Western music has tended to elevate the status of harmony as the embodiment of sonic beauty. Harmony is understood to reflect the orderly workings of the cosmos, inspiring in the human psyche a consciousness of the interconnected web of existence. Harmonic function often relies on the division of musical intervals into consonance and dissonance. Tonal music gravitates towards consonance; these are the sounds which denote stability, finality, and resolution. Dissonances, by contrast, create tension, driving progressions, phrases, and entire pieces to seek the relief in the consonances to which they must inevitably accede. Dissonance has always had a role to play in music, but it has often been a rigorously controlled one.
At least two major historical upheavals have changed the status of dissonance in Western art music, however. In around 1600, certain composers began to develop a new style which came to be known as "Baroque". This new "practice" focused on using dissonance expressively, to convey meaning and emotion. Acceptable dissonance became not so much a matter of adhering to pre-ordained natural acoustic laws, but creating music which centered on dramatic veracity.
About 300 years later, at the turn of the 20th century, many composers sought to create new musical idioms, in which the fixed connotations of dissonance would no longer be relevant. To these composers, each individual work could create its own set of sonic relations. Arnold Schoenberg wrote about the "emancipation of dissonance", suggesting a newfound egalitarianism in the harmonic sphere. This music compelled listeners to grasp the harmonic logic of each work on its own terms, much as abstract painters required viewers to relinquish expectations of representational depictions.
This morning's solo piano works include several 20th-century compositions which use dissonance in free, decorative ways, alongside several works by the Baroque master J. S. Bach. El Salón México, which takes its name from a Mexico City nightclub, is also a tribute to Gay Pride Month, with a nod to Aaron Copland's celebratory embrace of his sexual identity, and a sigh for Leonard Bernstein's more tortured relationship with his.
Read on for programming details, and stay tuned for spoken introductions.
Gathering Music: Adam Kent, piano
El Salón México
Aaron Copland, arr. by Leonard Bernstein
Offertory: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
Sara Bareilles & Jack Antonoff, arr. by Roger Emerson
English Suite No. 3 in G Minor, BWV 808
J. S. Bach
Sonatine pour Yvette
Partita No. 1 in Bb Major, BWV 825
J. S. Bach