Fourth harmonic

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( Audio sample ? / I ) Four-stage quartile layeringAudio file / audio sample

The music theory called musical structures in which a pure fourth ( Sample ? / I ) is clearly preferred as a fourth harmonic . Audio file / audio sample

The relatively young term is constructed as a deliberate contrast to the traditional harmonic thirds . The Western ear familiar tonal hearing in major - and minor - chords ( Sample ? / I ) dominated Western music from 1600 to 1900 and is musically important today. In this, the two intervals of the major and minor third ( audio sample ? / I ) are the decisive harmonic structural element. Audio file / audio sample Audio file / audio sample

Two-part music-making in parallel quarters appeared in Europe as early as the Middle Ages and was one of the earliest forms of European polyphony. With the musical transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, this practice was replaced by third-related tonalities. Since the beginning of the 20th century, quarters have again played an important role in many contemporary musical styles. The fourth harmonic deals with structural similarities of musical styles, the emergence of which is spatially and / or temporally very far apart and which can therefore sound very different.

Introduction: intervals and chord symbols

The harmonies as part of music theory deals with the properties simultaneously sounding tones Direction. The pitch difference between two tones in the distance (Latin intervallum ) of the perfect fourth is five semitones ( audio sample ? / I ); The name Quarte (Latin quartus , fourth) stems from the fact that in most common scales the fourth tone has this distance from the root ( some typical audio examples ? / i ). Audio file / audio sample Audio file / audio sample

To make it easier to understand, the intervals that are frequently used in the text are listed again.

Audio file / audio sample Audio sample ? / i Prim to fifth
audio sample ? / i fifth to ninthAudio file / audio sample

The term interval describes the pitch distance between two consecutive or simultaneously sounding notes. A complementary interval is understood to be the interval that supplements another interval to form an octave : in the case of a third, a sixth . One speaks of a lower fourth (corresponding to the lower fifth, lower third, etc.) when the upper tone of an interval is shifted one octave down. For example, the fifth C - G becomes the lower quart G - C.

In the case of the chord symbols used in the article, the capital letter determines the root of the triad in major, consisting of prime , major third and fifth . The suffix m stands for minor : Instead of the major, a minor third sounds at a distance from the root. Numbers next to it, with or without the addition add , indicate additional tones at a distance from the root note: C 6 or C add6 denotes the tones C - E - G - A. C 7 denotes a C major chord with an additional minor seventh , So the tones C - E - G - B. This chord functions as a dominant seventh chord in classical tonal music .

The addition maj7 (abbreviation of the English major seventh ) indicates the triad expansion with a major seventh. Both seventh chords can be extended with the major (ladder's own) ninth and are then called C 7/9 or C maj7 / 9 . The abbreviation sus4 (from English suspended fourth : fourth lead ) expresses that the expected third in a stable major or minor triad is preceded by a fourth. In modern music, however, this sound has become so independent that it can also stand for itself and does not have to be continued ("dissolved") into a triad.

Elements of the fourth harmonic

Brief history of the fourth

The ancient Greeks called the fourth interval, belonging to the group of melodious intervals of the symphonia, Syllabe ( Greek "summary") and later Diatessaron (Greek "through four", "out of four"). It forms the frame interval of the tetrachord important in Greek music theory .

In the Middle Ages , the fourth belonged to the concordantiae , a group of intervals perceived as "melodious", to which the prime, octave, fifth and later the third were counted. Since the 12th century, composers and music theorists have understood it to be a dissonance in need of resolution in the event of an appearance between the lowest voice and an upper voice .

In the 13th century the fourth and the fifth were in the middle position of the concordantiae mediae , until it was finally heard as a real dissonance in the 15th century and was thus completely eliminated from the group of concordantiae .

The view of modern acoustics supports the medieval interpretation (adopted from Greek antiquity) insofar as the intervals octave, fifth and fourth do in fact have particularly simple frequency ratios. For the octave this is 1: 2, i.e. the octave a 2 of the concert pitch a 1 (440 Hz ) vibrates at 880 Hz. For the fifth, this ratio is 2: 3 (the upper fifth e 2 of the concert pitch therefore vibrates at 660 Hz) ; for the fourth between e 2 and a 2 (660 and 880 Hz), which is the complementary interval , the proportion is accordingly 3: 4. These numerical relationships were basically already familiar to the ancient and medieval music theorists , for example through experiments on the monochord .

