Petrushka chord

Petrushka chord in piano during the second tableau of Petrushka[1]( Play )
Petrushka chord
Component intervals from root
diminished seventh
minor sixth
diminished fifth
minor third
diminished third
Forte no.

The Petrushka chord is a recurring polytonic device used in Igor Stravinsky's ballet Petrushka and in later music. These two major triads, C major and F major – a tritone apart – clash, "horribly with each other", when sounded together and create a dissonant chord.[2]


Petrushka chord in Vln. II and Vla. during the third tableau of Petrushka[1]

The Petrushka chord is defined as two simultaneous major triads (0 4 7) separated by a tritone (0 6). In Petrushka Stravinsky used C major on top of F major (the latter presented here in first inversion):

Listen to this segment (MIDI file)

The device uses tones that, together, make up a synthetic hexatonic scale (0 1 4 6 7 t). When enharmonically spelled C D E G G() B, it is called the tritone scale.[3] Alternatively, when spelled C D E F G B it can be read as the auxiliary diminished scale.[4] It may also be categorized as a lydian dominant9 omit 13 scale.

The chords may be considered to contradict each other because of the tritone relationship: "Any tendency for a tonality to emerge may be avoided by introducing a note three whole tones distant from the key note of that tonality."[5]

At the end of the third tableau the Petrushka chord appears with Petrushka but at A and E, which, with C and F, create a diminished seventh chord (0 3 6 9) and exhaust the octatonic scale (9 1 4, 3 7 t, 0 4 7, and 6 t 1 = 0 1 3 4 6 7 9 t), "and suggests that it did...possess for Stravinsky an a priori conceptual status".[6]

Petrushka and origin

Although attributed to (and popularized by) Stravinsky, the chord (or, more precisely, two simultaneous major chords set a tritone apart, specifically F and B major) was present much earlier in Franz Liszt's Malédiction Concerto.[7] (Although the exact date of the composition remains unknown, it is estimated by Humphrey Searle to be from circa 1840; the composition is believed to have originated from one of Liszt's early works, performed in 1827.[8]) Maurice Ravel uses this chord in his piano work Jeux d'eau to create flourishing, water-like sounds that characterize the piece. In his article "Ravel's 'Russian' Period: Octatonicism in His Early Works, 1893-1908", Steven Baur notes that Jeux d'eau was composed in 1901, ten years before Stravinsky composed Petrushka (1911), suggesting that Stravinsky may have learned the trick from Ravel. Stravinsky heard Jeux d'eau and several other works by Ravel no later than 1907 at the "Evenings for Contemporary Music" program.[9]

Stravinsky used the chord repeatedly throughout the ballet Petrushka to represent the puppet and devised the chord to represent the puppet's mocking of the crowd at the Shrovetide Fair.[10] Eric Walter White suggests and dismisses the possibility that the Petrushka chord is derived from Messiaen's "second Modes of limited transposition" (the octatonic scale) in favor of a "black key/white key bitonality" which results from, "Stravinsky's well known habit of composing at the piano."[11]

Other uses

Jazz musicians utilize this chord as an upper structure to "colorize" a dominant chord. (see also Tritone substitution)

The Petrushka chord is dominantly used in the track Above the Clouds (Listen), from the 2003 simulation game Sim City 4.

See also


  1. 1 2 Taruskin, Richard (Spring, 1987). "Chez Pétrouchka – Harmony and Tonality "chez" Stravinsky", p. 269, 19th-Century Music, Vol. 10, No. 3, Special Issue: Resolutions I., p. 265–286.
  2. Pogue, David (1997). Classical Music for Dummies, p. 80. ISBN 0-7645-5009-8
  3. Busby, Paul. "Short Scales", Scored Changes: Tutorials.
  4. Campbell, Gary (2001). Triad Pairs for Jazz: Practice and Application for the Jazz Improvisor, p.126. ISBN 0-7579-0357-6.
  5. Brindle, Reginald Smith (1966). Serial Composition. Oxford University Press. p. 66. ISBN 0-19-311906-4.
  6. Taruskin 1987, p.268.
  7. Walser, Robert (1998). Keeping Time : Readings in Jazz History, p.215. ISBN 0-19-509173-6
  8. Paul Merrick. Revolution and religion in the music of Liszt. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-32627-3. Retrieved Jun 30, 2009.
  9. Journal of the American Musicological Society 52 (1999), 531-592.
  10. Libbey, Ted (1999). The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection: The 350 Essential Works, p.185. ISBN 0-7611-0487-9.
  11. Eric Walter White (1966). Stravinsky: The Composer and His Works, p. 161. quoted in Taruskin, Richard (Spring, 1985). "Chernomor to Kashchei: Harmonic Sorcery; Or, Stravinsky's 'Angle'", p.75, Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 38, No. 1., pp. 72-142.
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