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The Hexachordal Theorem: A Mathematical Look at Interval Relations in Twelve-Tone Composition Author(s): Steven K. Blau Reviewed work(s):

Source: Mathematics Magazine, Vol. 72, No. 4 (Oct., 1999), pp. 310-313 Published by: Mathematical Association of America

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310

MATHEMATICS MAGAZINE

TheHexachordalTheorem:

A MathematicalLookat Interval RelationsinTwelve-ToneComposition

STEVEN K. BLAU

PhysicsDepartment

RiponCollege

Ripon,WI 54971

Introduction Take the numbers1 through12 and dividethemintotwo comple- mentarysix-membersubsetsA and B. Each subsethas (6)= 15 pairsof members; the intervalbetweenanypairofnumbersis the(positive)differencebetweenthem, subjectto theequivalencen - 12 - n. So, forthepair(1, 11) theintervalmaybe said to be either10 or 2. A convenientwayto representa complementarypairofinterval sets,whichmakesvisuallyapparentthe equivalencejust described,is to presenta "clockface" withsixA's and sixB's, as follows:

B

B

A

A

B

A

B

A

A

B

B

A

In the case shown,A = 1,4,5,8,11,12} and B = (2,3,6,7,9,10}. The intervalbe- tweentheA's at one o'clockand eleveno'clockis either10 (countingclockwise)or 2 (countinganticlockwise).In what followsI will use the equivalence relationto describeall intervalsas beingbetween1 and 6. The intervalmultisetassociatedwitha six-memberset is the collectionof 15 intervalsdeterminedby all possiblepairsdrawnfromthe set. For the set A shown, the intervalmultisetis (1,1,1,2,3,3,3,4,4,4,4,5,5,5,6}. As one can checkdirectly, the set B has the same intervalmultiset.This is no accident-the equalityof the intervalmultisetsis thecontentofthehexachordaltheorem.

THEOREM. Let thenumbers1 through12 be partitionedintoanytwocomplemen- tarysets A and B, each withsix elements.ThenA and B have identicalinterval multisets.

Beforeprovingthetheorem,we consideritsmusicalmeaning.

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VOL. 72, NO. 4, OCTOBER 1999

311

The musical context The hexachordaltheoremwas empiricallydiscoveredby

composersworkingwithArnoldSch6nberg'stwelve-tonemethod.In the musical context,thenumbers1 through12 representthetwelvenotesofthechromaticscale. Twelve-tonecomposersuse a twelvenote "row" containingall the membersof the chromaticscale, arrangedas theysee fit,as a basis fortheirmelodiccomposition. They oftenthinkof the firstand second halvesof the row as two complementary hexachords.In themusicalcontext, "complementai-y" meansthata notecontainedin one hexachordis notpresentin itscompanion.In the mathematicalsetting,comple-

mentaryhexachordsare complementarysix-membersubsetsof(1,2,, ,

What I called an intervalin the theoremwould also be called an intervalby composers:it representsthe numberof semitones(noteson a keyboard)needed to connectone noteto another.Thus thehexachordaltheoremis a statementaboutthe intervalstructuresofthetwocomplementaryhalvesofa twelve-tonerow. The hexachordaltheoremwas firstprovedby MiltonBabbitt,a celebratedcom- poserwitha degreein mathematics,and David Lewin,thena graduatestudentin mathematics.In describinghisproofwithLewin,Babbittwrote,"We usedtopological methods.We hitthislittleproblemwithall kindsofheavyhammers,andwe solvedit" [1]. Later,Lewin (workingon his own) and Ralph Fox constructeddifferentproofs

usinggroup-theoreticmethods.Lewin describedhis workon the hexachordaland relatedtheoremsin theJournalofMusicTheory(see [2] and [3]). He didnotinclude

a proofof the hexachordaltheorem,but sketchedhis workon relatedtheorems,

observingafterone ofhisproofs[2]: "The mathematicalreasoningbywhichI arrived at this resultis not communicableto a reader who does not have considerable mathematicaltraining."The proofof the hexachordaltheoremthatfollowsrequires no advancedmathematics;it can be followedby musicianswithlittlemathematical training,and it mayinterestmathematicians. Challengedto givea four-wordhistoryofwesternmusicup to 1900,I wouldoffer:

"Modulationsbecamemorefrequent."Bythelate 1800sin theworksofWagner,for example,thereare sectionswherethemodulationscome so quicklythattonalitiesare establishedonlyforsecondsbeforetheychange. Beethoven,by contrast,typically allowedtonalitiesto be establishedfora muchgreatertimeperiodbeforemodulating to a new tonality.Earlyin his career,ArnoldSchonbergwrotemusicfollowingthe Wagnerianline,but laterdecidedthatsuch musiccontaineda sortof inconsistency. The momentumof musiccreatedsince Bach was pointedtowardan equalityof the notesof the chromaticscale,but earlytwentieth-centurycomposersstillfelttied to thetonalconventionsof earliercenturies.Schonbergadvocatedan "emancipationof

dissonance,"abandoningthe notionthat music must be conceivedin termsof tonalities.A corollaiywas the freedomto use all twelvenotesofthe chromaticscale equallyin composing,thoughSch6nbergdid occasionallywritetonalmusicthrough- outhis career. The earlypieces of Schonbergand his "Second VienneseSchool" were almostall shortand aphoristic.The freedomenjoyedbycomposerswas apparentlyso greatthat

it was difficultto writeon a grandscale musicthatmaintainedits internallogic.