Audio sample ? / I ) with pure (a), excessive (b) and diminished (c) fourthsAudio file / audio sample

In the following historical explanations, reference is made to the changing frequency relationship between the tones in the Pythagorean tuning , the mean-tone , equal-level and well-tempered tuning .

In the course of European music history, certain intervals in polyphonic music were apparently initially preferred precisely because of their simple acoustic relationship. The development between the 12th and 16th centuries is then, to simplify matters, characterized by the following lines of development:

  1. The sound effects achieved with the help of “simple” interval relationships initially occupy a preferred position.
  2. In the further historical development these sounds lose the meaning they once had, while the “more complex” intervals (thirds, sixths , tritones ) move more and more from the edge to the center of musical interest.
  3. With the end of medieval music, some of its basic principles are practically abolished by newer rules of voice guidance or at least extremely restrictive (hence, for example, the prohibition of parallel performance of octaves and fifths).

The music of the 20th century for its part put the rules of “classical” European musical art up for discussion. In addition to conscious recourse to the Middle Ages (for example with Erik Satie ), completely new types of sounds were composed, which very often include the interval of the fourth as a structural element.


The term fourth harmonic describes the formation of harmonic structures on the basis of the interval of the fourth in contrast to the traditional layering of chords in thirds . While in the major-minor tonal bound European music (between about 1600 and 1900) such quart harmonious sounds as resolution requiring suspensions in the voting are implementing special treatment needed, they became independent in the later music visibly. Jazz and rock have been using quart harmonies with preference since the 1960s. Corresponding to this chord-related (vertical) structuring, a melodically oriented (horizontal) use of fourths is common, for which the parallel term fourth melody has not (so far) been able to establish itself. Another form is the coupling of quarters. This means that fourths are used to enrich sounds, as is normally done with thirds, octaves or sixths.

Elaborated theoretical systems and observation models that enable the harmonic interpretation of four-chords , five-chords and entire movements (as they exist for the triad harmony with the function theory or the step theory and the cadence concept ) have not developed in relation to the fourth harmony. There are sometimes in the literature, the terms quart stratification , Quart Tower , Quart structure and Quart sound without them against fourth harmonic and fourth chord differentiated accurate.

Properties of the fourth chord

Fourth chords sound a bit “choppy” because they have a tendency to leave the key . The fourth is the complementary interval of the fifth , that is, the two intervals "merge" one on top of the other to form an octave and thus lead back to the original note. If one follows the circle of fifths in its " cadencing " direction (G → C → F → B and so on), one moves accordingly in ascending fourths (this is the main reason why some modern theorists prefer to use the circle of fourths for predominantly harmonic considerations " speak). The “built-in” cadencing dynamics of the model - G acts functionally as a dominant to C, this in turn strives for F and so on - explains why fourths have the property of indicating a new tonal center or of being in a rather unstable relationship to the original tonality . This makes the fourth ideal for indentations , as it has an inherent tendency to shift to a new key ( see also: Modulation (music) ).

Delimitation problems

The question of whether structures based on fourths should be interpreted from the point of view of fourth harmony, or whether it makes more sense to interpret them in the context of conventional systems such as functional theory or level theory , depends on the individual case and sometimes cannot be answered clearly. Sometimes both interpretive approaches can be useful and lead to different results.

Audio sample ? / I ) Different interpretations of a fourth layering: fourth lead, dominant seventh and tonic sixth fourth chordAudio file / audio sample

This becomes clear if one realizes that for example, the fourth chord C - F - B in accordance with the conventional harmony as C Major - seventh small seventh , recessed fifth and replaced by the fourth, third (fourth derivative ), so C 7sus4 can be seen. Other interpretations, such as an inversion ( sixth fourth chord ) of F 7sus4 , would also be conceivable. Even layers of quarters consisting of four or more tones can be interpreted in a similar way. The fourth chord C - F - B - Eb could also be used as a C minor chord with a minor seventh and an additional fourth Cm 7/4 or Cm 11 , or, to indicate just one of the many possibilities, as an inversion of an E flat major - See chord with second lead and additional sixth Es 6sus2 .

The ear, which is used to tonal hearing, has many possibilities to interpret a quartz layering. The listener will most likely interpret the sound C - F - B as a fourth lead chord of F major, i.e. C 7sus4 . The ear can interpret an A flat major or F minor sound with additional tones into a five-tone "quart tower" C - F - B - E flat - A flat.

