GLEN ELLYN, IL—Seeking to earn the confidence of evangelical voters and remain in contention for the Republican nomination ahead of Tuesday’s primaries, Ted Cruz has promised to rid all music of the “tritone,” a dissonant interval long associated with the devil.
Speaking to a crowd of supporters in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, one of five events the Cruz campaign scheduled in that state on the eve of its pivotal primary, the junior United States Senator from Texas condemned over five hundred years of musical practice for what he referred to as its “indulgent acquiescence to Satan’s favorite sound.”
“A pair of tones separated by three consecutive whole steps may at first seem perfectly harmless,” Cruz said, “but when played together or in melodic succession they pose a direct threat to the moral fabric of our great nation.”
Cruz, who has steadily lost support among evangelical Christians to his rival and GOP frontrunner Donald Trump over the past month, became the first current presidential hopeful from either major party to speak publicly on issues of musical importance. Not known for his musicological credentials, Cruz nonetheless dazzled the audience packed inside a large banquet hall an hour outside Chicago on Monday afternoon with a fiery sermon on music’s fall from grace, displaying a surprisingly firm grasp of the history of musical dissonance.
According to Cruz, music was at one time performed “in the service of God” and utilized pure, consonant intervals to “facilitate the act of worship.”
“One thousand years ago, God-fearing Christians just like yourselves were steadfastly avoiding the corruptive influence of the tritone,” Cruz preached. “Then, the unemployed troubadour class began to wander the European continent looking for handouts, promoting lust and worldly desire through sensuous lute songs that shamelessly employed the tritone to lure listeners toward sin.”
Gradually, Cruz continued, the interplay between dissonance and consonance found its way into sacred music, becoming normalized during the Renaissance before it was codified in the early Baroque period with the advent of tonality and the discovery of the dominant seventh chord.
“It is a sad fact of history that even the greatest, most devout of musical geniuses, Johann Sebastian Bach, would choose to feature such Satanic symbolism at the core of his polyphony,” Cruz said.
It was Bach’s contemporary, Johann Joseph Fux, who made the earliest-known reference to the tritone’s diabolical reputation in his influential 1725 treatise Gradus ad Parnassum, referring to the interval as “diabolus in musica,” or “the devil in music.”
Fux, aware of the tritone’s menacing associations, nevertheless saw a special place for the interval within musical composition and advocated for the artful resolution of dissonance within rule-bound contrapuntal textures.
Cruz, on the other hand, views Fux’s species counterpoint as “soft on dissonance,” and overly accommodating of the tritone’s inherent wickedness. Bringing the issue back to the present, Cruz remarked, “Unlike Donald Trump, I don’t make deals with the devil.”
“I hereby call on all performers, listeners, and teachers of music to put righteousness above desire, let good triumph over evil, and avoid all contact with augmented fourths and diminished fifths,” he declared. “It is high time we put our trust in the Lord to deliver us from the Serpent’s tempting dissonances.”
With the crowd roused to its feet, Cruz approached the climax of his speech, issuing his boldest campaign promise to date in a soaring tenor.
“Mark my word: on my first day in office as President of the United States, I will use my executive authority to order an immediate prohibition on all tritone production and consumption!”
While Cruz’s radical proposals to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act and abolish the Internal Revenue Service have been criticized as far-fetched by many policy analysts, his call for a comprehensive tritone ban has been roundly dismissed as logistically impossible and morally dubious by a chorus of voices across the political and cultural spectrum.
For Jeremy Denk, a concert pianist and recipient of the coveted MacArthur Genius Grant, Cruz’s proposal is not only a threat to the broader musical culture, but to his own safety and security as a performing musician.
“If Cruz were to weasel his way into office and push this tritone ban through, it would mean the end of my career,” Denk said. “I wouldn’t even be able to make it through the first measure of a performance of Liszt’s ‘Dante’ Sonata before Cruz’s hired thugs would rush the stage and haul me away.”
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, gearing up for tomorrow’s Democratic primaries, issued a mocking condemnation of Cruz’s proposed tritone ban on social media.
“Let me get this straight: Ted Cruz doesn’t want the government to prosecute the Wall Street billionaires for defrauding the American people, but he does want the government to arrest me for singing ‘Maria’ from West Side Story in the shower each morning?” Sanders wrote in a series of tweets.
“One hundred years ago, Arnold Schoenberg emancipated dissonance, freeing music from authoritarian aesthetic norms,” he continued. “Now Cruz wants to undo these hard-fought gains and return music to the stone-age? He truly is the ‘diabolus in politica.’”