[Smt-talk] PD versus DD and modifications

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Sat Feb 25 08:50:19 PST 2012

Dear Colleagues,

The term PD may be more applicable to the dominants of the dominant, because they point to V, resolve into it, and depend on it. In this sense we could even talk about a “dominant paradigm” (about which I said it was non-existing, meaning a diatonic setting) because the dominant refers to those chords as a local tonic.

But musicians have already been using the label DD which explains the true meaning of these chords: dominants of the dominant. 

It is interesting that the Russian theorist Berkov calls the DD chords “excellent subdominants”. Perhaps he means that in most cases a tonicization of V does not make it sound like a local tonic (unless a period is modulating into V or V is tonicized as a local tonic via the extended  II-V-I formula, or some other prolonged tonicization is taking place) and we do not acquire any sense of modulation.

When the DD chords resolve directly into the tonic, many of us consider them as altered subdominants which do not resolve deceptively into T, but regularly. I admit that there is a problem in considering a chord which contains the raised 4th scale degree as a subdominant. This problem consists in the fact that the diatonic 4th scale degree which creates the plagal relationship to the tonic is gone. Some may say this is the Achilles’ heel of that concept. My personal answer to this challenge is that the plagal relationship to the tonic is not destroyed; it is only chromatically modified, converting the “harmonic instability” of the diatonic subdominants into a “melodic, stepwise-type” instability, similar to the instability of VIIo7, for instance, whose tones resolve stepwise into T.

If we look at the grand picture of the extended cadential progression T-S-D-T, the chromatic alterations and substitutions in the S area and in the D area do not violate the fundamental meaning of this formula. For example, it may become T-DD-D-T or even T-bVI-III-T (tonic, flat six, major three, tonic, pertinent to XX century music and found in Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet)

A wonderful example of an expanded plagal resolution is one of the main motives in Liszt’s symphonic work “Les preludes” which is harmonized with bVI-IV-I. This formula “violates” the usual order of scale degrees from unaltered to altered (6 to b6) but it is not the only one; even in classical music we observe iv-#ivdim.7-cad.6/4 (some label the chord in the middle viio7 of V, but I consider it an altered subdominant which resolves into a tonic structure; a common tone diminished seventh chord in minor). Here too, b6 becomes natural 6. Also a process of “de-alteration” is present in I6 - #iidim.7 - ii7 – I and other progressions involving an altered S connected to a diatonic S.


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

More information about the Smt-talk mailing list