In music, a whole tone scale is a scale in which each note is separated from its neighbors by the interval of a whole step. There are only two complementary whole tone scales, both six-note or ''hexatonic'' scales:
The whole tone scale has no leading tone and because all tones are the same distance apart, "no single tone stands out, () the scale creates a blurred, indistinct effect".〔Kamien, Roger (2008). ''Music: An Appreciation'', Sixth Brief Edition, p.308. ISBN 978-0-07-340134-8.〕 This effect is especially emphasized by the fact that triads built on such scale tones are augmented. Indeed, one can play all six tones of a whole tone scale simply with two augmented triads whose roots are a major second apart. Since they are symmetrical, whole tone scales do not give a strong impression of the tonic or tonality.
The composer Olivier Messiaen called the whole tone scale his first mode of limited transposition. The composer and music theorist George Perle calls the whole tone scale interval cycle 2, or C2. Since there are only two possible whole tone scale positions (that is, the whole tone scale can be transposed only once), it is either C20 or C21. For this reason, the whole tone scale is also maximally even and may be considered a generated collection.
Due to this symmetry, the hexachord consisting of the whole-tone scale is not distinct under inversion or more than one transposition. Thus many composers have used one of the "almost whole-tone" hexachords, whose "individual structural differences can be seen to result only from a difference in the 'location,' or placement, of a semitone within the otherwise whole-tone series."〔Schmalfeldt, Janet (1983). ''Berg's Wozzeck: Harmonic Language and Dramatic Design'', p.48. ISBN 0-300-02710-9.〕 Alexander Scriabin's mystic chord is a primary example, being a whole tone scale with one note raised a semitone, with this alteration allowing for a greater variety of resources through transposition.〔"The Evolution of Twelve-Note Music", p.56. Oliver Neighbor. ''Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association'', 81st Sess. (1954 - 1955), pp. 49-61.〕
Use of the melodic whole tone scale can be traced at least as far back as Johann Sebastian Bach. The concluding chorale movement of his cantata ''O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort'', BWV60, opens with four notes from the whole tone scale:〔https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwpwr0MYNWc〕 Mozart also used the scale in his ''Musical Joke'', for strings and horns. In the 19th century Russian composers went further with melodic and harmonic possibilities of the scale, often to depict the ominous; consider the endings of the overtures to Glinka's opera ''Ruslan and Lyudmila'' and Borodin's ''Prince Igor'', and the Commander's theme in Dargomyzhsky's ''The Stone Guest''. Further examples can be found in the works of Rimsky-Korsakov: the sea king's music in ''Sadko'' and also in ''Scheherezade'': (For some short piano pieces written completely in whole-tone scale, see nos. 1, 6, and 7 from V.A. Rebikov's (''Празднество'' (''Une fête''), Op. 38 ), from 1907.)
H. C. Colles names as the "childhood of the whole-tone scale" the music of Berlioz and Schubert in France and then Russians Glinka and Dargomyzhsky.〔"The Childhood of the Whole-Tone Scale", p.17-19. H. C. Colles. ''The Musical Times'', Vol. 55, No. 851. (Jan. 1, 1914), pp. 16-20. ''The Musical Times'' is currently published by Musical Times Publications Ltd.〕 Claude Debussy, who had been influenced by Russians, along with other Impressionist composers made extensive use of whole tone scales:
Debussy asks the pianist to play ''Voiles'' "dans un rythme sans rigueur at caressant." The sense of mystery and ambiguity here even extends to the title of the piece, which translates either as ‘Sails’ or ‘Veils.’ Janáček’s use of the scale in the bracing opening to the second movement of his ''Sinfonietta'' is, to quote Austin (1966, p.81) "utterly different":〔This can be heard at 2:23 on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3p2XxjuV0Y〕
"Janáček’s free chromaticism never loses touch with a diatonic scale for long. Though the whole-tone scale is prominent in much of his music after 1905 when he encountered Debussy, it serves simply to fit the motifs over augmented chords. The same motifs return from the whole-tone to the diatonic scale without emphasizing the contrast."〔Austin, W. (1966) Music in the Twentieth Century. London, Dent.〕
The first of Alban Berg's Seven Early Songs opens with a whole-tone passage both in the orchestral accompaniment and in the vocal line that enters a bar later.〔https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-w5m60fmqw〕〔Berg (1928), Sieben Fruhe Lieder, Wien, Universal Edition〕 Berg also quotes the Bach chorale setting referred to above in his Violin Concerto.〔The chorale melody appears at 17:53 in this recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqSSHwFEn_8〕 The last four notes of the 12-tone row Berg used are B, C, E and F, which, together with the first note, G, comprise 5 of the 6 notes of the scale.) Béla Bartók also uses whole-tone scales in his Fifth String Quartet. Ferruccio Busoni used the whole tone scale in the right hand part of the "Preludietto, Fughetta ed Esercizio" of his ''An die Jugend'', and Franz Liszt applied the whole tone scale to parts of the score of his ''Dante Symphony'' (1857), but he had used the technique as early as 1831, in the ''Grande Fantaisie sue La clochette''.〔Jeremy Nicholas, "Loving Liszt", ''Limelight'', April 2011, p. 50〕
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