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Nikhil Hogan Show

Jan 18, 2021

I am so honored to be speaking to a great guest today, Professor Thomas Christensen. Professor Christensen is the Avalon Foundation Professor of Music and Humanities at the University of Chicago. His scholarly research focuses on the history of music theory and his most recent book is “Tonality in the Age of François-Joseph Fetis” published by the University of Chicago Press in 2019.

0:39 What’s your background?
1:41 What was the state of research in the history of music theory when you began?
2:52 How did you come to focus on Thoroughbass in your research?
4:30 What was the perception of Thoroughbass in the 70s-90s?
5:36 The different schools of Thoroughbass
7:01 What key differences are there among the French, German or Italian Thoroughbass traditions?
8:57 JS Bach and his views on Thoroughbass’ importance
10:17 When Thoroughbass first appeared on the scene, was the initial criticism of it justified?
12:40 Did Thoroughbass having nothing to say about melody like Mattheson says?
13:44 How should we view Rameau beyond his cartoonish image as the Fundamental Bass guy?
15:49 Did he separate his scientific, theoretical views on music with his practical side?
17:59 Rameau’s pedagogical heuristic to help students simply the total mass of chords into fundamental types
20:03 Fundamental chords being slower to mental analyze than simply reading from the given bass
21:27 Rameau’s practical nature as a musician
22:32 Why were CPE Bach and Kirnberger so hostile to Rameau?
24:56 Did chord invertibility originate with Rameau or earlier?
27:03 Was the rise of lots of new harmonies and chords naturally yield to a need to categorize chords into fundamental types?
29:20 Did Rameau speak of counterpoint in his treatises?
31:17 Rameau trying to reconcile his theories with the Rule of the Octave
33:07 The chord on the 6th scale degree connecting to the 7th scale degree being a problem for Rameau
34:15 Rameau’s influence in Italy
35:44 Were Rameau’s theories appealing because they were considered more scientific than counterpoint?
38:20 Why did you select François-Joseph Fetis as a subject of study?
40:24 Did Fetis teach according to Catel’s methods?
42:13 Fetis vs Berlioz
43:56 Did they have valid opinions in their dispute?
46:31 Fetis’ influence on later theorists and his key contributions
49:02 Some people say thinking in terms of Roman Numerals is vertically oriented but isn’t Thoroughbass practice the same?
51:07 Are Rimsky-Korsakov and Schoenberg correct when they say that the study of Thoroughbass is no longer needed?
53:37 Did Nadia Boulanger bring out modern tonality despite teaching older methods like partimenti and thoroughbass?
55:28 What do you think of your important research being influential for future partimento and thoroughbass enthusiasts?
59:10 Can we apply Thoroughbass to music like jazz and popular music without any issue?
1:01:13 On Letters and Chord Symbols being harder to calculate vs reading figures
1:04:39 What’s the best way to learn Thoroughbass?
1:06:05 Are there any Thoroughbass treatises that you recommend?
1:08:43 Wrapping Up