The American Journal of Semiotics

Volume 39, Issue 1/4, 2023

Music Issue

Taylor A. Greer
Pages 47-70

A Tale of Two Cadences
Charles Griffe's Prelude to Musical Irony

Charles Tomlinson Griffes was a visionary American composer at the turn of the twentieth century who synthesized highly diverse elements into a new artistic voice. This essay explores two instances of musical irony in Griffes’s oeuvre. “The Vale of Dreams” introduces a new tonal center at the end, which casts doubt on the overall structural role of the recurring bass pedal. Griffes’s use of irony in “Prelude #3” has a more critical character in that he questions underlying theoretical assumptions about scale-degree identity and the traditional concepts of consonance and dissonance. In addition, the double irony awakened in the final chord undermines the model of binary form and the aesthetic principle of closure upon which that model is based. As a result, the third prelude constitutes a kind of musico-philosophical challenge, an aesthetic exclamation point that invites listeners to reconsider traditional definitions of interval quality, tonality, and formal closure.

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