[Smt-talk] Addendum on Bach

Olli Väisälä ovaisala at siba.fi
Mon Jan 25 12:02:51 PST 2010

Dear List,

The issue on the apparent contradiction between the I–V–IV–I key scheme 
and the more or less non-syntactic nature of the same chord progression 
may need some clarification.

First of all, this key scheme relates in several different ways with 
design. In binary dance form it is typical that the first section 
modulates from I to V and the second section from V to IV and 
thereafter back to I. Besides IV, other keys (ii and vi especially) 
often appear at this point; hence we can speak more generally of 
I–V–x–I key succession, in which x can be IV, ii, or vi.

When considering harmonic hierarchy, on the other hand, it is important 
to note that the return to I is usually preceded by a strong dominant 
in the original key. In Schenkerian terms, the most common harmonic 
structure for such I–V–IV–I key successions holds the IV as subordinate 
to V, which stretches from the original tonicized V to the de-tonicized 
V7 that prepares for the tonic return. Psychologically speaking, it is 
easy to understand that the tonicized V cannot lead directly back to I, 
but has to be de-tonicized, and an intervening IV offers an especially 
effective way to do this by stressing the 4^ which cancels the #4^. In 
terms of voice-leading, the IV helps to prepare the seventh of the V7.

The picture is, however, more complicated since I–V–IV–I also occurs in 
other circumstances, like in the Prelude in E major from WTC1 and 
Invention in F major. In these cases, the tonicized IV is not 
subordinate to a surrounding V but functions as a genuine IV that leads 
to the eventual cadential V.

There are still other possibilities when x = ii or vi.

If I may advertise another paper by myself, I would note that those 
interested in the relationship between I–V–x–I key succession and 
harmonic structure will find discussion on this topic in my recent 
paper on Bach analysis in The Journal of Schenkerian Studies. (And to 
correct my previous post, my Invention article is not actually in the 
last issue of Spectrum as I said but in the preceding one [spring 

For more general treatment of the relationship between harmonic 
structure and keys, see Schachter's excellent "Analysis by Key." (Music 
Analysis 6/3 [1987], or Unfoldings, 134–160.)

Olli Väisälä
Sibelius Academy
ovaisala at siba.fi
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