[Smt-talk] Inception chord progression

Dmitri Tymoczko dmitri at princeton.edu
Thu Aug 12 05:17:07 PDT 2010

On Aug 11, 2010, at 10:53 AM, Darryl White wrote:

> This little chord series does pose some interesting issues for
> analysis.  I do think hexatonicism is involved.

I guess I would say that the question is whether we can give objective  
evidence for the presence or absence of hexatonicism.  What can we say  
to bridge the gap between people whose intuitions differ from ours?

I think there are a few reasons to be generally skeptical about the  
role of the hexatonic scale in 19th-century chromaticism:

	1) The scale almost never appears as a melodic entity.
	2) The scale almost never appears as a macroharmony -- that is, it  
almost never accounts for all and only the notes in a reasonably long  
stretch of music.
	3) There's almost no discussion of it in 19th-century theoretical or  
compositional sources.  (Unlike, say, the octatonic or harmonic major.)
	4) We have good reason to think that the scale will be automatically  
generated as the result of certain kinds of voice leading procedures.

To me, these four claims provide good reason to be dubious about the  
presence of hexatonicism in any given passage -- consequently, I would  
say that we need some compelling reason, lodged in some specific  
feature of the music in question, to motivate the claim that the scale  
is present.  (This line of argument, BTW, goes back to my earliest  
papers, such as "Stravinsky and the Octatonic.")

In the Inception progression, the specific analytical question is  
whether we draw a sharp distinction between the (nonhexatonic) Gmin- 
 >Gb major voice leading, and the (seemingly very similar) Ebmaj->Bmaj  
voice leading.  (Treating the Bmajor for the moment as a triad, rather  
than a seventh.) Both of these move two notes by one semitone and, for  
all reasonable measures of voice leading size, are the same size.  So  
if we emphasize voice leading, we'll see these two progressions as  
being very similar, whereas if we emphasize hexatonicism, they'll seem  
very different.

Note also that from a strict NR-perspective, Gmin->Gb major involves  
*three* voice leading moves (L-then-P-then-R), and thus is even less  
similar to Ebmaj->Bmaj (P-then-L).


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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