occur between minor keys. The circus-like quality of "Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite" is manifested not only in the acrobatic acts described in the sound effects, but also in the tonal acrobatics.
  To sum up, if the monotonal piece is compared to a circle center, then the oscillating piece is like an oval with two centres. Oscillating songs may end with the victory for one of the two alternative tonics, but they often end at random on one of them or neither. The lack of definitive commitment to a single tonality may free the listener from the tyranny of the one and only tonic. Cyclic tonal oscillation between two clear tonal centres provides a golden mean between definitive tonal directionality and polytonal or atonal blurring that characterizes some main streams in twentieth-century music.
  1997-2016 © Soundscapes