[Smt-talk] Abbreviated Labels of Seventh Chords

Philip Duker pduker at udel.edu
Thu Feb 9 10:00:45 PST 2012

As a historical note, you can find examples of both (i.e. "4/2" or just
"2") in continuo parts, and composers were not consistent in their use.  In
the first line of Purcell's "Stript of their Green" you'll find "4/2" in m.
2 followed by just "2" in m. 4, both times to indicate a "6/4/2" chord.
Here's a link to the score if you're interested (scroll down to the bottom
for the score published in the first edition of *Orpheus Brittanicus*):


Also, in CPE Bach's *Versuch* you find him classifying these as "The Chord
of the Second," (pg. 252 in the Mitchell translation) and he says that it
can be figured a number of ways including "2" or 4/2" but also just "4+" or
"4 [natural sign]."  While many modern editions tend to standardize
figures, continuo players "back in the day" read things that were a little
more chaotic (not to mention dealing with visual alignment issues as the
Purcell score shows).

Pedagogically I think it makes sense to point out both practices in case
they would encounter such music, even if you want to require the students
to write things in a particular way in your classes.




Philip Duker
Assistant Professor of Music
University of Delaware

On Thu, Feb 9, 2012 at 10:33 AM, Michael Luxner
<mluxner at mail.millikin.edu>wrote:

>  That is indeed elegant, and dovetails nicely with the point I make to
> students: that in all positions (7; 6/5; 4/3; 2) the symbol's only
> essential purpose is to show the dissonance in relation to the bass.
> Incidentally, we use the Kostka-Payne text, which presents the
> third-inversion symbol as "4/2," but occasionally uses just "2" in later
> chapters, without comment.
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> >>> Stephen Jablonsky <jablonsky at optimum.net> 2/9/2012 7:18 AM >>>
> Dimitar,
> I've been using 2 instead of 4/2 for decades because it is so easy to
> teach your students that the abbreviated figured bass numbers descend from
> 7 to 2: 7 - 6/5 - 4/3 - 2. It is simple and beautiful and seems to possess
> some universal truth about it.
>  On Feb 8, 2012, at 10:50 PM, Ninov, Dimitar N wrote:
>  Dear Colleagues,
> My students were asking me why I wrote V2 instead of V4/2. I guess I had
> to ask them why they wrote V4/2 instead of V2. This is not a big deal, of
> course, but I wanted to bring to your attention the fact that number 4 is
> irrelevant to the logic of derivation of the abbreviated labels of seventh
> chords.
> The abbreviated labels are derived by two intervals: 1) the interval
> between the bass and the root on the one hand, and 2) the interval between
> the bass and the seventh on the other. Thus in root position the only
> number is 7, because the interval between the bass and the root is unison;
> in first inversion we have 6-5; in second inversion 4-3, and in third
> inversion the only number is 2, because the interval between the bass and
> the seventh is unison.
> Why 4? It shows the interval between the bass and the third of the seventh
> chord, which does not have to be shown unless we work in minor and use only
> figured bass with no Roman numerals.
> When I flip through the pages of some European and older American books of
> harmony (as well as some relatively new) the above explanation is provided.
> Author such as Piston, Tischler, Schoenberg, Horvitt, Cook, and all Russian
> theorists use 2 instead of 4/2, but the massive tendency in the US is to
> write 4-2. Is this tradition based on ignoring the logic of derivation, or
> is there something special that stands behind this label?
> I would appreciate any ideas in this regard.
> Best wishes,
> Dimitar
> Dr. Dimitar Ninov, Lecturer
> School of Music
> Texas State University
> 601 University Drive
> San Marcos, Texas 78666
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> The City College of New York
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