Non-diatonic minor triads a major third apart

This has always sounded pretty cool to me, C minor to E minor for instance, and it gets a lot of use in film scores (John Williams, Howard Shore, a million others). I happened to be playing the game Dredge recently and it gets used in some incidental music there, as well (briefly going F minor to A minor).

Does anyone know of an early example of this being used in a piece? It seems like it would’ve been first employed by Gustav Holst, or one of the Russians, in the early 20th century, but I’m curious if there is (likely) something earlier than that.


I asked my first semester guitar lab instructor at Berklee about this (Norm Zocher was his name) and he said this harmony comes from the “double augmented scale,” which is a symmetrical scale built on alternating 1/2 step and minor 3rd. It’s pretty cool sounding on its own! But it’s what generates this type of harmony (also parallel major chords in M3 intervals).

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In a broader sense, these are chromatic mediants - triads moving in major or minor thirds that aren’t diatonic. You always end up with a note in common between chord pairs. This pretty much always sounds super cool to me. lol

John Zorn has some piece that cycles through something like Am C#m Fm over and over while he solos, but I can’t remember the name - it’s clear that it could be derived from the “double augmented” scale you mentioned, though using that scale over some of the chords would require a fair amount of care.

Anyway, more often you’ll see something like i vi i happen, like in the Imperial March.

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