Current musicology demands opposing explanations of pitch structure, a styles-driven approach that ignores both the kinetics common to diverse musics and the broadly shared bases of human perception. To establish a unified theory, a ““from-bit-to-whole”” path is argued, noting sensory, neural, and cognitive domains as they are relevant and empirically confirmed. After preliminary discussion of the most elemental dynamics of tone bunching into wholes, an extensive examination of melodic pitch framing ensues. The tonality frame is observed in melodies from a broad sampling of eras and cultures; thus is confirmed a conception of organization that ties the spectral content of the single tone to the chord and to melody, both bearing in common the properties of sonance and root. Such an explanation helps link current musical practice with conceptualizations and practices of both ancient and exotic cultures.
The word root, and the harmonic metabolism it helps to describe, plays a central role in how musicians think about musical structure. Vaguely implicit in some early writers' descriptions of intervals and scales, it awaited Rameau's discussions (1722/1971) of the fundamental bass to become explicit. Since then, music theorists have sought to explain its perceptual nature and causes. Their theories usually turn on some version of physical weightings, a root being the pitch class more powerfully reinforced than its companion pitch classes. After representative versions of influential explanations are reviewed, and their generic shortcomings are noted, Ernst Terhardt's "virtual pitch" theory is recognized as uniquely reasonable; it embodies a condition of pattern perception rather than physical reinforcement, thereby skirting a principal flaw of past theories. And yet, a troublesome paradox surfaces, regardless of which conceptualization one favors: empirical studies of interval perception have fallen short of confirming the phenomenal reality our concepts describe so confidently. In an attempt to outflank these empirical/phenomenal clashes, a scheme of pitch/time interaction, or "vectoral dynamics", is outlined. Its consistency with the linear perspective of vision is noted, and the model is applied to the opening of a Wolf song and to a painting by Titian.
This paper first establishes a definition of ambiguity and its significance to art and to perception in general. Its understanding is framed within a hierarchical conception of musical structure most similar to that of Leonard B. Meyer (1956,1973). Following (1) an illustrative survey of occurrences of intentional ambiguity found in the standard music repertory, and (2) a discussion of the limited attention paid by music theorists to ambiguity in the past, a general theory of musical ambiguity's causes is developed. The paper's final section consists of an extensive analysis of functional ambiguity as a principal expressive vehicle in Chopin's Mazurka, Opus 17, No. 4.