[Smt-talk] Cadence on the wikipedia

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Sun Dec 2 12:21:16 PST 2012

Dear Colleagues,

I wanted to share my surprise with the limited scope and contradictory ideas in the explanation of “cadence” on the wikipedia.org.

I taught this site was supposed to represent a kind of encyclopedia that relied on vast information obtained from well-established worldwide sources. Rather, it turned out to be a copy-paste reference space that has taken most of its information from a few American textbooks and articles, some of whose premises are highly objectionable and contradict others.

1. First, the term “half cadence” is explained as “any cadence ending on V, whether preceded by V of V, ii, IV, or I, or any other chord.” This interpretation is taken from Jonas Oswald’s “Introduction to the Theory of Heinrich Schenker” (1982).  

Allow me to provide my comments of what I think of as a limited and therefore inaccurate definition. A half cadence means a cadence that is not full, that is – a closure that does not finish on the tonic chord. While most typically this is the dominant chord, that is not an exclusive premise. There is also a plagal half cadence as well as a temporary ending on a borrowed chord that may substitute for either S or D.

2. The interpretation of the term “evaded cadence” is even more surprising. It reads: “V4/2 to I6. Because the seventh must fall step wise, it forces the cadence to resolve to the less stable first inversion chord. Usually to achieve this, a root position V changes to a V4/2 right before resolution, thereby "evading" the cadence.” 

This interpretation belongs to Darcy and Hepokoski (2006). Apart from the fact that it clashes with the interpretation of the so-called “inverted IAC” [“similar to a PAC, but one or both chords is inverted”], whose source is not given (perhaps Kostka/Payne), this explanation is one of the strangest things I have ever read in my life. 

The fact that V2 resolves too I6 is neither unexpected (even for a phrase ending), nor represents an evasion of the tonic. When shaping the end of a phrase, it is an imperfect authentic cadence. It could sound melodically perfect if si-do is in the soprano, thus enhancing the cadential impact.

I think that the interpretation of “evaded cadence” must be sought along the line of hinting a key whose tonic does not appear at a cadential moment, and yet the passage does not sound like a typical deceptive cadence or elipsis.

The Plagal Cadence is only explained in a general and incomplete manner. “IV to I, also known as the "Amen Cadence" because of its frequent setting to the text "Amen" in hymns”. 

This interpretation is lacking a reference to the II6-I or II6/5-I relations that create even stronger plagal cadences, not to speak of the nuances: perfect plagal cadence (PPC), imperfect plagal cadence (IPC) and plagal half cadence (simply HC). It is true that in Classical Music the plagal cadence occurs much more rarely than the authentic one, but in the Romantic era and later music it is increasingly emancipated to be overlooked or rejected. 

For example, the only final cadence in the first exposition of the main theme in “Jupiter” by Holst is plagal (II6-I). Popular music is full of final plagal cadences, and one immediate example that comes to my mind is the end of “I am Looking Through You” by the Beatles.

A great example of a plagal half-cadence is the ending of the second phrase in the opening sentence of Beethoven’s piano sonata Op. 10 No. 2 (I), measures 5-8. The phrase ends with a tonicization of IV (V2/IV – IV6) and this relative ending is enhanced by a quarter rest that creates a rhythmic cadence or caesura.

The manner cadence is explained in the wikipedia reveals two interesting features:

A. A general tendency that has been gradually imposed nationally and internationally for the past 50-60 years. At the core of this tendency lies the attempt to establish Schenmkerian concepts as the only official norms in music theory, whose credibility must be so big and mandatory as to occupy all the room in an encyclopeida’s theoretical reference pages and to leave no vacancy. 

B. Mutual negation of concepts with no warning on the part of the publisher (except for the  mentioning that Bill Caplin rejects the plagal cadence as a concept). For example, the notion that a stepwise approach to the tonic in the bass cannot create a cadence virtually erases all the imperfect authentic cadences where one of the chords or both are inverted. In doing that it falls in contradiction with the wikipedia’s interpretations of inverted IAC and a leading tone IAC. 

Consequently, what wikipedia presents to the reader is a mish-mash concept of cadence where one negates the other but most readers do not seem to realize that or do not care. It is fun to read. 

Best regards,

Dimitar Ninov

Dr. Dimitar Ninov, Lecturer
School of Music
Texas State University
601 University Drive
San Marcos, Texas 78666

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