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

Ildar Khannanov solfeggio7 at yahoo.com
Tue Jan 19 18:00:44 PST 2010

The question which Dmitri offers for a discussion is theoretical. Categorically speaking, it emphasizes the difference of the understanding of music as based on counterpoint from that which is based upon harmony. The question is formulated very clearly: if we accept the contrapuntal structure as the generative principle and downplay tonal-functional syntax, we will fall into a trap: indeed, prolongation of tonic by means of neighboring or passing contrapuntal sonority cannot be generalized as the law of music, it applies only to local level and does not work for the middleground, let alone foreground. It is local, as all so-called contrapuntal progressions. In fact, this understanding of counterpoint is limited only to the second through the fifth species. Passing and neighboring relation do not represent counterpoint as a category. They are the embellishments of true contrapuntal structure, which is the first specie (in Zarlino’s terms, simple
 counterpoint). The first specie of counterpoint has much more in common with the laws of harmony than with the so-called “voice leading.” 
There has been a time when theorists, armed with Schenkerian revisionist hypothesis, decided to attack teachings of Rameau and Riemann. They thought that counterpoint was older and more reliable than harmony. That was a contrapuntal craze (just like the disco in the 1970s). Now, the discotheque is over and its consequences are quire sad: the skills of teaching harmony and student’s ability to harmonize were lost during the years of voice leading propaganda.  In fact, harmony is older and more fundamental than counterpoint.  Harmony is an ancient Greek concept. Without harmonic fundamental structure counterpoint is just a number of trivial tricks. 
The ii-V6/4-ii progression is unusable because it contradicts the laws of musical syntax. Embellishments and prolongations are not appropriate everywhere. They cannot be taken as the rules of theory. They cannot represent the background structure. Harmony and form can.
Dr. Ildar Khannanov
Professor of Music Theory
Peabody Conservatory 
solfeggio7 at yahoo.com
--- On Mon, 1/18/10, Dmitri Tymoczko <dmitri at princeton.edu> wrote:

From: Dmitri Tymoczko <dmitri at princeton.edu>
Subject: [Smt-talk] Passing and Neighboring 6/4s
To: "smt-talk smt" <smt-talk at societymusictheory.org>
Date: Monday, January 18, 2010, 8:02 PM

Recently I was preparing to teach second-semester harmony, and found myself contemplating once more the idea of "passing" and "neighboring" 6/4 chords..  And it suddenly occurred to me that these terms are potentially misleading.

My basic worry is that, in classical music, "neighboring" and "passing" 6/4s occur only in very specific circumstances (e.g. I->IV6/4->I or IV6->I6/4->ii6), whereas the terms "neighboring" and "passing" suggest more general contrapuntal functions that should in principle appear in a broader range of progressions (e.g. vi->ii6/4->vi or vi->iii6/4->vi6).

In other words, if the IV6/4 is really the byproduct of "neighboring" motion, then we should expect progressions like ii->V6/4->ii.  And conversely, the absence of ii->V6/4->ii should give us good reason to think that IV6/4 is not "simply a neighboring chord."  But then it's hard to understand what's gained by labeling IV6/4 as "neighboring."  Are we really explaining anything, if we have to add the proviso that other neighboring 6/4 chords are almost never used in the style?

This is leading me to wonder whether I wouldn't be better off simply teaching a few specific tonal idioms, and leaving the labels "neighboring" and "passing" out altogether: I could just say that tonal composers often use I->IV6/4->I, V->I6/4->V and IV6->I6/4->ii6, and that would cover ~95% of the cases students encounter.

Does anyone have any thoughts about this?  When you teach "neighboring" and "passing" 6/4 chords, do you teach the specific idioms or general principles?  And if you do the latter, how do you prevent students from overgeneralizing to nonsyntactic progressions like vi->iii6/4->vi6 and so on?  And do you feel any tension between "this is just a neighboring chord" and "these other progressions, though contrapuntally quite similar to the acceptable case, are never used?"


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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