Sch6nbergsoughta structurethatwouldallowatonalcomposersto createcoherent workson a largescale. His solutionwas the"methodofcomposingwithtwelvetones relatedonlyto one another."One beginswitha scale,or row,containingthetwelve notesofthechromaticscale arrangedin somefixedorder.Then one manipulatesthe rowin prescribedwaysin composing.Partofthecomposer'sskillis knowingwhento break Sch6nberg'srules,but these rules do offercohesionto atonalcompositions. Some twelve-tonecomposersfeltthattheirworkwould be furtherunifiedif the intervalmultisetsimpliedbyvarioussubsetsoftheirtwelve-tonerowswereidentical.

12}.

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312

MATHEMATICS MAGAZINE

Consequently,theyempiricallydiscoveredthehexachordaltheorem,as an offshootof theirsearchforunification.Babbittand Lewin,and thenothers,provedtheempirical resultmathematically.

Proof of the theorem Givenany pair of complementaryhexachordsA and B, displayedas a clockface,one can generatea newcomplementarypairbyswitchingan A witha neighboringB. Indeed, any complementarypair of hexachordscan be generated,througha sequenceofswitches,fromthepairingwithA's in positions1-6 and B's in positions7-12. This specialpairingclearlysatisfiesthe conclusionof the hexachordaltheorem.Therefore,the hexachordaltheoremis a consequenceof the followinglemma.

LEMMA. Suppose that two complementary hexachordsA and B have identical intervalmultisets.Thenthehexachordsobtainedbyswitchinga pair ofneighboringA and B elementsalso haveidlenticalintervalmultisets.

Proof.FIGURE 1 shows,at left,the clock face introducedearlierto representa particularpairofhexachords.Switchingthe underlinedentries(an A at eighto'clock and a B at seveno'clock)producesthetheclockfaceon theright:

 A A A B B B B A A B A B

Beforetheswvitch

FIGURE 1

B

B

B

A

A

A

B

A

A

B

B

A

Aftertheswvitch

Afteridentifyingan adjacentpair of A and B elementsto be switched,one may partitionthe remaining10 elementsinto5 pairs:foreach integern from1 to 5, we considerthe pairof elementslyingn hoursto eitherside of the switchedA and B. Therearefourpossibilitiesforthemembershipofeach suchpairs:twoA's,twoB's, or one of each (in eitherorder).All fourpossibilitiesare illustratedin FIGURE 2 (the particularvaluesof n correspondto theexampleillustratedabove):

A

A

A

B

A

B

B _

fl=3

= 1

A

A

b

2=4

B

B

A

B

A

FIGURE 2

Pairsofelementslyingn hourstoeithersideoftheswitchedA andB.

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VOL. 72, NO. 4, OCTOBER 1999

313

By consideringthefivepairsdefinedas above,one considersall theintervalspossibly affectedbytheswitch. We considerfourcases. Ifa paircontainstwoA's (as illustratedforn = 3), thenthe switchchangestwointervalsin the A hexachord:twooriginalintervals,withlengthsn and n + 1, becometwonewintervals,withlengthsn + 1 and n, respectively.Hence theswitchhas no neteffecton the A hexachordmultiset(or on the B multiset,since the pairinvolvesno B's). A similarargumentshowsthatthe switchhas no effectif bothelementsin a pairare B's (as illustratedforn = 1). IftheelementofthepairnearesttotheswitchedA is an A,andtheotherelementa

B (as shownin FIGURE 2 forn = 4), thentheswitchdoes altertheintervalmultisetsfor

the A and B hexachords,butin identicalways-in each multiset,an originalinterval

of size n becomes a new intervalof size n + 1. The remainingcase (illustratedfor

n = 2) is similar. Thus,forall n, theswitchingoperationhas the same effect,ifany,on boththe A and the B intervalmultisets,and theproofis complete.

A generalization Nothingin theproofabove reliedon the(musical)factsthatthe

chromaticscale has 12 notesand thatcomposersconsidereddividingthe chromatic

scale intotwohexachordsof equal length.The followingtheoremcan be provedby

the same method,and was expressedin a differentformby Lewin [3]

N=

forthe case

12.

THEOREM. Let theset (1,2, ,

N} be partitionedintodisjointsetsA and B, with

size a and N - a, respectively.Defineintervalmiultisetsfor theA chordand the B chordas was donefor th>ehexachordaltheorem.Let A(i) be the numberof i's in theA intervalmultiset,and similarlyfor B(i). Considerthe specialpartition Ao =

(1,2,3 ,a},

AO(i) - BO(i).

Bo={a+1,a+2,a+3, ,N}.

Then, for all i, A(i)-B(i)=

Acknowledgment.It is a pleasureto acknowledgeKarl Beres, KurtDietrich,Norm Loomer,Donald Passman,and RaymondStahura,wlhocarefullyread thispaperand offeredmanyhelpfulsuggestions.

REFERENCES

1. MiltonBabbitt,in WordsAbo2lt Mutsic,ed. by Dembski,Stephenand Straus,JosephN., Universityof WisconsinPress,Madison,WI, 1986,p. 105.

2. David Lewrin,Inteivallicrelationsbetweentwvocollectionsofnotes,JournalofMlisicTheornJ3 (1959), pp. 298-301.

3. David Lewin,The intervalliccontentofa collectionofnotes,inteivallicrelationsbetweena collectionof notesanditscomplement:an applicationto Schoenberg'shexachordalpieces,JourtialofMusicTheory4 (1960), pp. 98-101.

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