[Smt-talk] BELGIAN +6

Nicolas Meeùs nicolas.meeus at paris-sorbonne.fr
Fri Nov 25 00:50:50 PST 2011

> France, as I know, not only does not make an exception from this, but 
> is and has always been on the forefront of this. Fetis defines 
> Sous-Dominante, Dominante and Tonique quite clearly in his treatise La 
> musique mise a porte de tout le monde.... (see the appendix). He uses 
> the word Sous-Dominante and defines it in the same fashion (as a 
> certain scale step) as Tonique and Dominante.
I do not have the appendix here, but unless I am mistaken Fetis does not 
use the word in the main text, nor in his Treatise of harmony, which is 
somewhat later.
> As for the role and importance of Subdominant, you should look not 
> into the writings of Fetis, but through the textbooks for the 
> Conservatoire. Charles-Simon Catel will be a good source.
Fétis' Treatise is not really a textbook, but it does belong to the 
Conservatoire tradition, of which Fétis himself was one of the most 
enraged supporters. Catel has little to say about the subdominant. He 
mentions it three times:
1) As one degree on which a perfect major triad can be placed 
(subdominant, in this case, merely is the name of the degree);
2) In the case of the plagal cadence (with the 5th or the 6th chord 
above the subdominant, he says: again, subdominant is the name of the 
3) As a possible goal for modulation ("la quinte en dessous").
> The atmosphere at the Sorbonne and Universite de Paris 4 is somewhat 
> different from that of the Conservatoire. I am sure that your attempt 
> to throw away the Subdominant will be perceived  by Conservatoire 
> professors as an insinuation.
> I also wonder, what would Serge Gut say about this discussion? Ivanka 
> Stoinova?
I do not see what the university Paris-Sorbonne has to do in a 
discussion of 19th-century practice. I am perfectly aware of what a 
subdominant function is in various theories (mainly in Rameau and in 
Riemann -- also in Schenker ;-)) and I certainly do not "attempt to 
throw it away". But this has nothing to do in the present discussion. 
(Serge Gut is a careful reader of Riemann; so am I, as I was educated in 
a more Germanic tradition; of Ivanka Stoianova I know very little. But 
once again, this is not the discussion.)
     What strikes me is that 19th-century French theorists do not seem 
really aware of a subdominant function: this may be one of their main 
rejections of Rameau's theory. I was therefore puzzled by your statement 
that Franck had had training at the concept of subdominant. You may be 
more knowledgeable about this and my question was not meant to be 
> And the main question: do the French theorists use the term French +6 
> chord remains unanswered.
Well, the way you ask the question is somewhat ambiguous:
-- the French, today, do mention the French augmented sixth, if that is 
your question, as well as the German and Italian ones, not to mention 
the Swiss one. Opinions about the national definitions are as diverse in 
France as anywhere.
-- but they would never describe it as "+6", especially in the 
Conservatoire, because since Catel (and perhaps earlier) +6 means a 6th 
chord of which the 6th is the leading tone -- say, D F B in C major.


Nicolas Meeùs
Université Paris-Sorbonne

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