Chord-Bible Harmony in Frank Zappa's Middle-Period Orchestral Music

Brett Clement, Stephen F. Austin State University

This paper provides an introduction to Frank Zappa's "Chord Bible," a collection of favorite chords that he utilized in his orchestral music circa 1977-82. The first part of the presentation will offer an overview of the harmonic structures within the Chord Bible (hereafter CB). It will be shown that CB chords are conceived in both pitch-space and pitch-class terms, revealing the influence of Zappa's childhood idol Varèse. Pitch-space considerations are manifest in the unique chordal "density" provided each CB chord, while pitch-class matters are seen most clearly in the three potential scalar derivations for CB chords: diatonic, Minor Lydian, and octatonic. A recreation of the seven- and eight-note chords of the CB will be provided, along with a brief explanation of the processes of chord transformation within the three scalar categories.

The second part of the presentation will demonstrate the compositional employment of CB harmony in three orchestral works from the period in question, focusing on the interaction of pitch and pc in the music. In Envelopes, a high degree of stratification will be witnessed in relation to the pre-composed main theme and its CB harmonization, with chords functioning primarily as vertical colors. In The Perfect Stranger, greater integration of melody and the CB chords will be apparent, with a progressive saturation of OCT1,2 unfolding throughout the piece in both melodic and harmonic dimensions. Finally, Dupree's Paradise will realize the pitch- space aspects of CB harmony through the technique of instrumental "voice crossing," with common tones between adjacent chords (in pitch space) exploited to create contrapuntal textures. In sum, these analyses will demonstrate a progressive sophistication in Zappa's employment of CB harmony.