In music, chromaticism is a compositional technique interspersing the primary diatonic pitches and chords with other pitches of the chromatic scale. Chromaticism is in contrast or addition to tonality or diatonicism (the major and minor scales). Chromatic elements are considered, "elaborations of or substitutions for diatonic scale members."
List of chromatic chords:
Other types of chromaticity:
As tonality began to expand during the last half of the nineteenth century, with new combinations of chords, keys and harmonies being tried, the chromatic scale and chromaticism became more widely used, especially in the works of Richard Wagner, such as the opera 'Tristan und Isolde'. Increased chromaticism is often cited as one of the main causes or signs of the "break down" of tonality, in the form of increased importance or use of:
As tonal harmony continued to widen and even break down, the chromatic scale became the basis of modern music written using the twelve tone technique, a tone row being a specific ordering or series of the chromatic scale, and later serialism. Though these styles/methods continue to (re)incorporate tonality or tonal elements, often the trends which led to these methods were abandoned, such as modulation.
A chromatic scale is one which proceeds entirely by semitones, so dividing the octave into twelve equal steps of one semitone each.
For example, in the key of C major, the following chords (all diatonic) are naturally built on each degree of the scale:
However, a number of other chords may also be built on the degrees of the scale, and some of these are chromatic. Examples:
Susan McClary (1991) argues that chromaticism in operatic and sonata form narratives can often be understood as the "Other", racial, sexual, class or otherwise, to diatonicism's "male" self. Whether through modulation, as to the secondary key area, or other means. For instance, Catherine Clément calls the chromaticism in Wagner's Isolde "feminine stink" . However, McClary also points out that the same techniques used in opera to represent madness in women were historically highly prized in avante-garde instrumental music, "In the nineteenth-century symphony, Salome's chromatic daring is what distinguishes truly serious composition of the vanguard from mere cliché-ridden hack work." (p.101)