Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Plato and Tritones
One of the things I found most interesting in our reading this week was a short passage in which Russell discusses the things which are forbidden in Plato's utopian Republican. The aspect which stood out to me most, as a musician, was of course the idea of prohibiting the use of certain modes and harmonies. The first type of harmony that Plato prohibits is Ionian. The Ionian mode is considered the most basic mode because it starts on the first scale degree and ascends in a manner which is very predictable and overdone, because of this, music is seldom written within the Ionian frame alone. I can understand Plato's thinking behind restricting the use of his harmony alone, because it can lull the listener into a false sense of security, with predictable cadence and obvious resolution. The second mode which Plato decides is unfit for his republic is the Lydian mode. The Lydian mode is a favorite among jazz musicians because it's main appeal is a raised fourth scale degree which produces an interval called a tritone. The tritone is sometimes referred to as "The Devil's Interval" and the sound it produces will justify that name, but I think Plato is mistaken in prohibiting this mode because it can lend itself to some of the most satisfying and beautiful resolutions in all of music. Music has been shaped by society and in turn shaped society for thousands of years, and it makes perfect sense that Plato would want to regulate it in his utopian society.