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

Dmitri Tymoczko dmitri at Princeton.EDU
Thu Jan 21 06:38:35 PST 2010

On Jan 21, 2010, at 8:34 AM, Olli Väisälä wrote:

> I spent an hour browsing through 42 Bach chorales and found 15  
> passing 6/4s (with stepwise bass). (Spending time with Bach is never  
> wasted!)
> 8 were between IV6 and II6/5; in two of these instances the II6/5  
> was inflected into V6/5 of V.
> NONE was between IV6 and II6 or between IV6 and IV.
> My sample is small, but it does suggest that Dmitri might have been  
> a bit over-condifent in calling Aldwell and Schachter's statement an  
> "error" on the basis of his Mozart count. At least, the statement  
> would seem to hold good for Bach chorales (and I would guess for  
> Bach in general).

There are two questions here:

	1) Is A&S's statement an error?
	2) Does it hold true for some body of literature?

If I say "horses are taller than elephants" this is an error, even if  
there exists an island where the only elephants are pygmies and the  
only horses are Clydesdales.  Similarly, if I say "ii6/5 is more  
common than ii6" this may be true of some literature (Bach chorales)  
and false of others (Mozart piano sonatas).  As a blanket statement  
it's an error; when properly qualified, it may be true.  "On that  
PARTICULAR island, horses are taller than elephants ..."

It's a general fact that ii6/5 is much more common in Bach chorales  
than in Mozart piano sonatas -- in fact, ii6/5 is actually  
surprisingly rare in the sonatas, occurring less often than IV7!  This  
may be a function of the keyboard texture, but it may be a more  
general feature of Mozart's style.  To test this, we'd need to look at  
some other Mozart literature -- for instance, symphonies.

All of this is a reminder that the style of Bach is different from the  
style of Mozart, which is in turn different from Brahms, etc.  This is  
precisely why I would prefer that we be clearer about the specific  
repertoire we're talking about.  It's very hard to make true  
generalizations about "functionally tonal music in general."  It's  
much easier to talk about Bach, Mozart, etc.

In any case, I applaud Olli's attempt to actually look at the  
literature and do some counting.  We need more of this, not less!

> Note that the above Aldwell & Schachter quote speaks nothing about  
> IV6–I6/4–IV.

But isn't that a problem?  This is the chapter on passing 6/4 chords,  
and IV6->I6/4->IV is a common passing 6/4 configuration.  Why not  
mention it?

> The sample is small, but the variety of different usages suggests  
> that the category of passing 6/4s has much more applicability than  
> just for a couple of stock progressions.

I believe this about Bach.  In general, Bach's harmonic pallette is  
richer than Mozart's -- he uses progressions like ii->vi and vi->iii  
much more frequently than Mozart does.  This is why some theorists --  
for instance Gauldin, in his counterpoint text -- argue that Bach is  
not a functionally tonal composer at all!  To me, that's going too  
far, but it's a reminder that the harmonic grammar you get from the  
Bach chorales is much, much more complicated than what you get from  
Mozart or even Beethoven.


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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