Heaven's Bells by Ken Myers

Column: From Heavenly Harmony

Heaven's Bells

by Ken Myers

The term "tonality" is used to refer to a harmonic system whereby a sense of home is established in a piece of music on a particular note. Melodies and harmonies within a tonal composition are ordered around that home note and the home key (major or minor) that grows out of it. Think of the tune to "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." The first note, the one on which Judy Garland sang "Some-", is the home note. The second note, "-where," ascends a full octave, to a note that is vibrating exactly twice as fast as the first note, and thus is a higher version of home. As it happens, that higher home note is also the very last note in the song, as Dorothy wistfully wonders "Why, oh why, can't I?" When she sings that last note, the melody comes back home, even if she and Toto still aren't in Kansas anymore. Music with a tonal center can come home, often repeatedly, and each arrival is usually aesthetically satisfying.

Many Western composers in the twentieth century expressed anxiety, skepticism, or disdain toward the practice of tonality. Gustav Mahler's Ninth Symphony, composed at the end of the century's first decade, announced (in Leonard Bernstein's words) "the death of tonality." Bernstein hears in the last movement of Mahler's Ninth a prayer "for the restoration of life, of tonality, of faith. . . . But there are no solutions." The twentieth century was the century of death, proclaimed Bernstein in his 1973 Norton Lectures at Harvard, "and Mahler is its musical prophet."

THIS ARTICLE ONLY AVAILABLE TO SUBSCRIBERS.
FOR QUICK ACCESS:


Ken Myers is the host and producer of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Formerly an arts editor with National Public Radio, he also served as editor of Eternity, the Evangelical monthly magazine, and This World, the quarterly predecessor to First Things. He also serves as music director at All Saints Anglican Church in Ivy, Virginia. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.

Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!

Online
Subscription

Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!

bulk subscriptions

Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to touchstonemag.com—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.

Transactions will be processed on a secure server.


more from the online archives

28.3—May/June 2015

Dumb Sheep

on the Truth About a Slanderous Accusation by James S. Spiegel

6.1—Winter 1993

Civilization Without Religion?

by Russell Kirk

29.4—July/August 2016

The Very Idea

on Anselm's God & the Virtue of Existing  by Tara L. Jernigan

calling all readers

Please Donate

"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand

"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor

Support Touchstone

00