[Smt-talk] BELGIAN +6

Ildar Khannanov solfeggio7 at yahoo.com
Thu Nov 24 06:40:07 PST 2011

Dear Dmitri and the List,
this is a very important detail. Yes, technically, as a technicality, it might seem that there is no difference between the function of Subdominant and the V/V. So many stumble upon this fine distinction (Re-Fa-La-Do or Re-Fa#-La-Do?). Still, the V/V implies a digression (Ausweichung) into the key of V. The Sii7 does not suggest such a digression. We have to be careful separating these two functions. To say that both prepare the dominant is insufficient. The Subdominant is a part of harmonic progression in a given key. The V/V is a sonority which is foreign  to it and not participating in a progression in a given key. It points out to the possibiliy of changing the key. The fact that the actual changing of a key does not happen does not change the function of V/V. 
The so-called German+6 chord, as well as Italian and Frech, most commonly appears in a measure preparing the Perfect Authentic Cadence. That is how the use of the German+6 has begun in Viennese Classical period. All three substitute for regular Subdominant. It would be unreasonable to digress into the key of the Dominant right before the PAC in the main key! Yes, sometimes composers used the V/V there, but it was an exception from the rule. Exceptions cannot override the rules. That is why old textbooks maintain that all three chords with +6 belong to the Subdominant function. They seem to see the context very well. Function is defined not by the pitch of the chord, but by its place in the metric grid. Of course, later in the 19th century the chords were emancipated, but all composers, including Franck, had similar training and the concept of Subdominant instilled from the early age. 
What is even more important is necessity not to confuse functions. When you are saying that the French+6 belongs not to Subdominant function, I assume that it belongs to Dominant function (V/V). This statement is misleading. The V/V belongs to the Dominant function, but not in the main key. Student, after being told that it belongs to Dominant function, will most probably confuse and conflate the two and start looking for the Fr+6 as a substitute for the Dominant.
Ildar Khannanov
Peabody Conservatory
solfeggio7 at yahoo.com

 From: Dmitri Tymoczko <dmitri at princeton.edu>
To: smt smt-talk <smt-talk at societymusictheory.org> 
Sent: Wednesday, November 23, 2011 9:36 AM
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] BELGIAN +6
Ildar notes that 19th-century composers didn't use our standard names for augmented sixth chords, but I don't see this as a problem -- a name is just a name, and we are perfectly free to give whatever names we want to these chords.  Yes, they're cute and colorful, and yes, they have very little to do with the actual countries involved, but as long as everyone understands this, it's not a big problem.  (Besides I like making the joke that the Italian involves just tomato, basil, and mozzarella, the French clearly involves a complex sauce that simmered for hours, and the German is heavier than the Italian, with sausage and dark bread ...)  We have a long way to go before we compete with the physicists on the silly-name front ("quark," which is the sound of a raven, as filtered through Finnegan's Wake).

On Nov 22, 2011, at 8:48 PM, Ildar Khannanov wrote:

> For all the great composers and musicians of the 19th century, the chords with the augmented sixth had very important meaning. They all were the modifications of the simpler chords and, together with them, they belonged to the Subdominant function. 

This is actually not clear to me.  In my book, I suggest that one obvious way of testing this view is by looking at places where augmented sixths substitute for other chords -- for instance, sequences, variation movements, or sonata-form passages where the same music occurs in both major and minor.  In the vast majority of cases, augmented sixths replace applied dominant chords: for example, V/V in a major exposition becomes a German sixth in a minor recapitulation.  There are very, very few cases (in fact, almost none!) where an augmented sixth substitutes for a pure subdominant or predominant function.  My conclusion is that the augmented sixth has the function of a V/V chord -- which means it is a kind of altered dominant.

This view helps explain how the augmented-sixth type chords eventually come to act as primary dominants of I, in the music of Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, etc.  It's a simple matter of taking a chord that used to act as the dominant of the dominant, and allowing it to act as the dominant of the tonic.  By contrast, the view that these chords are subdominants has the unhappy consequence that we need to postulate an entirely new chord, the "flat five dominant" of I, which just happens (coincidentally!) to relate to the "augmented sixth" in a systematic way.  It's much simpler to say they're just the same basic chord.


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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