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Harmonic Experience: Tonal Harmony from Its Natural Origins to Its Modern Expression Hardcover – August 1, 1997

4.6 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Mathieu's books are worth reading for anyone in any field of music--jazz, classical, gospel, or any other. He's found the words to tell the power of music." (Pete Seeger, folksinger)

"This book goes beyond what most textbooks offer, and its highly original pedagogy deserves the attention of every teacher of harmony. Above all, this is a book for anyone who would like to acquire harmony as a lived experience rather than as mere memorization of unyielding rules on paper." (Chien-Chang Yang, Quarterly Journal of the MLA)

"Mathieu is consistently proving himself to be one of the best in musical theory." (John Coltrane in Downbeat Magazine)

"This volume offers experiential keys to help unlock the mystery of how music works its deep affect upon us. Harmonic Experience extends any reader's understanding of music and is a user-friendly, elegant and graceful work. It is a technical treatise about the inner workings of music." (Daniel Atesh Sonneborn, Smithsonian Institution)

About the Author

W. A. Mathieu is the author of The Listening Book and The Musical Life. His compositions and solo piano music have been extensively recorded. He lives in Sebastopol, California, where he writes, composes, and teaches.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Inner Traditions; 1st edition (August 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0892815604
  • ISBN-13: 978-0892815609
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 1.9 x 11 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #503,563 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

William Allaudin Mathieu (b. 1937) -- pianist, composer, author, and teacher -- is one of the most influential musicians of his generation.

He has composed a large variety of chamber pieces, choral works, and song cycles. His solo piano albums include Streaming Wisdom, In The Wind, Available Light, Narratives, Three Compositions for Piano, and Songs of Samsara. He has written and recorded several song cycle settings of poetry, including Say I Am You, Rumi & Strings, and The Indian Parrot. Duet, trio, and ensemble recordings include This Marriage, Game/No Game, The Bloom, and The Ghost Opera.

Mathieu's four books on music are
- Bridge of Waves: What Music Is and How Listening to It Changes the World
- The Listening Book: Discovering Your Own Music
- The Musical Life: Reflections on What It Is and How to Live It
- Harmonic Experience: Tonal Harmony from Its Natural Origins to Its Modern Expression

For 25 years, Mathieu was a disciple of North Indian vocalist Pandit Pran Nath. He studied with composers William Russo and Easley Blackwood, and collaborated with Nubian master musician Hamza El Din.

In the 1960s, he spent several years as an arranger and composer for Stan Kenton and Duke Ellington Orchestras, and was the musical director for the Second City Theater in Chicago (which he helped found) and for the Committee Theater in San Francisco. In the 1970s, he served on the faculties of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Mills College. In 1969 he founded the Sufi Choir, which he directed until 1982.

Mathieu now devotes himself to practice, performance, recording, composition, teaching, and writing from his home near Sebastopol, California.

Mathieu's website is ColdMountainMusic.com

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
What a great book! This should perhaps be the very first required reading for any music education. Mathieu first steps back from our usual musical assumptions and examines how sound works. The physics of sound is integral to our experience of it and western music uses a tuning system which is arbitrary (if advantageous in many ways). This is the book that answers so many questions I couldn't even identify - Why does music 'work' the way it does? How do overtones work and what implications do they have for music as a whole? Why does a minor third sound 'sad' and a major third 'happy' (is it all cultural conditioning)? Mathieu definitely addresses the spiritual side of all this, of sound and music and intervals, but never presumes to have answers to such questions. I've only explored a part of the book - it goes on to look at so many facets of the structure and possible organizations of sound and music, really advanced theory. Oh, and throughout, exercises are given, singing the pure intervals at hand, for instance, which serve to hone the ear and the voice and to make all of this sink in to where it counts. Anyone interested in music and theory should check this one out, a definite classic!
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Format: Hardcover
As a string player, I am very opinionated about what constitutes proper intonation; fine adjustment of intonation is an integral part of my understanding of music theory. Mathieu's book is possibly the best guide to this subject that I have ever seen.
Mathieu builds up a system of scales, musical intervals, and chordal music theory based on building from a small set of resonances and the overtone series. Unlike other technical descriptions of this process, Mathieu makes it practical as a tool for everyday use, giving many musical experiments and examples, to be played at the keyboard or against a drone.
I recommend this book to anyone who has been turned off by a mathematical approach to music, to musicians (especially brass and string players) who want to build an intuition about proper intonation, and to keyboard players who want a better understanding of music theory.
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By A Customer on August 24, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I am so glad to see jzmckay's excellent review of this book, posted here. He said many of the things that I feel about this book.
I have studied music, including theory, for thirty years, and nothing has expanded my understanding (and perception!) of music as much as the information in this book.
I have studied music with the author of this book -- he's a great writer about music and an even better teacher! I know that this work is the result of a lifetime of profound consideration of what is at the very heart of the musical experience, and of why music affects us as it does. W. A. Mathieu's highly intelligent exposition is a great gift to all who wish to deepen their understanding of music.
I would like to express my personal thanks to the author for this book, which has enhanced my sensitivity to music.
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Format: Hardcover
Mathieu's Harmonic Experience is a delight to read and look at and ponder over. Incredibly, one day I ordered some CDs of his piano compositions, mentioning that they would provide nice listening while I make my way through the book. The next thing I knew, I got an email, "Hello. Allaudin Mathieu here. I'm glad you are reading "Harmonic Experience" and evidently getting something from it. I'm glad you bought some of my records. I have a wee request. Please don't even THINK about using my music as a background for reading my book. It will do both of us more good if you really listen to music when you listen to it, and really read my book (and do the practices best you can)when that's what you're doing."

And this is still my problem, I am reading but not practicing, and I am still missing the real point of this book, which is EXPERIENCE, not just technical mastery of his elegant method of fathoming harmony. Perhaps this admission will prompt me to finally take the bold step of actually playing the drones and singing the intervals and really gathering the experience. Meanwhile, I love and treasure the book; it's beautifully written, profound, complicated but within our grasp, and fun. It's time to take a swim beneath the surface - I think I'll start right now.
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Format: Hardcover
While i can't say i've read everything on the subject, far from it, i have read Schenker's and Hindemith's books on harmony, Forte's book and a number of others commonly found in University libraries. (My BA is in Music Theory & Composition - fyi) I've found that many of these authors are genuinely interesting and insightful (Schenker in particular, much to my own surprise) however none come close to Mathieu's book in terms of illuminating the essence of the modal/tonal universe for me. Beginning with the actual physics of sound, Matheiu's book builds a theoretical framework like no other, with fewer assumptions and on a more solid footing than anyone else i am aware of. More excitingly, he has helped me to expand greatly the harmonic universe within my own compositions.

As one who has been involved all his life in the field of music (40+ years), i can say that this is the most important book i know for anyone interested in music theory, improvisation and composition.
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