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Subject: Re: Final Butterfly Chord (was Re: Booing at the Met)
From: Jon Goldberg <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Jon Goldberg <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Mon, 30 Oct 2017 13:09:02 -0400

text/plain (103 lines)

Maybe we can compromise and call it "disCHordant" lol, as what it really is is the "wrong" 
chord. ;-)

And yes, to your points - I think the reason we don't hear it in the same way we normally 
hear a major chord is that it's not based from a major scale, rather that we are still firmly 
in B minor, just that we're ending on 6 instead of 1. So it doesn't give the impression of 
"major" in the same way as such a chord normally would. 

And yes, a lesser composer (though surely not Loesser, lol, who also had a great sense of 
how to use unexpected tonalities for dramatic effect) might indeed have just gone with a 
B minor chord. Just as, in another example I've used out here before, Mozart sticks that 
achingly beautiful Ab in the orchestral cadence to "Ach, Ich fuhl's" where normally we'd 
expect an A. An A there would have given us a regular old minor scale passage - and on 
one level, "dayenu" as we say on Passover (it would have been enough). But by going to 
the flat 2 scale degree, Mozart creates a deeper level of melancholy, and a deeper level of 

I agree about the Verdi Requiem his use of major vs. minor is extraordinary. But oh, when 
it goes minor, my god, it goes minor - that final huge climax in the "Libera Me" (before 
the surprise of the soft major ending) is about as dramatically, thrillingly minor as it gets, 
lol. And the opposite - the release of the joyous F major "Sanctus" and the peacefulness 
of the C major "Agnus Dei" are surely as powerful as that ending moment, or the 
melancholy, say, of the "Lacrimosa" melody, or the astounding a cappella return of the 
opening music (which is mostly Bb minor, but ending in major).

Though I do have to say I've always wondered what was up with Rossini and that "Cujus 
Amimam" in such a bouncy Ab major. Did he read the text, lol? ;-)

By the way, back to Butterfly - that Bb minor beginning to "Tu Tu" doesn't last very long. 
Once we get to the "refrain" of that short aria we're very much in B minor (and natural 
minor at that, with A as the 7th scale tone, not A#), and Bb minor has been forgotten. So 
I don't entirely buy your point, but I do think we can all agree that the non-resolution of 
B minor on that last chord is a major, brilliant surprise statement. I just happen to think it 
can, and perhaps should be, a visually *dramatic* statement also, not simply a musical 
one. Puccini was a dramatist, after all. 

But oh, it's so much nicer to have this kind of conversation instead of the pearl-clutching 
of "no, you can't DO that, the chord is too sacred" etc. As I said before - in the words of 
Oscar and Felix on Password - "ridiculous." ;-)

On Mon, 30 Oct 2017 12:28:42 -0400, Charles Harrison <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

>" 'Discordant' is a completely wrong term, by the way. The final chord of Butterfly is 
>completely tonal and not at all dissonant in any way."
>I think "discordant" is a fine word to describe the effect of that final chord.  It may not 
be a 
>dissonance, technically (nor did Mr. Kane call it one), but it FEELS dissonant.  Certainly 
>The brilliance of that final G-major chord in "Butterfly" is that it is, in the context of 
>has gone before - b-flat minor from "Tu, tu, piccolo iddio" on - musically unresolved and 
>leaves everything hanging.  Just like the drama.  That final chord tells us, the tragedy is 
>over, it is just beginning - for Pinkerton, for Kate, and for the child.  Butterfly's suicide is 
>going to haunt them all for a long time.  (I saw a very effective production of "Butterfly" 
>that brought Kate back on at the end to react in horror to Butterfly's death.  Can you 
>imagine the Pinkertons' boat trip back to the U.S.?)     
>It is a jarring - and yes, "discordant" - effect, enhanced by the harsh-sounding 
>orchestration; the concluding G-major tonality conveys just the opposite of the happy 
>feeling we usually associate with major keys.  (In this it is similar to the C-major ending 
>the Verdi Requiem, which has to be the most ominous and dread-filled C-major music 
>composed.  No sunlight and happiness here!)
>A lesser composer than Puccini would have ended the opera in b-minor. 
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