Audio sample ? / I ) “Traditional” continuation of the lead chord in a major or minor triadAudio file / audio sample

The question of whether such an approach is appropriate should be specified in each individual case: Does the interpretation of a fourth structure in the context of the chronologically preceding and following chords and musical development result in a comprehensible and also audible functional sense? Or is it just an exercise with strenuous pull-ups to force the music into the Procrustean bed of a theory? It can be an important criterion whether the lead and chromatic changes of a chord tone ( alterations ) are resolved or continued in a functional way. It is certainly also important whether the ear is already prepared for a certain harmonic situation by listening to it several times (or studying the musical text).


The making of music by means of vocal or instrumental parallel guidance in different intervals, including that of the fourth, has been proven for various non-European peoples and should have been common since prehistory.

middle Ages

In the music of the Middle Ages , to which thinking in the major-minor tonality was still alien, there are many examples of a musical structure that favored quarters. The Musica enchiriadis , a textbook created around the middle of the 9th century, testifies to the parallel singing in fourths, fifths and octaves. In the music of the so-called Notre Dame School , polyphony reached its first climax.

Due to the use of the Pythagorean tuning in the Middle Ages, the intervals fourth (3: 4), fifth (2: 3) and octave (1: 2) sounded as pure intervals with the exception of the Pythagorean wolf fifth, which necessarily occurs in this tuning . All other intervals were considered impure.

Accumulation of fourths in Pérotin's Alleluya Play ? / iAudio file / audio sample

For example, in the Alleluya ( audio sample ? / I ) by Pérotin, the fourth has a preferred position. The note example shows that the interval of the fourth with 14 out of 27 eighths has a share of over fifty percent in the frequency of the interval relationships. In the fourth organ , the leading main voice ( principal voice ) was accompanied by another voice that was a fourth lower. It is also important in Fauxbourdon : This is basically a two-part setting in which the outer voices are preferably sixth or octave apart, whereby (often improvisationally ) a middle voice must be added every fourth . However, the Fauxbourdon is to be seen as a first step from the old fourth / fifth movement to more modern triad structures from sixth chords . Audio file / audio sample

Sub-quarters in Guillaume Du Fay's Antiphon Ave Maris Stella

The problem of the parallel quarters, which was frowned upon at the time, was circumvented by playing the middle voice but not notating it. An example of this is the beginning of the Marian antiphon Ave Maris Stella ( audio sample ? / I ) by Guillaume Du Fay , a master of Fauxbourdon. Audio file / audio sample

Medieval thought also often viewed musical intervals from a philosophical-theological point of view. So demanded Pope John XXII. In a bull from 1325, music exclusively uses the octave as a symbol for the perfection and bliss of all saints in God, the fourth to complain about earthly imperfections and the unfinished, and the fifth as the purest interval.

Renaissance and Baroque

In the Renaissance , the development towards the major-minor tonality that was realized in the Baroque era begins . In the mass Missa Pange Lingua ( audio sample ? / I ) from around 1515 or the two-part Domine, Dominus noster by Josquin Desprez , little of this can still be felt. Rising and descending overlapping quarters in the individual voices often form quarters here. Audio file / audio sample

Excerpt from Josquin Desprez ' Benedictus of the Missa Pange Lingua

In the course of time up to the late Renaissance and the beginning of the Baroque era, the fourth was increasingly understood as an interval that needed to be resolved. The fifth and fourth harmonics are increasingly giving way to thirds and sixths. This is shown, for example, by the developing final formulas with a fourth resolution in Orlando di Lasso and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina as a preliminary form of the cadenza ( audio sample ? / I ) Audio file / audio sample

Common closing cadences

In the early baroque music of Claudio Monteverdi , Palestrina and Girolamo Frescobaldi , the triad harmonics then largely prevailed. Nevertheless, diatonic or chromatic ascending or descending structures that fill the pitch space of a fourth, such as lamento and passage duriusculus, remain significant. In the madrigals of Claudio Monteverdi and Carlo Gesualdo , tendencies towards quart formation in quarters, which are resolved extremely late, are often to be found for a more intensive interpretation of the text. In Frescobaldi's Toccata cromaticha from 1635, quarters from halved church keys overlap in different modes.

