The Tri-Tone Myth Exposed!!

Larry F

Doctor of Teleocity
Vendor Member
Joined
Nov 5, 2006
Posts
18,064
Location
Iowa City, IA
In the written scores of Medieval music, usually for singers, there seems to have been a practice that everyone understood. Whenever a tritone appears between vocal parts, it is understood that singers should chromatically alter their part to make the interval consonant. That practice is known as musica ficta. You don't see sharps or flats that change the interval from dissonant to consonant. Rather, it is understood by experienced singers that the such notes are examples of musica ficta.

For example, if you see a modern edition (a critical edition that has been edited for modern times) of a Medieval work, you might see a sharp or flat sign underneath the notehead. That altered note changes what appears to be a tritone, into a perfect 4th (or 5th, as I remember). In the original score, there would be no sharps or flats. The performers are expected to chromatically alter one of the notes of a tritone, to change the interval to a consonant 4th or 5th. I might be a little shady on the history, but it is something like this.

In short, what appears to be a tritone between parts, is, in practice, a 4th or 5th when one of the notes is altered. There were no signs in the parts to indicate this, which is why they are called ficta.

In more short, what seems on paper to be a tritone, is in practice altered to form a 4th or 5th.

When I am peering into the mists of time like this, I wind up writing a lot of words to express some things.

Palestrina's Pope Marcellus Mass has been cited as an early example of the use of actual tritones. This opened the door to another world of sound.
 

boneyguy

Doctor of Teleocity
Joined
Mar 31, 2007
Posts
14,070
Age
64
Location
victoria b.c. CANADA
In the written scores of Medieval music, usually for singers, there seems to have been a practice that everyone understood. Whenever a tritone appears between vocal parts, it is understood that singers should chromatically alter their part to make the interval consonant. That practice is known as musica ficta. You don't see sharps or flats that change the interval from dissonant to consonant. Rather, it is understood by experienced singers that the such notes are examples of musica ficta.

For example, if you see a modern edition (a critical edition that has been edited for modern times) of a Medieval work, you might see a sharp or flat sign underneath the notehead. That altered note changes what appears to be a tritone, into a perfect 4th (or 5th, as I remember). In the original score, there would be no sharps or flats. The performers are expected to chromatically alter one of the notes of a tritone, to change the interval to a consonant 4th or 5th. I might be a little shady on the history, but it is something like this.

In short, what appears to be a tritone between parts, is, in practice, a 4th or 5th when one of the notes is altered. There were no signs in the parts to indicate this, which is why they are called ficta.

In more short, what seems on paper to be a tritone, is in practice altered to form a 4th or 5th.

When I am peering into the mists of time like this, I wind up writing a lot of words to express some things.

Palestrina's Pope Marcellus Mass has been cited as an early example of the use of actual tritones. This opened the door to another world of sound.

He covers this aspect in the video...including four octave non-repeating scales (four tetra-chords) that were devised to create only P4 & P5 harmonies. He also gives a number of examples of early music including chant that did use the tritone. In short, the church never banned the interval but they had misgivings about it and attributed it's influence to causing listeners to have 'lascivious' thoughts. It appears they never attributed it to 'the devil' in any way either. In other words the church appeared more concerned about people being driven to carnal pleasures. The banning and the attribution to the devil seems to be a myth that has been perpetuated.
 

Masmus

Tele-Afflicted
Joined
Feb 21, 2018
Posts
1,162
Age
54
Location
San Jose
In the written scores of Medieval music, usually for singers, there seems to have been a practice that everyone understood. Whenever a tritone appears between vocal parts, it is understood that singers should chromatically alter their part to make the interval consonant. That practice is known as musica ficta. You don't see sharps or flats that change the interval from dissonant to consonant. Rather, it is understood by experienced singers that the such notes are examples of musica ficta.

For example, if you see a modern edition (a critical edition that has been edited for modern times) of a Medieval work, you might see a sharp or flat sign underneath the notehead. That altered note changes what appears to be a tritone, into a perfect 4th (or 5th, as I remember). In the original score, there would be no sharps or flats. The performers are expected to chromatically alter one of the notes of a tritone, to change the interval to a consonant 4th or 5th. I might be a little shady on the history, but it is something like this.

In short, what appears to be a tritone between parts, is, in practice, a 4th or 5th when one of the notes is altered. There were no signs in the parts to indicate this, which is why they are called ficta.

In more short, what seems on paper to be a tritone, is in practice altered to form a 4th or 5th.

When I am peering into the mists of time like this, I wind up writing a lot of words to express some things.

Palestrina's Pope Marcellus Mass has been cited as an early example of the use of actual tritones. This opened the door to another world of sound.

This is one of the reasons I like this forum so much. To have people who have studied and then let us have some context. Priceless.
 

superjam144

Tele-Afflicted
Joined
Jan 19, 2020
Posts
1,819
Age
33
Location
EMPIRE STATE
Wow that went deep.

I have the utmost respect for Celtic, renaissance, and classical music.

Insanely more complex and layered than blues, jazz, and rock.

And yet I say blues rock is king.

Combining these musical genres is gold! Music is eternally interesting.

Amazing post and video. Just beautiful stuff.
 
Last edited:

superjam144

Tele-Afflicted
Joined
Jan 19, 2020
Posts
1,819
Age
33
Location
EMPIRE STATE


I love this song. I think it has classical elements like the ones discussed. But I am certainly limited in musical expression.

I love music.. this thread really opens up our minds to how limitless it can be.
 

loopfinding

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Jun 19, 2011
Posts
5,208
Location
europe endless
He’s a little misguided sometimes (girl from ipanema, coltrane fractal), so sometimes you have to take him with a grain of salt, but still least from my dumbass perspective this one gets an A.
 

Chester P Squier

Friend of Leo's
Joined
Jan 16, 2021
Posts
2,721
Age
74
Location
Covington, LA
Thanks for posting this, boneyguy.

In another life, I was a music ed major in college. IIRC the music professors taught that the tritone, the Devil's Interval, was banned in the Catholic Church.

Or maybe they just called it the Devil's Interval and someone somewhere else said the church banned it.
 

dlew919

Doctor of Teleocity
Joined
Aug 6, 2012
Posts
11,324
Location
Sydney
What I’ve noticed is that those who say it was 'banned' never say who banned it or when (except to say in the medieval period, which is about 500 years). I’ll watch this with interest.
 

jrblue

Friend of Leo's
Joined
Nov 14, 2010
Posts
3,329
Location
Santa Barbara
At least nobody posted "just play the hell out of that thing" or "whatever you feel is automatically right" or WWJD (what would Jimi do). Thanks for the information. It's fascinating. I don't use music theory much, but the process of identifying and describing a piece of music is, IMO, yet another good way to become conversant and more fluent in the music and musical language that we all share.
 

Larry F

Doctor of Teleocity
Vendor Member
Joined
Nov 5, 2006
Posts
18,064
Location
Iowa City, IA
Thanks for posting this, boneyguy.

In another life, I was a music ed major in college. IIRC the music professors taught that the tritone, the Devil's Interval, was banned in the Catholic Church.

Or maybe they just called it the Devil's Interval and someone somewhere else said the church banned it.
Guilty. When I taught music appreciation classes, starting out, I tried to do it with a little flair. Hence, I told a bunch of interesting backstories. I may have told about the diabolus in musica even though I doubted its veracity. In that kind of situation, I tried to really, really emphasize that this wasn't really what happened. It's a teaching trick that pairs some necessary info with interesting info. But you can't outright lie.
 




Top