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

Richard Porterfield porterfr at hotmail.com
Tue Jan 19 14:58:13 PST 2010

Hi Dmitri, 

Citing your study of Mozart piano sonatas you write: 

Music professors and textbook authors have strong, but not 
> necessarily reliable intuitions about what happens in tonal music. 
> For instance, Aldwell and Schachter write: "Of the various types of 
> passing 6/4's the most important is V6/4 connecting I and I6." This 
> is false, at least if "important" is taken to mean "common" and if 
> Mozart's Piano Sonatas are taken as representative. To me it's a bit 
> embarrassing that one of the leading textbooks can be so flatly wrong 
> about such a basic matter.


It seems early to conclude from a study of one composer that Aldwell & Schachter are "flatly wrong" about the passing 6/4 expanding I being "more important" than the passing 6/4 expanding IV in tonal music generally. Certainly you're on to something about Mozart and perhaps even about the entire 18th century, but so far you've examined the issue (however admirably) in only one historical layer. As you say yourself, "when thinking about tonal harmony, it's probably worth distinguishing the practices of Bach, Mozart, Brahms, etc."  

As a model for that I recommend the Manuel pratique pour l'approche des styles, de Bach à Ravel (Paris: Billaudot, 1979) by Yvonne Desportes and Alain Bernaud, professors at the Paris Conservatory. It would be nice to have something like that in English also, but its purpose is quite different from Aldwell & Schachter's harmony text. 

Note also that Aldwell & Schachter say -- just two paragraphs after the text you quote -- that "a passing 6/4 between IV6 and II6/5 (less often II6) is very frequent" (emphasis in original) and give an example from a Bach chorale.  

For A&S, then, "frequency" may not necessarily mean "importance" as it would in a statistical study. 


Also you write: 

If you want to imitate Mozart, stay away from I->V6/4->I6; use I- V4/3->I6 (which appears 110+ times) or I->viio6->I6 (40 times) instead. 

Indeed, as the A&S text implies by introducing passing VII6 (your viio6) in Unit 7, passing 6/4 in Unit 19. Your statistics provide a strong confirming example in regard to Mozart. Perhaps we should say though, "if you want to write in an 18th-century style," so as not to imply something particularly Mozartean here. I speak not from intuition but from my familiarity with the repertoire, which pales before that which Ed Aldwell and Carl Schachter brought to their Harmony and Voice Leading.      

Richard Porterfield

Instructor, Mannes College of Music

Ph.D. Candidate in Music Theory, CUNY GC

Co-founder, Lionheart

porterfr at hotmail.edu 

Hotmail: Free, trusted and rich email service.
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