Butterflies and Hurricanes: piano intermezzo meets the chaos theory

Butterflies and Hurricanes single cover
Butterflies and Hurricanes single cover
Butterflies and Hurricanes is a powerful track by the English rock band Muse first released on their 2003 album Absolution and then issued as a single in 2004. Despite the rather complex compositional structure, the track was frequently performed live throughout the 2010s and is consistently rated by fans to be among the band's best songs.
The song title purportedly refers to the butterfly effect, a term borrowed from the mathematical chaos theory to popularly explain how even the smallest changes in a nonlinear system can cause large-scale events over time. Although the example of a butterfly flapping its wings in, say, Brazil or China and setting off a tornado in Texas or somewhere in the Caribbean is the best-known popular explanation for this effect, the initial story allegedly featured a sea-gull who could change the weather forever with a mere flap of its wings.
According to Muse's frontman Matt Bellamy, Butterflies and Hurricanes started with an accidental piano theme he'd composed on a Steinway piano found at a hotel. Subsequently, the theme developed into a massive piano intermezzo whose prog-like sound deeply contrasted with the rest of the song.
Listen to Butterflies and Hurricanes by Muse:
Compositionally, Butterflies and Hurricanes follow the canons of tonal theory, namely the Aeolian mode supplemented by tonicization of the fourth and fifth scale degrees. In the harmonic analysis of the verse chord chains, the scale degrees (denoted with Roman numerals) show the following progressions in the key of D minor:
  • Dm–Dmaj7–Dm7–F or i–I7–i7–III;
  • B♭–Dm–E7A7 or IV–i–V/VV7.
The first chord chain reveals the distinctive ornamentation of the tonic chord designed to harmonize with the D–C♯–C chromatic downward motif observed in one of the middle voices. The second progression is closed by the tonicization of the fifth scale degree where the E7 secondary chord is used to temporarily shift the tonal center to A major.
Another classic example of tonicization appears in the choruses: 
  1. B♭–Dm–B♭–Dm or VI–i–VI–i;
  2. B♭–F–DGm or VI–III–V/IVIV;
  3. B♭–F–B♭–F–A7 or VI–III–VI–III–V7.
The second progression exemplifies the tonicization of the fourth scale degree often used in classical music to clearly emphasize tonic function at the end of musical forms. Here the D secondary chord temporarily switches the tonal center to G minor.
Discover more songs composed in Aeolian minor mode and their harmonic analyses in the following articles:
Share this story