What is Chromaticism in Music? Chromaticism Characteristics and History


What does Chromaticism in music mean? What are the characteristics and history of Chromaticism in music and information.



Chromaticism, in musical composition, is the use of pitches extraneous to the diatonic scale. In 20th century usage, chromaticism also means the System of harmony in which all 12 semitones of the scale have equal importance.

In the West, chromaticism (from Greek chroma, “color”) first occurred in Greek music, probably as a result of the influence of Oriental music. In the Middle Ages the use of accidentals (chromatic notes) in Gregorian plainsong was formalized as musica ficta or “false music.” Musica ficta was viewed at first as a corruption of musical purity, but it came into common use in the 14th century, marking the end of strictly modal plainsong.

The rise of the madrigal, a polyphonic vocal setting of romantic poetry, increased the use of chromatic figures, which lent themselves to cer-tain dramatic effects. The first composer to use chromaticism extensively was Adrian Willaert; its harmonic uses were extended by Gesualdo and Monteverdi in their madrigals.

In the 18th century

In the 18th century equal-temperament tuning replaced mean-temperament tuning, introducing a scale consisting of 12 equal semitones within the octave. Thus E-flat and D-sharp, for example, were sounded as the same pitch, but they continued to be notes capable of performing two different harmonic functions.

Chromaticism became increasingly popular in the 18th century. It was used in fugues and in dramatic music (oratorios, cantatas, and operas), in which chromatic figures were often employed to express grief or lamentation. Also, the harmonic ambiguity of chromatically altered tones made them useful as pivot notes for modulations between keys, as in the Marche Funebre in Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 26. During the 19th century the diatonic framework progressively weakened. Cesar Franck experimented freely with chromatic techniques, and harmonies in Wagner’s operas are often quite free of tonal centers. By 1900, Debussy’s ambiguous chords had fathered the French impressionistic school, with its marked chromaticism.

The serial techniques of Arnold Schoenberg introduced pure chromaticism, in which no tone serves as a tonic center. However, the music of some later composers, including Bartok and Hindemith, alternated chromaticism with diatonic or modal harmonies, and that of others, among them Stravinsky and Poulenc, exemplified a reaction against excessive 12-tone chromaticism.

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