Riemannian theory

"Riemannian theory" in general refers to the musical theories of German theorist Hugo Riemann (1849–1919). His theoretical writings cover many topics, including musical logic,[1] notation,[2] harmony,[3] melody,[4] phraseology,[5] the history of music theory,[6] etc. More particularly, the term Riemannian theory often refers to his theory of harmony, characterized mainly by its dualism and by a concept of harmonic functions.

Illustration of Riemann's 'dualist' system: minor as upside down major. Half-steps are indicated by slur marks, other notes are separated by whole steps. The descending minor scale shown has the same order of half steps and whole steps as the ascending major scale.


Riemann's "dualist" system for relating triads was adapted from earlier 19th-century harmonic theorists. The term "dualism" refers to the emphasis on the inversional relationship between major and minor, with minor triads being considered "upside down" versions of major triads; this "harmonic dualism" (harmonic polarity) is what produces the change-in-direction described above. See also the related term Utonality.[7]

Some people today (such as Jacob Collier) refer to the theory of dualism as the theory of "negative harmony".[citation needed][clarification needed]


In the 1880s, Riemann proposed a system of transformations that related triads directly to each other. Riemann's system had two classes of transformations: 'Schritt' and 'Wechsel'.[7] A Schritt transposed one triad into another, moving it a certain number of scale steps. For example, the 'Quintschritt' (literally "Fifth-step" in German) transposed a triad by a perfect fifth, transforming C Major into G major (up) or F major (down). A Wechsel inverted a triad according to the Riemann's theory of dualism, mapping a major triad to a minor triad. For example, Seitenwechsel ("die Seiten wechseln" translates as "to change ends") mapped a triad on to its parallel minor or major, transforming C major to C minor and vice versa.[7] Riemann's theory of transformations formed the basis for Neo-Riemannian theory, which expanded the idea of transformations beyond the basic tonal triads that Riemann was mostly concerned with.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Musikalische Logik. Hauptzüge der physiologischen und psychologischen Begründung unseres Musik-systems, Leipzig, 1873.
  2. ^ Studien zur Geschichte der Notenschrift, Leipzig, 1878; Die Entwickelung unserer Notenschrift, Leipzig, 1881; Notenschrift und Notendruck, Leipzig, 1896.
  3. ^ Skizze einer neuen Methode der Harmonielehre, Leipzig, 1880; Handbuch der Harmonielehre, Leipzig, 1887; Vereinfachte Harmonielehre, London/New York, 1893.
  4. ^ Neue Schule der Melodik, Hamburg, 1883.
  5. ^ Katechismus der Phrasierung, Leipzig, 1890, 2d edition Vademecum der Phrasierung, 1900, 8th edition as Handbuch der Phrasierung.
  6. ^ Geschichte der Musiktheorie im IX.-XIX. Jahrhundert, Berlin, 1898.
  7. ^ a b c Klumpenhouwer, Henry, Some Remarks on the Use of Riemann Transformations, Music Theory Online 0.9 (1994)