(redirected from Harmony (music))
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical.
Related to Harmony (music): harmonizing


in music, simultaneous sounding of two or more tones and, especially, the study of chords and their relations. Harmony was the last in the development of what may be considered the basic elements of modern music—harmony, melody, rhythm, and tone quality or timbre. The polyphonic superposition (see polyphonypolyphony
, music whose texture is formed by the interweaving of several melodic lines. The lines are independent but sound together harmonically. Contrasting terms are homophony, wherein one part dominates while the others form a basically chordal accompaniment, and monophony,
..... Click the link for more information.
; counterpointcounterpoint,
in music, the art of combining melodies each of which is independent though forming part of a homogeneous texture. The term derives from the Latin for "point against point," meaning note against note in referring to the notation of plainsong.
..... Click the link for more information.
) of horizontal melodic lines prevailed until the 16th cent., when the vertical or harmonic construction of chords was established. Rameau, in 1722, presented the idea that different groupings of the same notes were but inversions of the same chord. During the 18th cent. the concept of tonalitytonality
, in music, quality by which all tones of a composition are heard in relation to a central tone called the keynote or tonic. In music that has harmony the terms key and tonality
..... Click the link for more information.
, with the major and minor modes as its basis and with a certain chord serving as the key center of a composition, became general. The polyphonic music of Bach has a harmonic structure. As the system of triads and their relations was explored, the principle of modulationmodulation,
in music, shift in the key center of a composition. For its accomplishment use is made of the fact that each chord figures in the harmonic relationships of several keys.
..... Click the link for more information.
 appeared, and composers developed freer concepts of tonality; Liszt, Wagner, and Richard Strauss greatly expanded the chordal vocabulary of tonal harmony. Finally, in the 20th cent., some discarded tonality in favor of music that is composed in terms of horizontal contrapuntal lines. See atonalityatonality
, in music, systematic avoidance of harmonic or melodic reference to tonal centers (see key). The term is used to designate a method of composition in which the composer has deliberately rejected the principle of tonality.
..... Click the link for more information.
; serial musicserial music,
the body of compositions whose fundamental syntactical reference is a particular ordering (called series or row) of the twelve pitch classes—C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B—that constitute the equal-tempered scale.
..... Click the link for more information.


See W. J. Mitchell, Elementary Harmony (3d ed. 1965); A. Schoenberg, Structural Functions of Harmony (rev. ed. 1969); W. Piston, Harmony (5th ed. 1987).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/


The pleasing interaction or appropriate orderly combination of the elements in a composition.
Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture Copyright © 2012, 2002, 1998 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



an expressive means in music, based on the combination of musical sounds in consonances and progressions in the musical context of mode and tonality.

The most significant element in harmony is the chord—a combination of tones that are or could be arranged by thirds. The chord structure in thirds is based on natural acoustical preconditions, primarily on the natural scale (occasionally, chords are based on other structures, for example, the fourth). Each chord sequence bears its own particular modal function: some are perceived as resolved (the tonic, or central chord of the mode, which determines its tonality) and others are perceived as unresolved (the dominant and sub-dominant groups).

The logic of modal movement as revealed in chord progressions coincides with the natural movement of their component voices (voice leading). But chords and their progressions are not only subordinate to mode but also possess their own colorational (phonic) qualities. However, the expressiveness of harmony depends on all the elements of musical language and primarily on Metody. Harmony itself influences the perception of Metody and is an active force in the creation of musical form. Many harmonic means—for example, cadence, modulation, and tonality relationships and sequences—play an essential part in constructing different musical forms.

The characteristics of harmony constitute one of the components of musical style—both the style of a certain composer’s works and the style characteristic of a period in musical history.

The harmony of professional music has its roots in popular folk music. Harmony is constantly being enriched in all its aspects. But the various aspects of harmony are evolving at different rates—for example, the development in chords has proceeded faster than that in modal functions. The essential condition for harmony in all stages in its development has always remained the mode, with its versatility, breadth, and changeability.

The early 17th century saw significant progress in harmony. A most important stage of this development was associated with the music of the Viennese classics. The rich flowering of harmony took place in the 19th century. This period was marked by harmonic innovation of Beethoven and the romantic composers and by the emergence of national musical schools, in particular the classics of Russian music. One of the most striking developments in the evolution of harmony was musical impressionism. The contemporary period also has its achievements, in Soviet music as well as in other musical schools.

The study of harmony represents one of the main areas of musicology. The works of J.-P. Rameau and later those of H. Riemann and E. Kurth laid the foundation for the modern theory of harmony. In Russia, even before the appearance of Riemann’s works, Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov made great contributions to the theory of harmony. Much work has also been done in the Soviet period. The major trend in the interpretation of harmony is modal functional theory. Harmony is part of the basic curriculum of a professional musical education.


Tchaikovsky, P. “Rukovodstvo k prakticheskomu izucheniiu garmonii.” Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 3a. Moscow, 1957.
Rimsky-Korsakov, N. “Prakticheskii uchebnik garmonii.” Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 4. Moscow, 1960.
Riemann, H. Uproshchennaia garmoniia ili uchenie o tonal’nykh funktsiiakh akkordov. Moscow, 1896. (Translated from German.)
Katuar, G. Teoreticheskii kurs garmonii, parts 1-2. Moscow, 1924-25.
Chevalier, L. Istoriia uchenii o garmonii. Moscow, 1932. (Translated from French.)
Uchebnik garmonii. Moscow, 1969.
Tiulin, Iu., and N. Privano. Teoreticheskie osnovy garmonii, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1965.
Tiulin, Iu., and N. Privano. Uchebnik garmonii, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1964.
Berkov, V. Garmoniia: Uchebnik, 2nd. ed. Moscow, 1970.
Skrebkov, S. Garmoniia v sovremennoi muzyke. Moscow, 1965.
Rameau, J.-P. Traité de l’harmonie réduite à ses principes naturels. New York [1965].
Koechlin, C. Traité de l’harmonie, vols. 1-3. Paris, 1928-30.




the balance of parts and whole or the merging of the various components of an object into a single organic whole. Inner order and measure of being are externally manifested in harmony.

