[Smt-talk] Early Tritone Sub

ericlwen at aol.com ericlwen at aol.com
Thu May 28 05:32:10 PDT 2009

Hi Dmitri,

I'm assuming the passage you refer to in Rhapsody in Blue is the F-major "dominant-seventh" chord in bar 21 of the big E-major theme (Andantino moderato) that leads to a return of the main theme in bar 23. On the second half of bar 22 the C descends to B (with the bass F acting as a grace note to this B). What's unusual here is that the E-flat (the seventh of the F-major chord) becomes enharmonically transformed into a D-sharp (the third of the dominant). 

A similar enharmonic transformation of the seventh of a flattened II7 into the leading-tone occurs in Brahms Intermezzo in B-flat minor, op.177 no.2. In bar 67, Brahms writes a "dominant-seventh" chord on B-natural (=2 in B-flat minor), and this leads, most expressively, to a V4/3 chord in bar 69. In the Brahms extract, I read the "dominant-seventh" chord on B-natural as a bII7 chord that is expanded through a sequence in seventh chords from a IV7 chord (bar 65).

Speaking of true dominant-seventh chords with a lowered fifth, what about bar 7 of the Passacaglia movement in Brahms's Fourth Symphony. Isn't this best understood as a V4/3 chord with F-sharp lowered to F-natural (cf. the Gershwin extract cited above).


Eric Wen

Edward Aldwell Professor of Music

Mannes College of Music

-----Original Message-----
From: Dmitri Tymoczko <dmitri at Princeton.EDU>
To: smt-talk Talk <smt-talk at societymusictheory.org>
Sent: Tue, 26 May 2009 9:53 pm
Subject: [Smt-talk] Early Tri
tone Sub

 I asked this question over on the SMT-Jazz list, but didn't get a really clear answer, so I thought I'd throw it out to the larger group:

What's the earliest example of a popular-music tritone substitution?  That is: a dominant seventh chord (possibly with additional notes) on bII in a context where we'd expect V7?  I can find two from 1924, both in Gershwin.  There's one in Rhapsody in Blue (in the E major love theme) and another in bar 3 of the intro to Somebody Loves Me.  (Blue Monday has a few hints of a tritone substitution, but no smoking gun.)  Can anyone think of earlier examples?

There are lots of classical examples, I know, going back to Schubert if not before.  I'm looking for something from the popular rep., broadly construed.  Ragtime, stride piano, Tin Pan Alley, Jelly Roll Morton, Zez Confrey, Whiteman, even Victor Herbert operettas, would all qualify.  

One reason this is interesting is that there are a number of musical devices that are commonly associated with bebop -- tritone substitution, the "lydian dominant" scale -- but which may appear first in the "symphonic jazz" tradition.  If this were true, it would complicate some standard jazz-history narratives.


Dmitri Tymoczko

Associate Professor of Music

310 Woolworth Center

Princeton, NJ 08544-1007

(609) 258-4255 (ph), (609) 258-6793 (fax)





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