[Smt-talk] Passing and Neighboring 6/4s

Stephen Jablonsky jablonsky at optimum.net
Tue Jan 19 12:00:40 PST 2010

On Jan 19, 2010, at 1:45 PM, Dmitri Tymoczko wrote:

> 4. When thinking about tonal harmony, it's probably worth distinguishing the practices of Bach, Mozart, Brahms, etc.  Things that are reasonably common in Brahms (like I-iii-V) are pretty rare in Mozart.  It's not clear that there is one set of rules that applies to every composer 1700-1900; instead, we have a variety of similar, but not entirely congruent, musical styles.  We could stand to be a little clearer, when teaching students or writing textbooks, which conventions we have in mind.

That's what I was referring to when I mentioned context. There is context within a piece--where exactly does this event occur?[only our beginning theory students put a 6/4 chord on the downbeat of the first measure!], and where in the context of music history (considering the parameters of both time and space) does this event occur? 1788 and 1888 are a long way apart and, if you throw national styles and practices into the mix, they may be even farther apart. My problem with most theory textbooks is that they usually contain huge numbers of fragments of pieces ("Here is how Brahms uses the IV6/4 in measure 137 of his Intermezzo." Who cares? If you have not heard the first 136 measures of the piece this example teaches you almost nothing).
> All of this is making me think that it might be worth writing a harmony textbook that was based on actual data.  The ones we have are basically reliant on the intuitions of the authors.

A wise man once wrote, "No one ever learned theory from a textbook." I forgot who that was (it may have even been me) but I am sure he was suggesting that we look at the music first and then formulate the theories. Sure there is a bid difference between Mozart and Brahms. It is also interesting to see how individual composers change their musical practice over their lifetimes, so what I am suggesting is that we try not to generalize about anything relating to music. Each piece is a world unto itself, and may be viewed as a singular event in the vast space of the history of music. When a prospective student says to me that she would like to study music I always ask, "Which music are you referring to?" There are so many and each has so much to teach us! In any case, labeling is only one small part of analysis and should only be a beginning, not an end.

BTW, I can understand why Mozart would prefer viio6 to V6/4 because, as a passing chord in a weak position, it is a less strident form of the dominant than V itself.

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

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.societymusictheory.org/pipermail/smt-talk-societymusictheory.org/attachments/20100119/ca3e3a93/attachment-0004.htm>

More information about the Smt-talk mailing list