In ancient Greek philosophy, harmony meant the order of the universe, or cosmos, as opposed to chaos. The Pythagoreans’ conception of harmony stemmed from their central concept of number as the synthesis of the finite and infinite. According to their teachings, the cosmos is a series of concentric spheres around the earth, the distances between which correspond to the numerical correlations of the musical octave (the harmony of the spheres). Heraclitus gave more depth to the concept of harmony, interpreting it as the unity of opposites: “Inimical things unite, from the disparate comes a beautiful harmony, and everything originates in struggle” (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, VIII, 2. 1155c4). For Heraclitus harmony is not the external combination of separate parts but their inner unity: “Hidden harmony is stronger than visible harmony” (Hippolytos, Ref., IX, 9). In his dialogue Timaeus, Plato developed the teachings of the Pythagoreans concerning harmony of the cosmos. Moreover Plato imparted a social and moral significance to the concept of harmony, which he regarded as the sum total of the virtues of the citizen as revealed in his physical appearance, actions, speech, and creative work (Republic, III, 400E-401A). Aristotle regarded harmony as the unity and completeness of the whole—as unity in diversity.

In the Renaissance the ideal of the harmoniously developed man was set forth and became the mark of humanism. Renaissance aesthetics saw the principles of harmony in the ideal plastic organization of the human body, in the interpenetration of the external and the internal, in the agreement of parts and whole, of light and dark, and in the mathematical precision of the laws of perspective. Harmony was considered to be the essential characteristic and even the source of beauty. According to Leonardo da Vinci, “harmony is formed just as a general contour encompasses separate limbs, engendering human beauty” (Izbr. proizv., vol. 2, Moscow-Leningrad, 1935, p. 76).

In the 18th century, a concept of harmony was being worked out by rationalist metaphysicians. G. Leibniz developed a doctrine of “preestablished” harmony, asserting that all monads correspond to each other and that this correspondence is established by god (“Monadology,” 51), The soul and the body in particular correspond to each other (“Monadology,” 78). The aesthetics of the Enlightenment adopted the classical conception of harmony and emphasized its educative significance. The English philosopher A. Shaftesbury believed that the main task was to foster in man the harmonious equilibrium of various characteristics attainable by the fullness of human feelings. That which is beautiful is harmonious and proportional and that which is harmonious and proportional is true (A. A. C. Shaftesbury, Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, and Times, 1711). The concept of harmony played an important role in the aesthetics of J. J. Winckelmann, J. W. von Goethe, and F. Schiller. Kant, transferring the source of harmony to the human subject, understood harmony above all as conformity between reason and sensuous experience (Critique of Judgment). Hegel presented a developed theory of harmony. “Harmony is the correlation between qualitative differences, taken in their aggregate and flowing out of the essence of the thing itself” (Estetika, vol. 1, Moscow, 1968, p. 149). Harmony, according to Hegel, characterizes the outer sensuous defined quality of the material of art. Harmony of the internal and the external, of man and environment, and of reality and fantasy is characteristic of relatively early stages of history, especially ancient Greece, and is not capable of expressing the wealth of spiritual life that is contained in “romantic art,” that is, the art of the new age. Harmony gives way to collisions, which are the expression of disharmony, discord, and antagonism. Harmony was a prominent concept in the Utopian socialism of the 19th century, especially in Fourier, who depicted in detail the ideal society of the future as a “harmonious system.”

In understanding harmony as the form of the expression of an ideal, Marxist-Leninist aesthetics starts from the premise that the antagonistic contradictions of bourgeois society can be overcome by socialist revolution and by the establishment of communism—a nonantagonistic society that ensures the free and harmonious development of man. Rejecting the normative treatment of harmony as the external agreement of parts and as the absence of conflicts, Soviet aesthetics interprets harmony as the reflection in art of the unity of opposites and of the laws of development of reality.


Losev, A. F. Istoriia antichnoi estetiki. Moscow, 1963.
Losev, A. F., and V. P. Shestakov. Istoriia esteticheskikh kategorii. Moscow, 1965, pp. 36-84.
Zederbauer, E. Die Harmonie im Weltall in der Natur und Kunst. Vienna, 1917.
Burchartz, M. Gleichnis der Harmonie, Gesetz und Gestaltung der bildenden Kunste. Munich, 1949.




in music, the simultaneous combination of several sounds of different pitch. Harmony may consist of two (a harmonic interval) or more tones and may be consonant or dissonant. A fundamental example of harmony is a chord based on the interval of a third and formed from three or more sounds.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


goddess of harmony, peace, and unity. [Rom. Myth.: Kravitz, 65]
child of ugly Hephaestus and lovely Aphrodite; union of opposites. [Gk. Myth.: Espy, 25]
muse of lyric poetry; presided over singing. [Gk. Myth.: Brewer Dictionary, 849]
complementary principles that make up all aspects of life. [Chinese Trad.: EB, X: 821]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. Music
a. any combination of notes sounded simultaneously
b. the vertically represented structure of a piece of music
c. the art or science concerned with the structure and combinations of chords
2. a collation of the material of parallel narratives, esp of the four Gospels
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005