Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2019

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Gompper, David K

First Committee Member

Gompper, David K

Second Committee Member

Charles, Jean-François

Third Committee Member

Stanton, Zachary

Fourth Committee Member

Cook, Robert C

Fifth Committee Member

Orhon, Volkan


Fundamental Dissonance, an original composition scored for alto saxophone and sinfonietta, explores the concept of dissonance not only in the traditional musical sense related to tonality, but as a general principle indispensable for variety and creation. The particular perspective of this concept that can be found in the early work of the Hungarian philosopher, aesthetician, and literary historian Georg Lukács has given a specific direction to my creative process.

In one of his first writings, The Theory of the Novel (1914), Lukács presents the idea of dissonance in the following terms: “Every form is the resolution of a fundamental dissonance of existence.” Here Lukács refers to a general conception of form, which includes the artistic context. A couple of texts about Lukács contribute to a thorough understanding of this idea and help to give shape to my interpretation of this sentence. Resolution is the key term in the sentence and mediates between form, what will be created, and dissonance, what needs to be resolved. In this way dissonance is presented as a problem, a question, or what others have also called a knot. It is fundamental because of its previous condition to existence. Without unrest, unity keeps things in a state of equilibrium, inhibiting movement or variety. Instead, disunity, or dissonance, permits change and creation, hence existence. There is a strong link between creation and dissonance.

These ideas, and the multiple interpretations of dissonance in the musical context, influenced the original concepts used in Fundamental Dissonance and guided the compositional process. The first, and perhaps more evident manifestation of dissonance is the use of specific intervals as foundations of the musical language in the piece. Uses of the set class (012); with variants (013), (023), or (024) obtained by the expansion of (01); appear not only in the melodic and harmonic aspects but also at the structural level. Some scattered uses of microtonality are also part of this approach. In opposition, and as a reference to its genesis, the “equilibrium before its existence” is represented with unisons, adding contrast and variety to the previous intervals. Contrast is the second element I used to represent Lukács’s idea of dissonance. I have included references to contrasting styles and genres, short passages in tonal chords or short melodic cells with tonal character. These traditionally consonant elements play a contrasting –i.e., dissonant- role because of the general dissonant language in which they have been placed.

Other compositional aspects that serve as contrast have to do with the opposition of densities and textures; the highly marked differences between the two main themes; and the use of the alto saxophone, an instrument traditionally not belonging to the sinfonietta, as the soloist.

Extramusical elements have been used as general principles in the creative process. The saxophone adopts a role of leadership from the very beginning of the piece, presenting its ideas in a monologue style. Some instruments follow the soloist while others oppose, creating a clash of forces that ultimately generates more dissonance.


Alto Saxophone, Concertino, Fundamental Dissonance, Lucaks


viii, 56 pages


Includes bibliographical references (page 56).


Copyright © 2019 Carlos I. Toro-Tobón

Included in

Music Commons