[Smt-talk] More "Neighboring" 6/4

Matt Bribitzer-Stull mpbs at umn.edu
Tue Oct 4 14:06:04 PDT 2011

Dear Colleagues:

I'm heartened to see the volume of dialogue my brief query has initiated. I
must say, however, I'm not sure I've found among the many worthy musings a
convincing answer to my original question. Perhaps there isn't one. At the
risk of repeating myself, let me rephrase the question and append some
relevant commentary from three of the responses to the SMT list below.

Given that ^1-^2-^1 bass paradigms that expand tonic seem to be considerably
rarer than either passing ^1-^2-^3 bass lines prolonging tonic or than
^1-^7-^1 and ^3-^4-^3 bass neighbor motions prolonging tonic for reasons
many on this list have hypothesized, is it true that when ^1-^2-^1 bass
lines prolonging tonic do occur, unaccented 6/4 chords above ^2 in the bass
are rarer than other harmonizations of the same figure (say, with V 4/3 or
vii65 chords), or is ^1-^2-^1 just such a rara avis that it almost never
occurs as a tonic prolongation figure in common-practice music regardless of
how it is harmonized? In either case, why? Is mode a factor?

Let me also say that the scare quotes around "Neighboring" in my original
post title were intentional. I was taught that unaccented 6/4 chord labels,
like sequence labels, followed no consistent logic. They were named for a
variety of functions, sometimes describing the upper voices, sometimes the
bass, sometimes either. More specifically, a "neighboring" 6/4 was an
unaccented, tonic-prolonging sonority in which the upper voices moved 5/3 -
6/4 - 5/3. More recently, textbooks have been naming unaccented 6/4 chords
consistently by the bass motion, calling what I have described above a
"pedal" 6/4. Using this nomenclature, is there such a thing as a
"neighboring" 6/4 in which a harmonized upper neighbor in the bass line
serves to prolong a given sonority? (A related—one might say
"inverted"—question is do unaccented passing tones in the soprano harmonized
by 6/4 chords appear with any regularity as prolongational devices in
common-practice music?) Does anyone have a database that could begin to
answer such questions?

Thanks to the three scholars below for their understanding and augmentation
of my initial query:

Olli Väisälä:

What is written above does not help much to explain the original question in
this thread. Why does I–V6/4–I occur so rarely, even though the progression
would seem correct in both harmonic and contrapuntal terms? The previous
mails contain several valuable points, the multitude of which helps to
remind us that for questions about compositional practice we should not
expect to find simple explanations, based on a single factor alone, since
successful compositional solutions usually combine several desirable
features. For what it's worth, however, here is a summary of the factors
that I find most crucial in this case: First, passing motion is a more
effective and fundamental way of dissonance treatment than neighboring
motion; therefore I–V6/4–I6 arises more readily than I–V6/4–I. Second, for a
bass line ^1–^2–^1 there is a very effective harmonization in I–V4/3–I (or
I–VII6–I) involving parallel tenths; hence no need to use a neighboring V6/4
easily arises. Third, neighboring chords involving only upper-voice motions
are much less weighty in character than those involving the bass; therefore
I–IV6/4–I arises more readily than I–V6/4–I.

Ed Klorman:
Of course, none of this answers Matt's original query regarding why a
second-inversion dominant appears commonly as a passing chord but rarely as
an upper neighbor to I (with bass ^1-^2-^1) or, for that matter, as a lower
neighbor to I6 (with bass ^3-^2-^3). My best instinct, which is not at all
rigorous, would appeal to a the Gestalt principle of "good continuation" and
to an idea of musical momentum or inertia. That is, a bass motion of ^1 to
^2 would most naturally continue on to ^3 (as in the passing progression I
 V 6/4  I6). In contrast, in a neighbor progression such as I V 6/5 I, the
bass goes from ^1 to ^7, but the strong pull from leading tone up to tonic
forces the bass to change direction; the tendency-tone principle presents
the bass from continuing downward. The same principle explains I6 V 4/2 I6
(with bass of ^3 ^4 ^3, where ^4 is pulled back to ^3 because it is a
tendency tone).

Scott Murphy:
For those with corpora at their beck and call, here's one test suggested to
me by Edward's cogent reply that might tease things out: compare minor to
major. Regardless of what immediately follows the progression (i.e. putting
the distinctions between passing and neighbor aside) or other details as
listed above, does "tonic in 5/3 followed by major dominant in 6/4" with a
non-modulatory continuation appear in minor (e.g. the Beethoven example)
significantly more often than it does in major? If so, why, and could the
answer be related to an answer to Matt's original query?




Matthew Bribitzer-Stull
Associate Professor of Music Theory
University of Minnesota School of Music

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