[Smt-talk] verbal descriptors of harmony

Paul Setziol setziolpaul at earthlink.net
Wed Mar 3 15:36:15 PST 2010

Dear all,

Ellen Bakulina writes -

>Dear Paul and all,
>Wouldn't there be only three tonal functions (tonic, predominant or subdominant, and dominant) as opposed to seven (tonic, supertonic, mediant, subdominant, etc.) actual chords ("root-names"...)? 

To which, in small part Nicolas Meeus responds -

"This all to say that these terms exist in a variety of contexts and with a variety of implicit or explicit meanings. I agree therefore with Paul's word of caution: to call them "functions" (for which I fully agree) is valid only if "the context has been established to be harmony".

One question, of course, remains open, as raised by Ellen Bakulina : shouldn't there be three functions only? That again is a question of context; but the theory of seven functions inherent in seven differnet "functional" names for the degrees certainly is a historical reality – no less, no more, than Riemann."

In complete agreement with Nicolas and not disagreeing with Ellen, these are not mutually exclusive assertions. By this I mean, for example, if ii is a subset of the Subdominant, it can be observed to have, yes, a subsidiary function yet a function as a discrete portion of the subdominant function. Additionally, if one desires functions in the context of harmony to have a relationship with counterpoint, there has to be a distinction between, again for example, ii and IV.

Best wishes,

Paul Setziol
Musicianship Coordinator
De Anza College
Cupertino, California

setziolpaul at deanza.edu

setziolpaul at earthlink.net

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