In 1877, Arthur Sullivan composed one of the most successful songs of the 19th Century. It was based on a poem by Adelaide Anne Procter, from 1858 and it was called The Lost Chord:
Seated one day at the organ,
I was weary and ill at ease,
And my fingers wandered idly
Over the noisy keys.
I know not what I was playing,
Or what I was dreaming then;
But I struck one chord of music,
Like the sound of a great Amen.
The search for that lost perfect chord which will melt us on the spot has been going on some time. So, what have people come up with?
The Mystic Chord
Let’s start with the Mystic Chord, used by Russian composer Alexander Scriabin. It contains the notes C F# Bb E A D:
Scribian describes the chord as ‘designed to afford instant apprehension of what was in essence beyond the mind of man to conceptualise. Its preternatural stillness was a gnostic intimation of a hidden otherness.’ I’m glad he’s clarified things!
I’m afraid I don’t get the mystic chord at all. Onwards …
The Heaven Chord
Jonny May suggests Cmaj9/E as the Heaven Chord – ‘the most beautiful piano chord’. Not only does Jonny regard this as a beautiful chord but a useful one too in that it can be used in place of a simple major triad. The left hand of the piano plays E G C and the right hand plays D G B. So that’s a C major triad with the E note as bass plus a major seventh, plus a ninth.
The most beautiful chords on guitar
Marco Cirillo suggests the following chord as his favourite. It’s an A major with an added 9th and with a C# bass, played on the seventh fret but with open 5th and 2nd strings.
Michael Dunkley has another chord in mind. What he calls ‘the most beautiful chord that you’ve ever heard.’ It’s an Emaj7 with an added 6th and added 9th:
Why have one chord when you can have 12?
Derik Nelson goes further and suggests 12 beautiful chords. That’s Cadd4, Dbsus2, Dmaj9, Ebmaj9, Em9, Fmaj7, F#m11, Gadd9, Abm9, Aadd9, Bb6/9, Bm7add11. Download his PDF to see how to play these on guitar or piano. This really is a lovely sequence, with the root note of the chord rising up a semitone each time.
Extended chords can sound great when sung by a choir. Here are Derik Nelson’s 12 chords in vocal form:
The Hendrix chord
So far, we’ve concentrated on beautiful harmonies but what if the lost chord was actually rather discordant?
The so-called Hendrix chord is a 7th with a sharpened 9th. You’ll recognise it:
Right under our noses
Talking of Hendrix, it’s said that Jimi was able to spend hours just playing around on a guitar with an open E major chord – just the simple triad of E, G# and B. On a guitar, it’s particularly nice as you get to play an open 6th string as the root with a simple shape on top. Perhaps, the lost chord has been under our noses all along!