Toward a Quarter-Tone Syntax: Preliminaries

I first became interested in quarter tones seventeen years ago, during Grade 13 (known as "OAC" at the time in Ontario), my final year of high school. Our school bands used to compete at local music festivals, and it was at one of these competitions that I heard a rival band perform Charles Ives's "Country Band March." Their spirited performance made me laugh out loud, and learning that this raucous march had been composed by an insurance salesman made it seem all the more humourous. (Yes, I had a puerile sense of humour when I was in high school. This is a perfectly normal state-of-mind for the adolescent male.) This band performance was my first exposure to "difficult" twentieth-century music; in fact, I had never seriously listened to any "classical" music composed after the nineteenth century.

OAC music students were required to research and present a survey of the works of their choice of any twentieth-century composer. I chose Ives. My peers (Rollos every last one of them!) chose "safe" composers such as Rachmaninoff, Shostakovic, John Rutter, and Andrew Lloyd Webber. There were no projects on Schoenberg, Webern, Boulez, or Stockhausen. Poor Stravinsky was represented only by his neo-classical works. I took Ives's challenge to "stretch my ears" seriously, and so in my survey of his music, I sought out the most difficult and unusual music I could find. It was during this research that I came across the "Three Quarter-Tone Pieces" for two pianos. At first, the music sounded to me as though it were being played on a single, out-of-tune piano, but after many listenings, I began to recognize new harmonies in the opening chords of the third movement Chorale.

I wanted to learn more about how quarter tones might fit into the models of traditional harmony and counterpoint that I had learned at The Royal Conservatory of Music, but I could find no books on this subject; in fact, the only information that my high school music teacher could locate was a short entry in a pocket musical dictionary that mentioned Alois Hába. Today, there is a wealth of information available about microtonal music, largely thanks to the Internet. However, even with such extensive online information, there is still very little written about the role of microtones in the context of traditional models of harmony, counterpoint, and tonal syntax—all issues I explore in this dissertation. In a way, then, I consider this dissertation to be a first attempt at writing the book I was unable to find over fifteen years ago.

Preliminary Contents

The current version of all the Roman-numeral-paginated pages (Acknowledgements, Table of Contents, List of Tables, List of Examples, Abstract, Foreword, and Preface), saved as a .pdf