[Smt-talk] Abbreviated Labels of Seventh Chords

Donna Doyle donnadoyle at att.net
Sat Feb 11 07:32:51 PST 2012

As a former Boulanger student, overloaded these days with teaching, I  
nevertheless make stabs at completing my dissertation
on Boulanger's methods and their tradition. All the materials I have  
that are associated with her (incl basses and figures I copied from  
her sheets and my realizations approved by her), show the  
Conservatoire's figured bass tradition, e. g., 4+, without the 2,
for V4/2. I believe this notation comes not only from Catel, as you  
point out, Nicholas, but from CPE.  As Phil Duker offered,
CPE lists several figures for this disposition (p 252). Indeed, on p  
260 CPE reminds readers that 4+ is an abbreviated 6/4/2.

NB also used 7 over + for V7, 6 over barred 5 for 6/5 and only +6 for  
4/3. The leading-tone chord was considered a
"dominant FO" (fundamental omitted). She used few romans. Voice- 
leading was paramount. She insisted on
realizations written in open score, C clefs, and played for her. (And  
the performance had better be musical or she
would jump in her chair. ["But, my dear!  Zhe poor tenor!"]) She  
delighted in various realizations, especially those
employing imitation and little canons between the voices--techniques  
of her oral tradition. And, of course,
this was done in conjunction with intense ear training, enabling us to  
see what we hear and hear what we see.

For Boulanger, as with CPE, bass realization was an aspect of  
Accompaniment. It seems to me that our insistence on elegantly
logical numbering systems is defying the rich, sometimes messy nature  
of this once vibrant practice. Apart from Schenkerian analysis,  
figured bass is a chord-labeling shadow of its former self.  Let's  
restore its life! (Perhaps not for undergraduates,
but in graduate curricula, for composers, theorists, organists, maybe  
also pianists and conductors.) As NB said, "It's not
that you're going to write in this style. But after working with it,  
you'll have earned the right to be free." Isn't this what composers/ 
theorists/performers used to do? I find it remarkable that NB, despite  
being called "French provincial,"
continued to transmit this tradition into the 1970s.

Donna Doyle
Queens College CUNY

On Feb 9, 2012, at 3:40 AM, Nicolas Meeùs wrote:

> The French tradition, that of the Paris Conservatoire, is to write  
> +4 in this case, the + meaning that the 4 is the leading tone  
> (similarly, one would write +6 in second inversion). This tradition,  
> which is not mine and against which I am trying to fight in Paris,  
> has several drawbacks, one of them being that the French use labels  
> that hardly anyone else understands.
>     I wondered about the origin of this figuring, without performing  
> a thorough research. It certainly goes back to Catel's treatise, and  
> perhaps earlier. The + sign is in origin merely a stylized #. Catel  
> makes use of it (and of the barred 5) with the specific (although  
> unstated) intention of specially labeling dominant seventh chords,  
> the ones that he considers "natural", all positions of which always  
> have either a + or a barred 5 (from fundamental position to third  
> inversion: +3; 6/5barred; +6, +4; this is tricky, because 4/3  
> becomes +6, 2 or 4/2 becomes +4). Applied dominants are labeled in  
> the same way, with the other perverse effect that French students  
> see modulations everywhere (as the French did since François Campion  
> in 1716: tout diese extraordinaire fait sortir du ton, "any  
> accidental sharp leads outside the tonality").
>     Labeling third-inversion dominants as V4/2 may result from an  
> attempt to reconcile the two systems. In this respect, I'd be  
> pleased to know how Nadia Boulanger labeled chords, if anyone on  
> this list knows (it has been discussed here some time ago that her  
> teaching of harmony followed the tradition of the Conservatoire, but  
> her ciphering was not specifically discussed, that I remember).
> My own view about the labeling of seventh chords is that it should  
> indicate the dissonant interval: (8)/7, 6/5, 4/3, 2/(0), the 8 and 0  
> being omitted as redundant with the written bass, of course; this is  
> what Dimitar describes, with a slightly different explanation. The  
> main difference with the French system is that it does not  
> specifically indicate dominant sevenths, which may be viewed (by the  
> French) as a shortcoming, or (by the others) as an advantage.
> Nicolas Meeùs
> Université Paris-Sorbonne
> Le 9/02/2012 04:50, Ninov, Dimitar N a écrit :
>> 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
>> _______________________________________________
>> Smt-talk mailing list
>> Smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
>> http://lists.societymusictheory.org/listinfo.cgi/smt-talk-societymusictheory.org
> _______________________________________________
> Smt-talk mailing list
> Smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
> http://lists.societymusictheory.org/listinfo.cgi/smt-talk-societymusictheory.org

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.societymusictheory.org/pipermail/smt-talk-societymusictheory.org/attachments/20120211/e287b911/attachment-0004.htm>

More information about the Smt-talk mailing list