[Smt-talk] Inception chord progression

Charles J. Smith cjsmith at buffalo.edu
Thu Aug 12 10:34:02 PDT 2010

  With respect to Dmitri's post of 11 August:

> 	2) The G-F# alternation in the melody suggests Gb and B as altered  
> dominants of G, with Eb a deceptive resolution or tonic substitute.   
> As Charles Smith said, Bmaj->Gmin dominant is reasonably common in  
> twentieth-century tonal music. Gb->G is not quite as common, but can  
> be made to work as a dominant.

I wouldn't want to get into an extended argument about which of these  
progressions is "more common", in part because they are not taught in  
harmony classes and cogent labels are not commonly agreed upon for  
them (rendering them much less obviously recognizable than are the  
progressions we CAN put names on). But nonetheless, there is nothing  
at all uncommon about Gb-to-G as a kind of Dominant-to-Tonic, with the  
first chord either a Dominant 7th sonority or a major (or minor!)  
triad. The prototypical example for me is the opening of the 4th  
movement of the Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto, which I cited back in 1986  
("Functional Extravagance"); I have dozens (if not hundreds--I haven't  
counted them lately) of other examples in my files.

> I guess I actually think we could have a long discussion about the  
> methodology of analyzing chromatic tonality -- there are some deep  
> issues here that haven't been discussed that much, and that come up  
> even with respect to a simple passage like this.

This is really the important point, isn't it? Music theory pretty much  
skipped over the late 19th century in its hurry to get to the 20th-- 
ironic given that so much beloved music is written in a language that  
we simply don't talk about much. There are lots of reasons for this  
lacuna, but they all boil down to the fact that this music is  
incredibly hard to make analytical sense of...though that's no reason  
not to try.

BTW, as I listen more to Zimmer's progression, I feel impelled to  
revise my original reaction. I've become convinced that the goal of  
the progression is the initial G minor, and the tonicized B/Cb at the  
end is more like the V at the end of a ground bass pattern over a  
1-7-6-5 bass.

Something like this simple and very common Baroque model--where "T(1)"  
means "Tonic over 1":

G:	T(1) 	-- 	D(7) 	-- 	D/V(6) 	-- 	D(5)

What we have here is, in at least two keys at once--where "ED" means  
"enharmonic-pun Dominant":

G:	T(1)		-- 	ED(b3)	--	DP(b6)	--	ED(3)

B:	ED(b6)	--	D(7)	--	ED(3)	--	T(1)

The bass-line's not as coherent or interesting as in the Baroque  
model, but its root-to-root disjointedness is compensated for by the  
functional multiplicity. Every chord of the progression points to  
(tonicizes) the final Cb/B chord, which sends the whole thing back to  
a Tonic G to start over again. It's the key of G that is highlighted  
by the G-F# upper-voice alternation; it's the key of B that is  
highlighted by the common-tone Bb resolving to B at the end.

Once again, a fabulous (and haunting) example. Thanks!!

Charles Smith


Charles J. Smith
Associate Professor of Music Theory & Chair of the Department
On sabbatical leave, Spring 2010
Department of Music, 220 Baird Hall
University at Buffalo
Buffalo, NY 14260
716-645-0639 [direct line]
716-645-3824 [fax]
cjsmith at buffalo.edu

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