Where did they come from?
Intervals first appeared in music in the Middle Ages in
Gregorian chant, and then in the Renaissance.
Until the 9th century, harmony (intervals!) was frowned upon by
the church, being considered the work of the Devil!
When organum, the earliest form of harmony was invented to
add a second voice to Gregorian chants, our fascination with
intervals began. The intervals that were heard most often were
P5 and P8.
In order for harmony to exist, the two voices would have to
sing different notes. The mood and quality of the music is very
much affected by which intervals are used and how.
The Renaissance: More harmony,
In the Renaissance era (1400 – 1600), polyphony had
become a huge part of music.
Polyphony = 2 or more independent melodic voices.
With 3 or 4 voices going at once, intervals were used
everywhere to add density and fullness to the music.
The advent of the triad: the use of P5s and thirds becomes
Dissonant intervals appear only in passing – not on
The Baroque Era: Laying Down the
Law... On Intervals
Beginnings of SATB harmony: bottom and top voices “define”
the harmonic contour.
3rds, P4s, P5s, 6ths, P8s most prevalent. Dissonant intervals
used only as “suspensions” for resolution.
Harmony now even denser
Use of //5s and //8s outlawed because they take away from the
independence of each part, are jarring to the ear, and because a
melody harmonized by its 5th is merely a melody played in two
different keys (Baroque music was very focused on ONE tonal
centre – this would have given it TWO)
The Classical Era: It’s all about the
In Classical Era music (1750 – 1820), the focus moved from polyphony
to the melody.
The “voices” working together was still very important, but all voices
worked to serve and show off the melody within a piece of music.
Composers still followed the harmonic rules set out in the Baroque
Used properly, intervals (in the form of chords) could in fact allow a
composer to modulate from one key to another, giving the piece of
music a sense of change in mood and direction!
The Romantic Era, 20th Century and
Romantic music still focused on melody and triad-based
harmony, but embraced dissonance for the depth, emotion
and sadness it added to their music.
Beginning partway through the Romantic era and
continuing today, harmony and the use of intervals began
to change drastically.
Tonal centres were no longer as important, and composers
embraced dissonance when it served their musical
All intervals were used with more freedom and dissonance
was used to communicate changes in mood and
uncertainty in a storyline
20th Century Music
Moving in to the 1900s, composers were experimenting
even further with tonality and unconventional uses of
intervals and unconventional ways of listening to
Using dissonant intervals and avoiding a home key
became very popular and is one of the trademarks of
20th century music
Which style of music did you like the most, and why?
Do you agree with the rules set forth in the Baroque era for
composition? Should the writing of music be controlled
that way? Why or why not?
Where do you think the use of harmony and intervals will
go in the future? Are we moving back to tonal music, or
Can you think of any pieces of music that user intervals in
an unconventional way? How do the intervals they are, and
the way they use them, affect how we percieve the music?