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

ericlwen at aol.com ericlwen at aol.com
Wed Feb 8 16:49:34 PST 2012

Dear SMT list,

I'd like to add one further perspective to this mini-discussion of the Brahms A-flat Waltz.

Nicolas is correct when he interprets the I 6/3 chord on the downbeat of bar 7 as an "inverted cadential 6/4." I 6/3 chords often replace cadential 6/4 chords for various voice-leading reasons. Bill Rothstein discusses this extensively in his article "Transformations of CadentiaI Formulae in the Music of Corelli and His Successors" (from Essays from the Third International Schenker Symposium), and dubs this procedure as "the Schrock cadence."

In the A-flat Waltz, if Brahms had written a cadential 6/4 at the beginning of bar 7, there would have been parallel octaves, F-G, in both the bass and top voice. In terms of the harmonic progression, Nicolas is therefore correct in interpreting the F minor harmony in bars 5-6 as a IV leading to V in bar 7 (with the 6/3 representing a cadential 6/4) that cadences in C minor. But I believe there is a more subtle reason for Brahms's employing a I6 at the beginning of bar 7.

In the Brahms Waltz, bars 1-4 elaborate the tonic A-flat major with C in the top voice decorated in bar 3 by an upper neighbor D-flat that is expanded by a motion down a third to B-flat before returning back to C in bar 4. The D-flat is itself decorated by a upper neighbor grace-note figure.

In bars 5-6, an F-minor chord appears with F as its top voice. In bar 7 this F is decorated by an upper neighbor G that descends to D-natural before resolving to E-flat over the C minor (III) chord in bar 8. Ultimately, the F in the top voice is expanded by a motion down a third to D-natural before resolving to the E-flat, and its decoration by the upper neighbor G in bar 7 parallels exactly the D-flat in bar 3 with its grace-note decoration E-flat. The motivic parallelism of D-flat (with its E-flat – D-flat grace note upper-neighbor figure) – C – B-flat leading to C in bars 3-4 is thus echoed by F (with its upper neighbor decoration G – F) – E-flat – D-natural leading to E-flat over bars 5-8. 

But Rick also has a valid point in hearing the top voice G in bar 7 as evoking the sound of a leading tone, which finds its fulfillment in the parallel place of the A2 part (bar 21). The G is clearly not a leading tone in bar 7, but there is something about the sonority of the III chord which supports 7 that evokes a "sense of yearning and incompletion." In fact, III is often used as a substitute for I6 precisely with this replacement of scale degree 7 for scale degree 1, and this 7 will often continue on to 1 in a subsequent harmony. The Aldwell-Schachter Harmony book explains this very well in its discussion of the III chord in major, and gives a lovely example from the beginning of Bach's Chorale 365. In this example the inner voice G-sharp is clearly a lower neighbor decoration of what would usually be a sustained A in the opening expansion I – IV6 – I6 of the tonic, but the substitution of G-sharp (7) for A (1) adds a poignant quality to the progression.

Bach, incidentally, had a special fondness for using III as a substitute for I6. Two examples:
1) bar 5 in the Sarabande from the French Suite 6 in E, where III, instead of I6, follows a V4/2
2) bar 59 of the Fugue in G minor from Book 2 of the Well-Tempered Clavier, where in the tonicization of E-flat major, a G-minor chord (III in E-flat) substitutes for a I6

In both cases the leading tone 7 leads up to 1 in the subsequent chord.

Despite our different perspectives as theorists, I think our conflicting points of view are often more reconcilable than we like to think, and can add multifaceted meanings to the wonderful music we experience. I thank both Nicolas and Rick to have added something to our understanding of this passage from the Brahms A-flat Waltz. 

Eric Wen
Mannes College of Music

-----Original Message-----
From: Nicolas Meeùs <nicolas.meeus at paris-sorbonne.fr>
To: Richard Cohn <richard.cohn at yale.edu>
Cc: smt-talk <smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org>
Sent: Wed, Feb 8, 2012 11:54 am
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Smt-talk Digest, Vol 37, Issue 5

      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
    Le 8/02/2012 04:32, Richard Cohn a écrit :    
      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        
        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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