Parallel Harmony In Sarcasms

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3.1 Harmony and Key Modulation
In Sarcasms, Prokofiev made many tonal innovations, which served as a symbolic trial for him. Prokofiev built his atonal structure by using the new music vocabulary and quartal structures that characterized the modern musical movement. Quartal structures are chords that have the interval of a fourth. In Daniel Cole Bertram’s doctoral dissertation on the topic, Prokofiev as Modernist, which discusses Prokofiev’s evolution of compositional style, Bertram claims that Prokofiev was influenced by Schoenberg’s liberation of tonality. He argued that Sarcasms was a turning point for Prokofiev’s early music because before Sarcasms most of his music is tonal. He thought Prokofiev experimented with atonal music in Sarcasms
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Benjamin Woods stated that the use of parallel harmony could be seen as a departure from older conventions for harmonic progression, since “[it] reflected a crisis for traditional tonality.” The Russian music theory scholar Igor Vladimirovich Sposobin established the music theory of traditional Russian school based on the Classical foundations and in his theory parallel harmony is deemed wrong in the Classical context. The prohibition of parallel harmony in the traditional harmonic convention makes Prokofiev’s excessive use of parallel harmony a breakthrough of the traditional Classicism, adding atonality to the music. And the parallel harmony “gives rise to fresh root relationships and inflections of the scale.”
At the beginning of Sarcasms Op.17 No.5 (Ex. 3.1), there are many parallel chords in the right hand. These four lines in the right hand travel up the scale while maintaining the same intervals. The chords in m.3-4 in the right hand have the same intervallic structures made up of one major third, one minor third, and a perfect fourth from bottom to
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3.1 Sarcasms Op. 17 No. 5, mm.1-9

3.1.2 Use of Quartal Harmony

According to the Oxford Music Online, a quartal chord is considered a significant sign of the harmony in modern music: quartal is a “modern term for harmony in which chords are constructed on basis of superimposed fourths.” In Sarcasms Prokofiev makes the music sound strident through the use of quartal harmony. In measure 5, the quartal chords appear in the last eighth of left hand, which are comprised of a perfect fourth and a triton (Ex.3.2). They keep repeating until m.10 building a sense of uncertainty, instability, and agitation.
Ex. 3.2 Sarcasms Op. 17 No. 1 mm.1-11

In Sarcasms No.5, the quartal chords appear in the left hand of m. 3, m. 6 and m. 7. Combined with the seventh chord in the right hand, the quartal chords bring more ingredients of modernism to the overall aural effect. The stark contrasts between the quartal chords in the left hand and the seventh chords in the right hand make the music sound bizarre and unsettling to the listener.

Ex. 3.3 Sarcasms Op.17 No. 5 mm.
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