Modal Rhythm

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Modal Rhythm


a concept in music theory created by B. L. Iavorskii at the beginning of the 20th century. The term “modal rhythm” refers to the temporal distribution of a mode.

The concept is founded on the distinction made in music between unstable and stable tones; the gravitation of the unstable tones toward resolution in the stable ones is considered the foundation for musical movement and the formation of modes. Iavorskii saw the interval of the tritone as the source of instability. With its resolution the tritone forms the primary unity of stability and instability, “a single symmetrical system”; two such systems, at a distance of a semitone, make up a “double symmetrical system.” The joining of these systems forms the various modes.

The theory of modal rhythm offered a deeper treatment of the mode and allowed modes to be established that go beyond the limits of major-minor (augmented, diminished, chain, variable, double modes). The weak spot in Iavorskii’s theory is the fact that modes are constructed on a tritonal basis, which causes ancient modes devoid of a tritone (for example, the pentatonic) to be seen as incomplete variants of more complex modal formations. Iavorskii considered modal-tonal relations in light of form and rhythmic proportions (thus the name of the concept). While the concept as a whole has lost importance, many of its notions have found development in Soviet music theory.


Iavorskii, B. Stroenie muzykal’noi rechi. Moscow, 1908.
Iavorskii, B. Uprazhneniia ν obrazovanii ladovogo ritma, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1928.
Protopopov, S. Elementy stroeniia muzykal’noi rechi. Moscow, 1930.
Iavorskii, B. Vospominaniia, stat’i i pis’ma, vol. 1. Moscow, 1964.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Much of Part's text setting utilizes a long-short modal rhythm, thus preserving the phonetic properties of the Latin while also creating a certain rhythmic inexorability.
The relationship of text; and music and the structural significance of pitch selection in monophonic music arc discussed by Richard Crocker in "Thoughts on Responsories," and by Leo Treitler, who focuses on the relationship between mode and triadic chains as well as pentachordal/tetrachordal divisions, and the consequences of these melodic structures for text setting in troubadour songs and in Abelard's Dolorum solatium Ernest Sanders discusses definitions of "rithmus" in eleventh- to thirteenth-century treatises on Latin poetry, and the significance of this concept of syllabic equality for modal rhythm.
His theory of "modal rhythm" antedates the 1920s but reached a peak of popularity in the later decade.
Although the tropes display occasional short melismatic passages that may indicate modal rhythms, most of the music, both here and in the conductus, is equivocal in terms of such signs, as Cosart pinpoints characteristics of plainchant, organum purum, and copula within and among various pieces.
Proposed modal rhythms for all six conducti, "corresponding to the regular accentuation of the poetic text" (p.