Stories of Tonality in the Age of François-Joseph Fétis

Stories of Tonality in the Age of François-Joseph Fétis

Thomas Christensen

Print publication date: 2020

ISBN: 9780226626925

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

Stories of Tonality in the Age of François-Joseph Fétis explores the concept of musical tonality through the writings of the Belgian musicologist François-Joseph Fétis (1784–1867), who was singularly responsible for theorizing and popularizing the term in the nineteenth century. The book weaves a rich story in which tonality emerges as a theoretical construct born of anxiety and alterity for Europeans during this time as they learned more about “other” musics and alternative tonal systems. Tonality became a central vortex in which French musicians thought—and argued—about a variety of musical repertoires, be they contemporary European musics of the stage, concert hall, or church, folk songs from the provinces, microtonal scale systems of Arabic and Indian music, the ancient modes of the Greeks, pentatonic scales of the Chinese and Celts, or medieval and Renaissance music whose notational traces were just beginning to be deciphered by scholars. Fétis’s influential writings offer insight into how tonality ingrained itself within nineteenth-century music discourse, and how it has persisted throughout the musical upheavals of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.