1.3 Coming home
Within each major or minor key, an individual chord, designated as the ‘home’ chord, orients the listener. Harmony can be analogous to a journey and leaving and returning ‘home’ is an important concept underpinning harmonic progression. We are aware when we move away and return to the ‘home’ chord. This concept underpins many musical genres and we will explore one example of this now, using the final moments of the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
Listen to the end of the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The extract will stop just before the final ‘home’ chord is sounded. Immediately after the extract has finished, try to hum the pitch upon which the ‘home’ chord is built. The single pitch indicates where the harmonic progression was leading to. Your instincts will most likely lead you to the correct pitch: don’t feel that you need to employ technical expertise or analysis here!
Now listen to the end of the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony again, this time with the final ‘home’ pitch sounded.
Did you hum the correct note? You may be surprised to find that you hummed the correct pitch, even if you feel you know very little about classical music and have not heard Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony before. This is because certain harmonic progressions in Western music of many genres are used so extensively that they become ‘hard wired’ in our subconscious, and we recognise them even though we have not consciously studied them. You will quickly notice when musicians deviate from these well-established patterns – the music may surprise you, or sound ‘wrong’.
Here’s an example of composed music which doesn’t follow the established harmonic progressions at its conclusion. Make a note of the track timing at the point where the music goes ‘wrong’.
Mozart intentionally disobeyed established harmonic progressions in this piece, called ‘A Musical Joke’. At the very end of the clip (c.00:22) the music did not return ‘home’, and therefore sounded incorrect, and as though the musicians had played the wrong notes!