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

Richard Cohn richard.cohn at yale.edu
Wed Feb 8 08:47:33 PST 2012


No argument is involved here; I'm just reporting an aspect of my 
experience of a piece, without demanding that it be an aspect of your 
experience (how could I do so?). If this report helps to frame a 
distinction between modes of hearing, and in so doing helps frame a 
distinction in modes of theorizing (and their impact on modes of 
hearing), that's potentially constructive, and worth exploring.

When I first made this observation about the waltz, I don't think that I 
was "evaluating it from the point of view of [my]  theory of tonality," 
at least in the literal sense that such an evaluation might be imagined. 
That is, I wasn't  using the theory of tonality (in my right hand) as a 
manual that would tell me how to construct a coherent hearing of the 
waltz (in my left hand). Rather, I was aware of  a particular wistful 
sensation when I played that G5 in measure 7, and a particular 
fulfillment at the Ab5 at the end. My "theory of tonality" helped me 
convert those sensations to explicit observations, and encouraged me to 
explore those observations in a particular framework. What your response 
suggests (and I find the possibility fascinating) is that my training 
was in some sense prompting my sensations; that is, had I been trained 
at the Conservatoire de Paris, I never would have found that G5 wistful 
to begin with.

I don't think that my attunement to the relation between G5 in measure 7 
and Ab5 at the final  cadence necessarily involves "distance hearing," 
in the Schenker/Salzer sense. If it were, then the Ab5's that occur in 
the middle section of the waltz would be satisfactory. I think that 
associative hearing is much more at work. My subconscious process 
probably goes something like this: "I've been down this path 
before.....last time this music occured, that high note wasn't quite as 
high or stable as I would have liked it to be....he's going to give me 
that note again and I'll have the same sensation.....ah, he gave me the 
higher, more stable tone this time, what a relief." From this 
perspective, it's not the shear number of measures, or the quantity of 
time passed, that's at issue. What's involved is taking something that 
is presented to me, and comparing it to something in my memory. Such 
comparisons, in music as in life, can happen with short-term and 
long-term memories alike.


Nicolas Meeùs wrote:
> Rick,
> I am afraid we are evaluating these cases from the point of view of 
> our respective theories of tonality. Any argument that we could have 
> would aim at the validity of the theory, more than at the cases 
> themselves. It may therefore not be very wise to go any further...
> I may agree that the C-minor chord in m. 7 of op. 39#15 is 
> Dominant-Parallel; in m. 8, it certainly transformed in 
> Tonic-Leittonwechsel, G remaining the common note until m. 9 (after 
> which it does at last resolve as the leading tone).  I think to hear 
> G5 in m. 7 as a consonant skip above Eb5 and returning to it (probably 
> because I already hear the Fb7 chord of m. 6 as IV in C minor; the 
> downbeat of m. 7 could then be considered as an "inverted" V6/4). At 
> any rate, I fail to hear any tendency of G5 to climb to Ab5. (And my 
> distance hearing is not such that I can imagine tensions in m. 7 
> resolving in the next to last measure, m. 35 in my version of the 
> score: I can read that, but not hear it.)
> Nicolas Meeùs
> Paris-Sorbonne
> Le 8/02/2012 04:32, Richard Cohn a écrit :
>> Nicolas,
>> 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
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