In the first third of the 18th century, important theorists increasingly fixed the theoretical foundations of the theory of composition and harmony in writing. With his theoretical works Le Traité de l'harmonie réduite à ses principes naturels in 1722 and the supplementary Nouveau Système de musique theoretique published four years later, Jean-Philippe Rameau laid the foundations of modern music theory with regard to the theory of chords and harmony. In 1725 the Austrian composer Johann Joseph Fux published his influential composition theory for counterpoint in the style of Palestrina under the title Gradus ad Parnassum . In the teaching, which is structured according to genres, the interval of the fourth in the sentence note against note is considered a dissonance to be avoided.

But there are also passages in works of the high baroque in which the old power of counterpoint overlays the major-minor tonality. In the Crucifixus of Johann Sebastian Bach's B minor Mass, the excessive fourth and lower fifth are emphasized. In his piano work, for example, in fugue No. 22 of the first part of the Well-Tempered Clavier or the Sinfonia No. 9 ( audio sample ? / I ), which Paul Hindemith described as a “true harmonic puzzle game” because of its ambiguous harmony, the interval of Fourth as particularly central. Audio file / audio sample

Opening bars from JS Bach's Sinfonia in F minor, BWV 795

Classic and Romantic

The attempt to see tendencies of a fourth harmonic for the "heyday" of the major-minor tonality - from the establishment of the tempered mood in Bach's time to the late Romantic period - would be wrong. An increasingly refined cadence and triad harmony determines the musical work. The contrapuntal element recedes in favor of the upper part and a clear accompanying harmonics. Nevertheless, there are a few examples in which construction mechanisms via interval relationships overlay the usual harmonics and sometimes push them into the background. This is often done in order to use harmonic means to increase the expressiveness of a passage.

In his so-called “Dissonance Quartet”, K. 465 ( audio sample ? / I ) , Mozart superimposes chromatic and whole- tone ascending or descending quarters. Arched quartz moves in the first violin (C - F - C) and in the cello (G - c - c 1 - g) are combined with a subquint run in the second violin and a fifth run in the viola . In bars 2 and 3, quarters (1st violin and viola) are added on the first beat. In the string quartet KV 464, on the other hand, the quarters are very exposed. Audio file / audio sample

Measures 11 to 17 from the first movement of Mozart's string quartet KV 465

Examples of such tonal language are particularly often offered by the genres of the string quartet and piano music , in which the composers generally work more experimentally than in their other works, because such music is usually aimed at well-versed connoisseurs. The theme of the fourth movement from Beethoven's Piano Sonata op. 110 ( audio sample ? / I ) consists of three fourth jumps (A-flat → D-flat - B → E-flat - C → F) and the downward traversed fourth space F - E flat - D flat - C. The counterpart at second threads insert also works with the fourth material. Audio file / audio sample

Beginning of the fourth movement from Beethoven's Piano Sonata Op. 110

At the beginning of the second movement of the string quartet in A minor, Op. 132 ( audio sample ? / I ), Beethoven exposes the fourth in steps of three (G sharp - A - C sharp) four times, with all instruments playing in unison . In measure 5, this step of three is then combined with an inverted variant (lower fifth) in mixed note values. Audio file / audio sample

Beginning of the second movement from Beethoven's String Quartet in A minor Op. 132

From 1850 to 1900, late Romantic composers such as Anton Bruckner , Richard Wagner , Gustav Mahler and Claude Debussy dissolved the usual major-minor tonal thinking, and at the beginning of the 20th century, concepts such as the harmonic fourth were no longer tonally bound to leave a lot of space.

Quarters and fifths become important in the works of Slavic and Scandinavian composers such as Modest Mussorgski , Leoš Janáček and Jean Sibelius .

Bars 24-27 from Mussorgski's The Hut on Chicken's Feet

The tart, archaic, uncovered presentation of these intervals reveals the fruitful engagement with the folk music of the respective home countries. Sibelius' Piano Sonata in F major, Op. 12 from 1893, with its tremolo passages and partial fourth harmonic, seems relatively hard and modern. Likewise the following example from Mussorgski's piano cycle Pictures at an Exhibition (Избушка на курьих ножках (Баба-Яга) - The Hut on Chicken's Feet) ( audio sample ? / I ), in which the fourth appears completely “without makeup”. Approaches to the fourth harmonic can be found in Janáček's Rhapsody Taras Bulba and his operas Več Makropulos and Z mrtvého domu (From the House of the Dead) , in which ascending fourths and sevenths dominate. Audio file / audio sample

The Freiburg musicologist Christian Berger sees in his work “ Atonality and Tradition - Anton Webern's Four Pieces for Violin and Piano op. 7 ” a connection between Richard Wagner's so-called Liebestod melody from the second act of his opera Tristan und Isolde and Webern's work. Both works place quarters next to each other in the design of the melody. In Wagner's work, the upward fourth jump (Es - As) is followed by two semitone steps down (As - G - Ges). The newly reached target tone becomes the starting point for a new quartz space (Ges - Ces). This process is repeated several times. Berger sees a similar principle implemented in Webern, who uses this method to place eight fourths one behind the other.

