Thursday, April 14, 2011

Danse Macabre

by Gigi

Dissonant music has always appealed to me. I recently learned that this might be related to my love of mysteries.

The "Devil's Interval" or the "Devil's Chord" is a tritone musical interval classified as dissonant that was banned during the Middle Ages. It was called diabolus in musica -- "The Devil in Music"-- because it evoked desire in people. The desire stemmed from wanting resolution in the dissonant music, not from being tempted by the Devil, but never mind the musical facts.

One of the more interesting uses of this tritone is in the composition Danse Macabre, composed by Camille Saint-Saens in the 17th Century. The song is used perfectly as the theme song to the brilliant mystery show Jonathan Creek.



Jonathan Creek follows the adventures of the consultant to a magician who is able to solve seemingly impossible crimes (if you read this you know I adore those puzzles). In spite of its rational explanations, the show creates a spooky, mysterious atmosphere -- just like the song.

Jonathan Creek


The audio recording of Neil Gaiman's wonderful Graveyard Book uses Danse Macabre in the background. As does one of the coolest episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Hush). Notice a pattern yet?

P.S. The song takes its name from the allegory of the Dance of Death, where the dead from all realms of society come together in the cemetery to dance atop the graves.


7 comments:

Martha Flynn said...

I was just watching this vlog on the 1-4-5 progression (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4ALd-Top2A) and this is like a cool continuation of that! And just with you saying Hush I freaked out

Sophie Littlefield said...

i did not know this about you, gigi! i too love dissonant music, though not the raucous sort - saint-saens is more in the realm i like. learning the dodecaphonic scale was something of a revelation for me, and i was fascinated by the gregorian chants in the different...modes? is that what they are called? eerie, pure eerie

Juliet Blackwell said...

How cool is this! I had no idea about the "Devil's Chord" being banned for fear of the desire it inspires...that's fascinating!

Rachael Herron said...

I've always loved this -- the first two notes in Maria (West Side Story).... lovely.

Mysti said...

I'm fascinated, but deep ignorance of music means I only understand part...had to give up a career in linguistics because I couldn't hear tone changes...always hoping to learn more...

That unresolved thing is powerful. After over twenty years in radio, my ex-DJ husband can't let any short, snappy sentence or beat sequence stop in the middle. If you shave-and-a-haircut him, he MUST give ten cents. Or say the first few words of a saying to him, "No matter where you go....", poor man is compelled to finish "there ya are!"

Thanks Gigi for sharing this!

Gigi Pandian said...

I know just enough about music theory to find the concept fascinating, but I stopped my guitar progression with basic scales, so I don't quite grasp how it's done. But I agree it's very cool :)

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