[Smt-talk] Classical Form and Recursion

Stephen Jablonsky jablonsky at optimum.net
Mon Mar 30 05:21:49 PDT 2009


Thank you for this Debussy reference because it cuts to the heart of  
the whole question--that chords get their function (meaning) from the  
context in which they are found. In this case the Bb7 chord is  
approached from either a C#m.add6 (a tonic in C# minor) or an A#ø  
(viiø/V in E) both of which reflect back to the duality in previous  
flute solo. When it resolves to Dmaj7 this is the second non-dominant  
resolution (common tone resolution) in a row and tells us not to  
expect much in the way of traditional harmony as the piece progresses.  
I cannot imagine what Barraque was thinking because I do believe there  
isn't an Eb chord in the entire piece (when I have nothing else to do  
I will check). What is more recursively significant is the return of  
the Bb7 in m. 14 in a new context as a precursor to the harmonic  
process that will play itself out until the A#ø chord returns at the  
end and resolves not to Bb7 but E, a tritone away.

I always tell my beginning theory students that a chord's function can  
only be measured by triangulation--you need three different chords in  
order to determine its purpose in the tonal structure. If you just  
play C-F-C (only two chords) it could be V-I-V in F or I-IV-I in C.

We must remind ourselves that all harmonic events are understood  
relative to their local context as well as their global context. When  
Wagner places a Dø/F chord in m. 95 of the Tristan Prelude its true  
dramatic power is not understood unless you realize that it is  
replacing the D7/F# heard much earlier in m. 18. Only then do you  
realize its true harmonic purpose in the entire progression of the  
piece. You also realize that this opera is not going to end well 5000  
measures later.


On Mar 30, 2009, at 4:09 AM, Nicolas Meeùs wrote:

> I would not consider French textbooks as models, especially on this  
> point. I mentioned before what I consider a typical French excessive  
> absolutism, consisting in bestowing a function on a chord merely  
> because of its form: I mentioned the case of Jean Barraqué reading a  
> V7/Eb in bar 5 of the Prelude à L'Après-midi d'un faune and, even  
> worse, deducing from there a tonality of Eb ! (see my Music Analysis  
> paper, vol. 21/2, p. 168). For a similar reason, some of my students  
> hear German sixths not as altered V/V, but as V/bII !

Prof. Stephen Jablonsky, Ph.D.
Music Department Chair
The City College of New York
160 Convent Avenue S-72
New York NY 10031
(212) 650-7663

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