Excerpt from the 2nd act of Richard Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde


Even with Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt , especially in his tonally thinned-out late work for piano ( Nuages ​​gris , La lugubre gondola , and other works), fourth chords can occasionally be found. In Impressionist music, the chords, the tonal concentrate of which remains, increasingly break away from the harmonic functional context and acquire the status of autonomous sound values.

Bars 28 and 29 from Claude Debussy's Prelude 1, 4

Together with the non-chords, the whole-tone scale , the pentatonic scale , the polytonality and also the layering of quarters , they then become an important means of expression for musicians like Maurice Ravel , Claude Debussy and others. In the fourth piece Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir from the first book of Debussy's Preludes, three-note fourth chords lie in the right hand over "normal" chords made up of four notes in the left hand ( audio sample ? / I ). Other examples include Debussy orchestral work La Mer , La cathédrale engloutie from the Preludes , and pour les quartes and Pour les Arpèges composées from the Etudes . In the work The Sorcerer's Apprentice (L'Apprenti sorcier) by the composer Paul Dukas, who is a friend of Debussy, from 1897 symbolizes sequences of ascending fourths of how the tireless work of the out of control broom makes the water level in the house “rise and rise”. The fourth harmonic can also be found in Maurice Ravel's Sonatina and Ma Mère l'Oye . Audio file / audio sample

20th century music


From his sixth piano sonata onwards, Alexander Scriabin increasingly used a quintless acoustic tredezima chord in the wide nonlage , which because of its instrumentation was initially often misunderstood as a fourth chord ( mystical chord ).

Scriabin noted the chord on his sketch sheets both in this wide position and in the narrow form as a third layer . An inflationary use of the term of the fourth harmonic in connection with the music of Scriabin, as it emerged after Leonid Sabaneev's essay on Scriabin's Prometheus in the journal Der Blaue Reiter in 1912, would therefore not be appropriate. First of all, “chords made up of pure fourths (as for example in Arnold Schönberg's chamber symphony, which is rightly quoted for this purpose) are not to be equated with mixtures of excessive, diminished and pure fourths and secondly, Scriabin did not see his so-called mystical chord as a fourth chord, but rather as a reflection of the overtones. ” (Quoted from Zsolt Gárdonyi , Paralipomena on the subject of Liszt and Scriabin , in “ Virtuosity and Avantgarde ” , edited by Zsolt Gárdonyi and Siegfried Mauser, Mainz 1988, p. 9.)

Six-note horizontal fourth chord in Arnold Schönberg's Chamber Symphony op.9

A milestone in the fourth harmonic is then Arnold Schönberg 's Chamber Symphony Op. 9 from 1906. In the first bars, a five-step fourth chord is built up by successive occurrences of the notes C - F - B - Eb - A flat in the various instruments. The composer then resolves this vertical fourth harmony into a triad harmony with the horizontal fourth sequence C - F - B - Eb - A flat - Db in the horns. In contrast to Webern, however, Schönberg expressly emphasizes that these innovations do not dissolve the harmonic relationships, but rather preserve them.

Schönberg was also the first to think more carefully about the theoretical consequences of this harmonious innovation. In his theory of harmony from 1922 he wrote “The fourth-wise structure of the chords can lead to a chord that contains all twelve tones of the chromatic scale , and thus at least provide a possibility of systematic consideration of those harmonic phenomena that some of us already have in works occur: seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve-part chords. (...) The fourth structure enables (...) the accommodation of all phenomena of harmony (...) "

For Anton Webern, layering of quarters means a possibility of creating new sounds. In 1912 he wrote: "Through alteration, the fourth chords become harmonies that have never been heard before and are devoid of any tonal relationship."

He expresses the intention: “You have to do something like that too!” (P. 52 in his work Der Weg zur Komposition ) what he said in the Four Pieces for Violin and Piano op. 7 , in which quart structures become an important design principle, and others Works also realized.

