[Smt-talk] Plagal cadence

Richard Porterfield porterfr at hotmail.com
Wed Apr 22 20:38:59 PDT 2009


Padre Martini discusses the plagal cadence in his Esemplare, o sia saggio fondamentale pratico di contrappunto sopra il canto fermo (Bologna, 1774-75). His use of the term (in Italian) is the earliest I've seen. I believe he says something to the effect that this cadence is not restricted to plagal modes, but that he hints at a connection. Sorry I can't give you a page or volume number (two volumes). 

In 16th-century music the supplementum Peter Schubert mentions is indeed very common as a coda prolonging the melodic final after the structural authentic cadence. The authentic cadence is not possible, however, in the deuterus modes 3 and 4 (so-called "Phrygian"). The simplest solution is for the tenor's semitonal descent F-E to be matched by the bass D-E, a linear-contrapuntal progression from minor 3rd to unison, or sometimes d-e in the tenor, F-E in the bass: major 6th to octave. 

Often, however, the bass does not move directly to the final E, but to A (or a) a perfect fifth under the tenor E (or e), before leaping by descending 4th to the final -- what Martini later calls the plagal cadence. 

Zarlino says that m3-unison and M6-octave actions are true cadences; he also mentions motions resolving to the perfect 5th instead of the octave (which of course is what I've just described): he classes them among the "imperfect cadences," which he says are not actually cadences, strictly speaking ("Et benche ve ne siano alcune altre, che finiscono per la Quinta, et alcune altre per la Terza, et alcune per diuerse altre consonanze; non sono però da esser dette assolutamente Cadenze, se non ad vn certo modo, et con vna aggiuntione, cioè Cadenze imperfette" Le istitutioni harmoniche, Part 3: 221 http://www.chmtl.indiana.edu/smi/cinquecento/ZAR58IH3_TEXT.html). I believe he does not address the plagal cadence directly. 

In answer to Cristobal's second question, it's clear that Renaissance composers felt that the plagal cadence on its own was "conclusive enough to end a work," in modes 3 and 4, at least. It would be interesting to look at Zarlino's Mode-3 and -4 compositions (he lists several in Part 4, Chs. 20-21) to see how he reconciles his theory with practice.  


Richard Porterfield

Instructor, Mannes College; Ph.D. Candidate in Music Theory, CUNY GC

porterfr at hotmail.com  


Date: Wed, 22 Apr 2009 16:30:27 -0400
From: peter.schubert at mcgill.ca
To: garciagallardo at terra.es; smt-talk at societymusictheory.org
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Plagal cadence

In a most repertoire the final is in fact approached by the usual 6-8 motions you describe, but the final is often sustained in one voice. This is the coda-like thing that Burmeister calls the supplementum – he says these motions “make it very clear that the ending has arrived” (Rivera’s translation, p. 151 ). The so-called plagal cadence generally results from the oblique motions that occur while the final is being sustained. Sometimes the final is only virtually sustained, with all voices moving, but the effect is the same.
What I’d like to know is where this term occurs for the first time. I don’t recall seeing it in any treatise in the sixteenth century or even the early 17th. My bet is French treatises from the late 17th-early 18th cc.

Peter Schubert, Chair
Department of Music Research
Schulich School of Music
McGill University

From: smt-talk-bounces at societymusictheory.org [mailto:smt-talk-bounces at societymusictheory.org] On Behalf Of Cristóbal García
Sent: Saturday, April 18, 2009 2:34 PM
To: smt-talk at societymusictheory.org
Subject: [Smt-talk] Plagal cadence

Dear List,
I would like to ask about plagal cadence in 16th (and 15th) century music. What is interesting to me is the fact that this cadence seems to escape the basic cadential process of this kind of music: the progress from an imperfect to a perfect consonance (usually major 6th to octave) in a two-voice framework (usually proceeding stepwise by contrary motion), typically preceded by a dissonance (the 7th as a suspension).
I have two main questions:

Does somebody know about theoretical explanations of the plagal cadence in 16th century music?

Was plagal cadence seen as conclusive enough by itself to end a work (since it is usually preceded by a more usual cadence)?
(I must say that I’m not an expert on 16th century music theory –though I´ve read on the subject-, so forgive me if these are too simple questions)
Cristobal Garcia-Gallardo
Conservatorio de Malaga (Spain)
garciagallardo at terra.es
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