[Smt-talk] Neighboring 6/4 chords

Devin Chaloux devin.chaloux at gmail.com
Mon Oct 3 13:22:18 PDT 2011

Dear colleagues,

Are we limiting this search just to "neighboring" 6/4 chords based around
the tonic? If you're interested in a "neighboring" 6/4 chord not extending
the tonic, there is a fine example in MacDowell's Piano Sonata #1 with a
vi-halfdim 6/5 --> V6/4 --> vi-halfdim 6/5. If you'd like to see yourself,
use this IMSLP score:
Page 10, last three measures of the third system. And if you're interested,
there is a Youtube video of this movement with score:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wY57mp3wPmQ. The moment discussed happens at
6:19. (This is one of the rare few recordings of this sonata, which in my
opinion deserves to be performed more.)

There are few strange things about this example specifically. First, the use
of the half-diminished submediant seventh chord, which has three common
tones with a tonic chord. In my opinion, however, this passage prolongs a
predominant, an intensified one at that, heading into a half cadence, which
essentially ends P. From my experience, the half-diminished submediant
seventh chord is rarely discussed. All the times I've seen it, it's been
used in a minor piece with a raised scale-degree 6, usually either leading
directly into a dominant chord or a more intensified predominant, such as
the augmented-sixth chords. I've seen at least one presentation on this
chord and its peculiarities but if anyone is interested in finding out more,
the piano sonatas by MacDowell use this chord more than I've ever seen it in
the rest of literature (the end of the development of Brahms op. 79/2 also
comes to mind.) If anyone wants to enlighten me on more literature about
this chord, I'd gladly love to hear it because I think it is particularly

Second, this 6/4 is a passing chord in the expositional statement of this
passage. Is this merely a mistake by MacDowell? Or with his varied harmonic
structure of the recapitulation motivating this change to a "neighboring"
6/4 chord?

I wouldn't be surprised if MacDowell had a few more examples of this in his
music. He uses some incredibly strange voicings, especially for piano music,
which has quite a dramatic effect. (See the fourth movement of the score I
posted here just to get an example). I wouldn't be surprised if we saw this
in more music of the mid- to late-Romantic era especially in "nationalist"
composers, who, although they may have  been trained in Europe (particularly
Germany), may have sought to find their own voice. I think this is clear in
Grieg's use of the soprano line 1-7-5 (Do-Ti-Sol) very often in his music,
especially his Piano Concerto.

Nevertheless, the concept of "neighboring" 6/4 is strange. I usually hate
the reasoning of "it just doesn't happen" when teaching, because usually
shortly thereafter I find an exception. Hopefully there can be some reliable
reason so I don't have to resort to "it just doesn't happen" in the future.
This sounds like it would be a fascinating issue for a paper sometime.


*Devin Chaloux*
University of Cincinnati - College-Conservatory of Music
M.M. in Music Theory '12
University of Connecticut
B.M. in Music Theory '10
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