In the meantime, unaffected by the theoretical and practical work of the Second Viennese School , the American Charles Ives composes the piano part in his song The Cage, composed in 1906 (No. 64 of the 114-part song collection) from five-step quarto notes, over which the singing voice moves in whole tones .

Fourths from Béla Bartók's Microcosm V, no.131, quarters

Other composers, such as Béla Bartók in the piano work Mikrokosmos ( audio sample ? / I ) or the music for string instruments, percussion and celesta , Paul Hindemith , Carl Orff or Igor Stravinsky deal with fourths. They combine pre-romantic elements of baroque music, folk song and folk music with its rhythms with a harmony based in part on the intervals of the fourth and fifth. Audio file / audio sample

Hindemith, for example, constructed large parts of the second movement of his symphonic work Mathis the painter using fourth and fifth intervals. These appear in their original form, in rearrangement (C - D - G is seen as a fourth chord D - G - C), as well as in a mixture of fourths and fifths (for example D-A-sharp-D flat-G sharp-C sharp at the beginning of bar 3 of the sheet music example). To see Hindemith as a vehement champion of an explicit fourth harmonic would, however, be wrong. He emphasized in his 1937 published instruction in music theory , "that sounds a family membership have, which is expressed in binding to tonal main sounds that establishes an unambiguous ranking of Tonverwandtschaften." , And the force of the triad "... the musician is on bound him, as the painter to the primary colors, the architect of the three dimensions. " . In the rows he has arranged according to harmonic and melodic power, the octave, fifth and third appear preferred over the fourth. "The strongest and clearest harmonic interval is the fifth next to the single octave, but the most beautiful is the third because of its chord effect based on the combination tones ."

In his theory of harmony from 1922, Schönberg remarks on page 487: “Besides me, my students, Dr. Anton Webern and Alban Berg wrote such sounds [meaning quarters] . But also the Hungarian Béla Bartók or the Viennese Franz Schreker , who both go a similar path as Debussy , Dukas and maybe also Puccini , are probably not far from it. "

In Bertold Hummel's second symphony, composed in 1966, an almost continuous fourth harmonic can be heard . The works of Mieczysław Weinberg are also clearly marked by fourth harmonics . In his works, Hermann Schroeder sometimes alienates elements of Gregorian chant with fifths and fourth harmonics. This can also be found in part in the work of the Pole Witold Lutosławski , which in part relates solely to the individual interval without a harmonic focus by exploring various combinations such as fourths with whole tones, tritoni with semitones and other possibilities.

In the first movement of Olivier Messiaen's Turangalîla Symphony , from bar 17, the notes used horizontally in the first bars combine to form a six-note sound made up of alternating fourths and tritoni, which refers to Schönberg and Scriabin. However, the fourth formations found in Messiaen's work can be better interpreted with reference to the “ modes with limited possibilities of transposition ” developed by him .

There is also a preference for quart structures in the works of Leo Brouwer ( 10 Etudes for Guitar ), Robert Delanoff ( Dialogues for Organ and Guitar from 1982), Ivan Wyschnegradsky , Toru Takemitsu ( Cross Hatch ) and Hanns Eisler ( Hollywood Elegies ) to find. In the 20th century, especially from the 1960s onwards, clusters also increasingly emancipate structures made up of adjacent small and large seconds. These are important in the work of György Ligeti , for example in his orchestral piece Atmosphères from 1961.

As a transition to the jazz section , we should finally mention George Gershwin , who, for example, in the first movement of his Piano Concerto, combines altered fourths downwards chromatically in the right hand with a scale upwards in the left hand.


Jazz - as particularly eclectic music in the harmonic range - takes over the vocabulary of European music, especially of the 19th century , in its early styles (up to about the swing of the 1930s). Important influences came from opera , operetta , military music as well as piano music of the Classical, Romantic and sometimes Impressionist periods. In particular, musicians with a pronounced interest in harmonious richness of color make use of most of the existing possible uses of the fourth; above all pianists and arrangers like Jelly Roll Morton , Duke Ellington or Art Tatum should be mentioned here. However, the older jazz treats essentially harmonic formations with fourths in the conventional way as suspensions that need to be resolved.

