A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Ascending Scale

ASCENDING SCALE. It is a peculiarity of the minor scale adopted in modern music, that its form is frequently varied by accidental chromatic alterations, to satisfy what are assumed to be the requirements of the ear; and as these alterations most commonly take place in ascending passages, it is usual, in elementary works, to give different forms of the minor scale, for ascending and descending.

For example, the normal form of the scale of A minor is

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \relative a' { \cadenzaOn a1 g f e d c b a \bar "||" } }

and in descending, as here shown, the progressions seem natural and proper.

But if the motion take place in the reverse direction, thus—

No. 1.

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \relative a { \cadenzaOn a1 b c d e f g a \bar "||" } }

it is said that the succession of the upper notes in approaching the key note A, do not give the idea which ought to correspond to our modern tonality. It is argued that the penultimate note, or seventh, being the leading or sensible note of the key, ought to be only a semitone distant from it, as is customary in all well-defined keys; and that, in fact, unless this is done, the tonality is not properly determined. This reason has led to the accidental sharpening of the seventh in ascending, thus—

No. 2.

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \relative a { \cadenzaOn a1 b c d e f gis a \bar "||" } }

But here there is another thing objected to; namely, the wide interval of three semitones (an augmented second) between the sixth and the seventh, F♮ and G♯, which it is said is abrupt and unnatural, and this has led to the sharpening of the sixth also, thus—

No. 3.

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \relative a { \cadenzaOn a1 b c d e fis gis a \bar "||" } }

to make the progression more smooth and regular. This is the succession of notes usually given as the ascending minor scale.

The first alteration—namely, the sharpening of the leading note—is no doubt required if the perfect modern tonality is to be preserved, for no doubt an ascending passage, thus—

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \relative e' { \cadenzaOn e1 f gis a \bar "||" } }

would give rather the impression of the key of C or of F than that of A.

But the necessity for sharpening the sixth is by no means so obvious; it may no doubt be smoother, but the interval of the augmented second is one so familiar in modern music, as to form no imperative reason for the change. Hence this rule is frequently disregarded, and the form marked No. 2 is very commonly used, both for ascending and descending.

We may instance the fine unison passage in the last movement of Schumann's Symphony, No. 1:—

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 4/4 \key g \minor \tempo "8ves." \clef bass \relative g, { g2\f a | bes4 c2 d4 | ees2 fis\cresc^\markup { \smaller { tr \natural } } | g2\! ~ g4 } }

where not only does the peculiar rhythm give a most striking original effect to the common succession of notes, but the strong attention drawn to the objectionable augmented interval, shows how effectively genius may set at nought commonplace ideas as to musical propriety.

[ W. P. ]