[Smt-talk] Smt-talk Digest, Vol 37, Issue 5

Richard Cohn richard.cohn at yale.edu
Tue Feb 7 19:32:29 PST 2012


I personally hear many non-resolving leading tones as bearing strong 
expectations in the absence of realization. For me, this issue comes 
into strong focus when 19th-century composers begin to take advantage of 
the expressive potential vested in the direct move move major tonics to 
minor mediants. Consider the Brahms Ab-major Waltz, Op. 39 # 15 (perhaps 
the most familiar of these waltzes). On the downbeat of measure 7, in 
the approach to the C-minor cadence one measure later, Brahms sounds a 
C-minor triad in 6/3 position with  G5 on top, the highest pitch in the 
composition so far. (The bass support of  global ^7  by  global ^5 makes 
it feel very much like a global dominant: in Riemannian terms, this 
tonicized C minor is the Dominant-parallel, not the 
Tonic-Leittonwechsel). Brahms then descends scale-wise downward from 
that G5, leaving it hanging. An acute sense of yearning and incompletion 
is central to my experience of this moment.

At the parallel point of the reprise, one measure before the final 
cadence, Brahms ascends one semitone higher, to Ab5. I experience all of 
  the residual tension from the earlier G5 as discharged; an 
extraordinary effect (yet so simple....).

--Rick Cohn
Yale University

> Message: 1
> Date: Tue, 07 Feb 2012 16:57:02 +0100
> From: Nicolas Mee?s<nicolas.meeus at paris-sorbonne.fr>
> To: smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
> Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Uncommon six-four chords
> Message-ID:<4F3149CE.9020906 at paris-sorbonne.fr>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1"; Format="flowed"
> Even although I can understand a desire to consider the harmony without
> the voice leading, I think that the limit is reached when ^7 is dubbed
> "the leading-tone" (and vii? "the leading-tone triad"), while this tone
> does not lead to the tonic. In the case of IV--vii?6/4--IV, it seems
> unavoidable that the voice leading includes ^6--^7--^6. (It might be
> possible to hear ^6--^7--^8, but that probably would be an inadequate
> hearing.)
> This raises the question whether a chord including ^7 can be considered
> a dominant when this tone does not resolve on the tonic -- or, in other
> terms, whether the attraction (and the accompanying tension) exists
> without being resolved, whether tonality involves expectations even in
> the absence of realization. In my opinion, attraction and tension are
> retrospective: one realizes that they existed when resolved (and, in the
> absence of resolution, that they were not there, at least in the
> habitual sense).
> A neighboring 6/4 decorating a subdominant is merely that, in my
> opinion, a neighboring decoration, an effect of voice-leading. Note that
> in m. 11 of "La Paix", the true ^7, the major 3rd of the V chord, does
> not resolve as a leading tone either: the progression is IV -- I -- V --
> ii -- vi, a "reverse" progression, in which tonal functions are suspended.
> Nicolas Mee?s
> Universit? Paris-Sorbonne

More information about the Smt-talk mailing list