Audio sample ? / I ) the II-VI cadence ( audio sample ? / I ) the fourth lead or sus chordAudio file / audio sample Audio file / audio sample

Modern jazz since bebop has brought about an aesthetic change here: While the chords were previously relatively clear in terms of sound (as major , minor , dominant etc.) and juxtaposed in a more block-like manner, later musicians often prefer flowing, smoother transitions that make the colors of the chords stronger blur and make it appear more ambiguous. A prime example of this is extremely popular in modern jazz II-VI - cadence . However, this can also easily be interpreted in terms of functional harmony. The Dm7 chord forms a minor dominant of the G major chord that is somewhat weakened in its dominant effect. G 79 in turn forms a dominant to the C major chord, sharpened by the ninth . In this way, a rapid shift from one tonic to the next and thus a rapid reinterpretation of the tonal center is carried out.

If the musician now plays the same notes for the dominant chord in the upper parts as for the minor seventh chord, this is technically correct, it sharpens the voice leading somewhat and on top of that corresponds to the improvised, fragmented aesthetics of many modern jazz compositions, which are often played at frantic tempos. Quart formations of this kind had been common practice since the 1940s.

Typical hard bop brass set: From Horace Silvers Señor Blues

The hard bop of the 1950s opened up a new way of using the fourth for jazz. In the quintet line-up typical of the time, the voices of the two winds, usually trumpet and saxophone , are often performed in pure fourths, while the piano, as the actual harmony instrument, sparingly suggests the underlying chords, as in Horace Silver's title Señor Blues . This made sense as the new style again preferred more moderate tempos. Here the characteristic unison of the bebop brass sections would often have sounded too "lean", on the other hand, a more sophisticated polyphony of the winds would have awakened associations with cool jazz , which many of the black musicians of the era felt as not "hard" and expressive.

Miles Davis and his sextet use an already very independent, quasi-free fourth sound for the composition "So What".

By the beginning of the 1960s, these various possible uses of the fourth had become so familiar that the musicians switched to using the now established sounds independently, that is, without dissolving the lead. The real pioneer of the fourth harmonic, as it later became common in jazz and rock, was the pianist McCoy Tyner , who became one of the most influential musicians of his instrument for this era through his playing with the "classical" quartet of saxophonist John Coltrane .

The fourth harmonic is also closely interrelated with the “discovery” of the new scale models in jazz at the time . The jazz musicians began to experiment extensively with the so-called church modes of early music in Europe and discovered in the process that the sound world of the fourth harmonics, which was also based on the Middle Ages and Renaissance, was particularly suitable for an improvisational, jazz-like use of these scales. Composers who wrote pieces typical of this style were, for example, the pianists Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea . Many of her pieces took over elements of the free jazz that was created at the same time , which also made extensive use of quarto structures due to their harmonic "volatility" and instability.

Through this intensive experimentation with the fourth harmonic, its originally revolutionary effect in jazz was quickly exhausted. Since around 1970, quartz sounds have been part of the common canon of everyday practice in this music. In jazz, in which the chords are often formed from the material of a scale , their concrete representation is often referred to as voicing . Similarly , fourth chords are often called fourth voicings .

Rock music

In rock music, the interval of the fourth is particularly relevant in the formation of a song structure through riffs and power chords through open fifths and fourths instead of the triad harmonics. In the field of funk , syncopated throws in fourths performed by guitars, keyboards or the brass section are a popular stylistic device. An example of this is the following riff from the title Flashlight by George Clinton's band Parliament from 1977. In hard rock and heavy metal, entire songs are often based on riffs formed by the electric guitar from fifths and fourths.

Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore plays the following riff built on fourths on the track Man on the Silver Mountain by his band Rainbow from 1975. One reason for the preference for fourth intervals in rock music is clearly to be seen in the fact that this interval is particularly easy to grasp on the "main instrument of rock music", the guitar, because the strings are tuned in quarters.

Progressive rock bands such as King Crimson , Gentle Giant or Emerson, Lake & Palmer also show a preference for melody, harmony and constant accompaniment patterns ( ostinati ) based on fourths. Some titles by Emerson, Lake & Palmer, such as the beginning of Tarkus (Eruption), are based on Bassostinati. In this case on the four-step series of fourths F - B - Eb - B - A flat - Eb - B) and the three-step series E - B - F sharp, a semitone higher on F sharp.

Gentle Giant makes recourse to pre-classical compositional principles in her title Design, which was initially purely vocal ( a cappella ) . Over two alternating four-part chords dominated by the fourth interval (F - B - D - As and D - G - C - E) with a sub-fourth coupling, three singing voices begin one after the other, imitating canonically . Here, tart quart notes between the three upper voices are consciously accepted.

