November 2016

A Tower of Harmony

Polychords are created when you stack one chord on top of another.

Listen to a playlist featuring the polychord examples from the November Techniques article.

NotionappClick here to download these examples for playback on the Notion app.

You also may want to take a look at these videos featuring pieces mentioned in the article. First is Igor Stravinsky’s Petrushka, which features the famous “Petrushka chord” (F-sharp major over C major). Here’s pianist Yuja Wang giving a thrilling solo performance of that piece, using an arrangement originally written by Stravinsky for the great 20th-century pianist Arthur Rubinstein. If you must, fast forward to 3:25 for an extended airing of the Petrushka chord, but we recommend listening to the whole thing if you can.

Next, Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, as performed by Perspectives Ensemble. At the start of the piece, the ensemble establishes an A major chord; then, at 0:29, an E major chord is superimposed, yielding a polychord memorable for its beauty.

Pianist Oleg Levin provides us with a version of “Botafogo,” from Darius Milhaud’s Saudades do Brasil. With his left hand, Levin plays an ostinato (see last month’s Techniques feature) that traces out an F minor chord. Meanwhile, his right hand ventures into places that would typically be considered way outside the assumed key signature. The polychords—which would sound much more like “normal” chords if Levin’s left hand were playing F-sharp minor instead of F minor—begin just after the 30-second mark, causing the music to sound almost as if it were floating.

Finally, the Dave Brubeck Quartet runs through “The Duke” in a vintage clip from 1956. Brubeck’s piano playing is rich in polychords, especially during the section from 1:13-1:28 where he adopts a waltz-like rhythm. Not all that surprising when you consider that he studied with Milhaud!