Music: Unit 6 Part C

4 (a) Compare and contrast the use of harmony and tonality in the three works listed below:

  • Arcangelo Corelli, Trio Sonata in D, Op. 3 No. 2: movement IV
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Sonata in Bb, K. 333: movement 1
  • Dmitry Shostakovich, String Quartet No. 8, Op. 110: movement 1


Corelli, Mozart and Shostakovich were pinnacle figures of their eras. Corelli helped establish functional Baroque tonality over Renaissance modes, Mozart was renowned for his development of classical harmony and Alberti Bass, and Shostakovich fought a Communist dictatorship that viewed his serially-influenced modern harmony as “decadent.” Their use of tonality and harmony are thus essential in establishing the characteristics of historic music and the development of contemporary composers.

Corelli’s ‘Trio Sonata in D’ is in the tonic key of D major. The opening two bars raise an antiphonal question in the tonic, before being answered in bar 3 and 4 in the dominant, A major. The B section uses inverted melodic ideas to modulate to the dominant, before going through various related keys such as B minor in bar 25. This is then followed by a four-bar response in E minor at bar 29. The section continues to modulate through the primary chords of A, D and G major before the codetta reaffirms the tonic key in D major through a perfect cadence in root position at bar 43.

Corelli adds harmonic variety through suspensions that offer a rare dissonance to his functional, diatonic tonality. Suspensions are marked in the figured bass organ, such as a 7-6 suspension in bar 9 and a 4-3 suspension in bar 39. Double suspensions are even used in bar 40. However, Corelli returns to a perfect cadence in bar 43.

Mozart’s tonality was similarly functional, in the key of Bb major. As typical of Sonata form, the music modulated to the dominant (F major) in the second subject at bar 23, including related keys. Mozart modulated to the relative minor at bar 80 (G minor) and C minor at bar 75, but he also, interestingly, modulates to the dominant minor, F minor, at bar 71. The use of F7 accompanying motifs at bar 87 also adds interest.

Harmonically, Mozart uses a circle of 5ths at bar 143 in order to lead into the recapitulation. There are also some alternative cadences, such as an imperfect cadence at bar 62 and an interrupted cadence at 83-84. Despite this, Mozart’s harmony is functional with root position chords and perfect cadences to end sections, such as bar 165.

Shostakovich largely remains in C minor for the majority of his ‘String Quartet No. 8’ due to the ‘decadent’ music that his previous atonal music had been described as by Soviet-run Russia. Despite this, he offers variety in tonality through unusual chords progressions. Bars 13-14 evidence a modulation from E minor, E major, Eb major, D major to Eb major, and the use of Fb instead of E natural affirms the melancholy mood of the piece dedicated to the “victims of war.” Shostakovich displays modal, Aeolian influences through pedals in the B section (from bar 28). The G# in place of Ab (the enharmonic equivalent) at bar 125 is used to lead into the next movement that features a 5 sharp key signature: B major.

Shostakovich utilises harmony to support tonality – the fugal entries in the Introduction (bars 1-11) indicate G minor and F minor in bars 5 and 7 despite the C minor key signature. Likewise, the pedals in the B section use the tonic C (in cello and viola) and the dominant G (on violin two) with a missing third to highlight an ambiguous, perhaps modal, tonality. Despite this, there is some evidence of functional harmony, as a neoclassical reference to Mozart and Corelli’s eras, through perfect cadences at the end of sections, such as bar 23.

In conclusion, despite their differences in style, era and location, Corelli, Mozart and Shostakovich manage to adapt and utilise each other’s ideas about tonality and harmony in order to create richly engaging and complex musical works.


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