The examples given should not, however, obscure the fact that in the vast majority of pieces of music in rock and pop music, and especially in the mass-compatible and commercially successful, a clear major-minor tonality with simple, sometimes around seventh and ninth extended, triads predominate. The fourth usually only plays the role in a fourth chord, as in the rock ballad Burn Down the Mission by Elton John .

Latin American music

The popular music of Latin American countries is traditionally in the closest possible exchange with developments in the USA.

Audio file / audio sample Audio sample ? / i Brass section from Ray Barretto's version of "Amor Artificial"

With regard to harmonic innovations, there is usually a tendency for concepts of the American styles to be adopted into the Latin styles within a short period of time. The fourth harmonic found its way into salsa and Latin jazz first through jazz of the John Coltrane variety , which was also very inspiring for many musicians from the Afro-Cuban tradition due to its rhythmic conception . The connection of these elements with rock became world famous through the guitarist Carlos Santana .

Audio file / audio sample Audio sample ? / i Guitarbreakfrom Milton Nascimento's composition "Vera Cruz"

Since in the Música Popular Brasileira the guitar as a harmony instrument occupies a similar central position as in rock, many fourth-harmonic-oriented guitar playing styles were borrowed from there and adapted to their own rhythmic traditions (for example in Tropicalismo ). Conversely, however, it can also be stated that the important Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887–1959) did pioneering work in the first half of the 20th century by using elements of folk and popular music from his homeland with fourth-harmonic experiments in serious music Knew how to connect Europe and North America in an exemplary way.



  • Diether de la Motte: Harmony . dtv, Munich 1976, ISBN 3-423-04183-8 .
  • Urs Martin Egli: Listening and Thinking - A Real Harmony . HBS Nepomuk, Aarau 2003, ISBN 3-907117-15-8 .
  • Zsolt Gardonyi, Hubert Nordhoff: Harmonics . Karl Heinrich Möseler, Wolfenbüttel 1990, 2002, ISBN 3-7877-3035-4 .

Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque

  • Rudolf Flotzinger: Perotinus musicus . Schott, Mainz 2000, ISBN 3-7957-0431-6 .
  • Claus Ganter: Counterpoint for musicians - design principles of vocal and instrumental polyphony of the 16th and 17th centuries in the compositional practice of Josquin-Desprez, Palestrina, Lasso, Froberger, Pachelbel and others. a. Music publisher Emil Katzbichler, Munich / Salzburg 1994, ISBN 3-87397-130-5 .
  • Martin Geck: Johann Sebastian Bach. Rowohlt, Reinbek 2002, ISBN 3-499-50637-8 .
  • Peter Niedermüller: “Contrapunto” and “effetto” - studies on Carlo Gesualdo's madrigals . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2001, ISBN 3-525-27908-6 .
  • Johann Gottfried Walther : Musical Lexicon […]. Wolffgang Deer, Leipzig 1732, p. 508 ( Quarta fundamentalis and Quarta non fundamentalis )

Classic and Romantic

  • Zsolt Gardonyi, Siegfried Mauser: virtuosity and avant-garde - investigations into the piano work of Franz Liszt . Schott, Mainz 1988, ISBN 3-7957-1797-3 .
  • Theodor Helm: Beethoven's string quartets: An attempt at a technical analysis of these works in connection with their intellectual content . M. Sendet, Wiesbaden 1971, ISBN 3-500-23600-6 .
  • Theo Hirsbrunner: Claude Debussy and his time . Laaber-Verlag, Laaber 2002, ISBN 3-89007-533-9 .

E-music of the 20th century

  • Hermann Danuser: American music since Charles Ives . Laaber-Verlag, Laaber 1987, ISBN 3-89007-117-1 .
  • Gottfried Eberle: Between Tonality and Atonality - Study of Alexander Scriabin's harmony . Music publisher Emil Katzbichler, Munich / Salzburg 1978, ISBN 3-87397-044-9 .
  • Ekkehard Kreft: Harmonious Processes in the Change of Epochs (3rd Part) The 20th Century . Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 1999, ISBN 3-631-47141-6 .
  • Arnold Schönberg: Harmony . Universal Edition, Vienna 1922, 2001, ISBN 3-7024-0264-0 .

Jazz, rock, Latin American music

Online full texts on special questions

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This article was added to the list of excellent articles on April 18, 2006 in this version .