Without relying upon French harmonic theory (Rameau for instance), can you explain how the emergence of “freely” (by freely, I refer to such harmonies not being the result non-harmonic tones, or through preparations.) used dissonant chords were justified via the principles of the preceding Stile Antico (e.g. Palestrina)?

PS: Schenkerian analysis should be avoided in this discussion owing to its inaccuracies.

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    And then the theorists decided to play a D7(♭9 ♯9 ♯11 ♭13) chord, and the Lord did grin
    – user45266
    Apr 26, 2019 at 15:11
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    What exactly do you mean by the phrase "the emergence of 'freely' used dissonant chords" ? Specifically, what do you mean "freely"? Are you referring to a specific period where you envision this emergence having occurred?
    – John Wu
    Apr 27, 2019 at 2:13
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    "Schenkerian analysis should be avoided in this discussion owing to its inaccuracies." Tell us how you really feel!
    – Richard
    Apr 27, 2019 at 2:34
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    What do you mean by "freely" (scare quotes yours) used dissonant chords? There is no lack of dissonance in Palestrina, but I'm not aware that they thought of chords in the same manner as we do, so I don't think anything would have been justified in that manner. What are you asking, exactly?
    – Ben I.
    Apr 27, 2019 at 3:11
  • @Ben I. 3 — But Palestrina and other composers of strict part writing only used triads. I am asking in explicit detail how the freer use of dissonant harmonies emerged (by freer, I mean not being the result of non harmonic tones)
    – Laprtsenia
    Apr 27, 2019 at 6:45

1 Answer 1


Without checking, I would guess that chords (or tone arrangements) generally considered dissonant arose from combinations of melodic lines. The composers (or performers) who generated the music decided that a good melodic line trumped a good harmonic sound.

One sees something similar in the common practice period. Moving bass lines (like a walking bass) often "ignore" the surrounding harmony to move melodically to a scale tone. (One can play C-G-A-B-C against a C major chord without causing too much havoc.) Similarly for melodic lines.

Dissonance isn't "bad sounding" nor "antii-harmonic"; it merely signals the "desire" (or raises the expectation from previous association) of movement. Dissonance also makes the dissonant note (or note cluster) stand out and can be use to highlight a part (instead of just playing a note louder. It adds a sort of accent that is different from (though can work well with) syncopation, loudness, change of register or instrumentation, etc.

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