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Musical Talks. The Chord

By Pedro San Juan

In modern music, the chord has an important significance and not only values the melodic themes, but often represents the generative idea of a work.

The great majority of composers have pronounced themselves in favor of this supremacy of the chord, especially the impressionists and those who like color. Harmony has thus undergone a profound change in our times by abandoning the role of simple melodic auxiliary, to rise to the category of main element.

However, we will say that already in other musical stages and precisely by ancient and classical authors it has been attempted -and successfully on more than one occasion- to give harmony the place of honor it holds today, being, among others, the great Beethoven who used harmonic procedures truly revolutionary for his time, in his last sonatas and also in his Fifth Symphony where we already find examples of what we can call chords without link and which carry in themselves a harmonic musical idea.

However, even accepting the positive value of these past examples, it is fair to recognize that they belong to the first dawn of a brilliant clarity in the field of modern harmony without reaching, by far, the interesting modality that a refined elite and lover of exquisite sensations has put in high relief.

Today harmony, thriving in its predominance and serving with marked enhancement to a new revolutionary musical aesthetic of enormous appeal, is something that embodies, in an incomparable way, the select soul of certain poetically dreamy and exquisite conceptionists who ask of this important manifestation of music not only the pattern of the chaining of more or less attractive chords but also to reveal those impressions and states of the soul that in music, sometimes, a sensitive and colorful harmony -and the modern orchestra with its polychrome- can translate accurately.

And it is true that on certain occasions the chord, completely free of scholastic constraints and at the same time establishing the existence of new harmonic truths that faithfully serve the idea, the unique reason for everything in art, represents with marvelous accuracy the sentimental note that motivates it and that gives pretext to the most beautiful and captivating combinations of sounds.

There are countless examples that modern composers offer to harmonic research - Albéniz, Schoenberg, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Milhaud, Ponlenc, Honegger, Satie, Malipiero, O'Respighi, etc., give us admirable proof of a new art in which not everything is entrusted to melody, being harmony with its inexhaustible resources also a revolutionary counterpoint - which some of them employ in an atonal way - the mainspring of their invention.

It is not, in spite of their positive merit, on the ultramodern aspect of a Honegger or a Milhaud always interesting for those broad spirits eager to follow the evolution of musical art, on whom our full admiration falls - their art, unquestionable and interesting with its beautiful manifestations, advises a prudent reserve in the appreciation - but we do pronounce ourselves, frankly, for those others already consecrated, some for the beautiful artistic legacy they left to the admiration of present and future generations such as Albéniz and Debussy and others for what they have already given of great and extraordinary, such as Ravel, Stravinsky, Malipiero, O'Respighi, Turina, Falla, etc....

Great is the importance given to the chord in today's modern music, and the harmonic innovations carried out until today are countless. But all of them, as around a great star, revolve around Debussy's art: the harmonic beauties of Debussy's works will be understood and accepted by his followers and also by the restless temperaments and artists of a select spirit who know how to bring to the stave the idiosyncrasy of the present they live in. Even if it happens that not all his contemporaries know how to recognize their soul and their time in the impressionistic or sentimental pictures that the composer offers them.

Even Beethoven was not understood in his time!

*Text published in the Navy JournalHavana, August 18, 1924.

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