The Semantic Evolution of Chromatic Mediants: A Baroque Origin

Jason Yin Hei Lee, University of British Columbia

This paper posits a lineage through which chromatic mediants (CMs) acquired their narrative meaning of the "uncanny" and the "magical" from Baroque music. The combination of the Phrygian-inflected cadences and the conflation of relative key pairs -- both highly conventional compositional practices in the Baroque -- provides the musical context that bred the dramatic potential of CMs. Topical combination of these devices by Baroque composers, especially in vocal music, endowed CM transitions with a connotation of death-to-life transcendence. Composers' use of such expression within musical conventions of the time hence established a model upon which CMs' semantic range may be subsequently expanded beyond its original connotation to include other relatable conceptions. The semantic import of such progression then dissociated from the cadential function from which it emanated, and CMs became an independent musical signifier that carries its various connotations in the more recognizable forms described in the current literature of CM relations.