Music developed from monophony (one unison sound), to polyphony (many sounds = many melodies), to homophony (like sounds = melody/harmony). The Renaissance Era is fraught with polyphony – many melodies coexisting. Then, during the Baroque Era, we discover the stacking of thirds (i.e.: C E G) to get the modern day major chord. However, our first attempts at chords are primitive, as is audible in the music of the Baroque Era where the harmony is in the form of the ubiquitous basso continuo. The continuo, while it is boring in its droning presence, is a necessary step as composers made the transition from 4+ simultaneous melodies (polyphony) to today’s music with 1 melody and harmonic structures underneath.
QUESTION TO ANSWER: Project forward 100 years to 2100 AD – what is today’s major/minor tonal system a step towards? What’s after melody and harmony or major and minor?
There seem to be two long-term trends in music today: minimalism and non-western orchestra sound. I am not speaking of “popular” music (rap, etc.), but music composed, as Arvo Part says, “composed from necessity.” Minimalism is represented by such pieces as Part’s “Spiegel im Spiegel”, especially “Fur Alina,” and John Cage’s experiments in silences and ambient noises. Ever since Arnold Schoenberg, music has moved away from “harmony” and “major/minor keys”; Cage and others have also introduced alterations to standard instruments (tacks on key hammers, playing a violin above the top fret, etc.). The international flavor of music also has brought other instruments into play, especially percussion instruments, so that often the musical notes take secondary importance and the rhythm section takes over. Finally, of course, the 21st century will see sophisticated electronic, digitized music. Also, contemporary composition will rely heavily on accident, contingency, and improvisation. Harmony in any form will be as old-fashioned as a newspaper or a book by that time. Minimalism has the most promise for an emotional, artistic reaction, while other “advances” will be more “intellectual.