New Horizons in Terminology

I play around a lot with microtones in class when I probably shouldn’t. My counterpoint students, for some reason (and they’re not the first class to do so) find the Picardy third hilarious. One day I ended a three-part counterpoint in aeolian with a major third, A-C#, and they laughingly objected. So I offered to split the difference with them and made it a quarter-tone C half-sharp (a lovely 11/9 interval). I played the result with Sibelius’s pitch-bend plug-in, and it was deliciously sour. One student immediately dubbed it the “Picardy turd.”


  1. Alexander Rocha says

    I’ve found the PIcardy third hilarious since it concluded the easy piano arrangement of “Greensleeves” I learned when I was nine or ten. (I promptly decided I’d conclude the tune on the minor chord anyway.) I’m not sure I can really say why, other than the overly serious and obvious point that our harmonic context is really different than it was back when people actually used it sincerely.

  2. says

    Satie nicely subverted the Picardy third in his early song “Elégie.” It’s a grave tune, mostly in C minor; the first two stanzas end in a Picardy third, and the last does not. The voice remains on the fifth; only the support shifts. It’s tasty.

    The Picardy turd is a fine invention. Now I want to hear it…

  3. says

    LOVE it, Kyle. Along these same lines and being the Star Trek nerd that I am, I call the “reverse Picardy third” (ending major mode work on minor tonic) the Riker third. There’s something dashing and manly about that chord, although you know it will always be #2 next to Picard(y).

    KG replies: Ah. Not enough of a Star Trek fan to have gotten it the first time, I’m afraid, but I do now.

  4. Peter Gena says

    I’ve always wondered if the song “The Roses of Picardy” had anything to do with it in a strange way because the melody started on the minor third below the ending tonic note, but it was just wishful thinking.

    Surely the Picardy caused Mahler some tsuris. He couldn’t make up his mind on which third to use in the first movement of the 6th Symphony……