[Smt-talk] Augmented 6th chords

Paula Telesco ptels at mac.com
Thu Nov 24 17:02:58 PST 2011

Hi All,

Regarding Calcott's labeling these chords as Italian, German and French: In his initial mention of the Italian 6th chord (p. 152), he says, "When, upon the first inversion of the mixed cadence [IV-V, or iv-V], the sixth of the submediant (or fourth of the scale) is accidentally sharped, the chord of the extreme sharp sixth is formed. This harmony, when accompanied simply by the third, has been termed the Italian sixth." 

This certainly suggests that the term was already in use, and Calcott himself did not coin the term. 

He continues: "By this alteration of the fourth the species of cadence is changed from the first inversion of the mixed to the second inversion of the perfect, and it is considered as a license because the root bears a flat fifth, while at the same time the third continues major. The radical bass, therefore, of the extreme sharp sixth, is the supertonic of the key; and its fifth is allowed to be defective, that the original minor mode may not be totally destroyed."

He follows this with his discussion of the French sixth: "When to the simple combination of the Italian sixth the root itself is annexed, a chord of the third, fourth and sixth is formed; and, as this harmony is only found in the theory of Rameau, it may be properly termed the French sixth."

So perhaps he did coin the term French sixth.

He follows this by saying: "A harmony still more remote, but extremely powerful is formed upon this chord, by inserting the added ninth on the root, as a supposed dominant to the real one. This occurs with great effect in the writings of Graun, etc., and therefore may be called the German sixth."

Again, maybe he did first use the term German.

It is to this last sentence that he adds the footnote: "See the example in Shield. The music of France, Italy, and Germany, cannot be illustrated in a smaller compass than by the use of these three chords. The feebleness of the French sixth compared with the elegance of the Italian and the strength of the German, leaves no doubt of their superior excellence. The admirable genius of Graun knew when to employ Italian sweetness, and when to change it for German force."

Happy Thanksgiving to all!


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