[Smt-talk] Nature and Labeling of the Cadential Six-Four

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Sun Feb 12 11:34:48 PST 2012

Dear Nicholas,

I agree with you that it depends on the context. In a typical context, where the cadential six-four is followed by the dominant, we may be able to explain the cadential six-four as a dominant with two foreign tones on top, although this is more of a visual explanation rather than aural; the addition of C and E over the tone G makes our ear detect a chord that structurally coincides with the tonic triad. This structure does not have the intensity of a genuine dominant with suspensions such as V5-4 or V7-4, because no matter how you invert a genuine dominant with suspensions, it remains dissonant in all of its inversions, but when you invert the cadential six-four, it sound perfectly consonant. Therefore, the intensity of the cadential six-four is not caused by a dissonance, but by a by-functional conflict between T and D.
Therefore, there is a discrepancy between the visual labeling of the cadential six-four as a V chord, and the aural result which suggests a chord that coincides with a tonic triad. In addition, the Roman numeral "V" becomes ridiculously misleading when the six-four becomes a point of resolution itself and its structural equality with the tonic is called for. 

How would you label the 9-8 appoggiatura over the tonic, which is harmonized with cadential six-four instead of the tonic? The tone D sounds dissonant to the cadential six-four and resolves into C. Play that to yourself and try to explain why the tone D which is a member of V sounds like a dissonant suspension over what you deem to be a V chord itself? Why does the tone C which is deemed to be a non-chord tone sound like a resolution? 

I can only regret that many students are not even given the chance to inquire into this problem. All they are told is that the cadential six-four is a V chord, and if they dare to think otherwise, they would be penalized. How do we encourage critical thinking if we teach like that? But when these students encounter a six-four chord embellished by non-chord tones itself, they do not know how to explain it and how to label it. Why? Because their teachers do not know how to do that, and they have never discussed that issue before!

Usually Schenkerian analysts avoid discussing the embellishment of the cadential six-four, because if they did not, they would have to recognize it as a structure on its own. But their theory is not flexible enough to afford such a "heresy".

Also, how about this idea: the interval of the fourth, when the bass is not involved is not a dissonance. When the bass is involved, it is a "feigned dissonance", because its inversion is a perfect consonance. Usually, in a three- or four-part harmony, the fourth may be perceived as a dissonance if there is another, real dissonance, present in the chord, such as a second or a seventh or both, as for example in V-5/4 or V7/4. In the I6/4 structure you could never prove that it is a dissonance, especially when you follow with I6.

Best regards,


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

From: Nicolas Meeùs [nicolas.meeus at paris-sorbonne.fr]
Sent: Sunday, February 12, 2012 12:34 PM
To: Ninov, Dimitar N
Cc: smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Nature and Labeling of the Cadential Six-Four

Pierre Boulez, in Penser la musique aujourd'hui, complains about the very principle of figuring which, he writes, remains less precise than the score itself. This misunderstands the essential aim of analytic figuring, which is to simplify the music in order to make it more easily understood. In other words, a figuring cannot give a full account of what is happening, it always is a simplification. And the corollary is that it would be pointless to read a figuring (or a Schenkerian graph, or any such representation) without keeping an eye on the score.
    In the case of the ambiguous 6/4 dominant preparation, the analyst cannot hope to convey the ambivalence with simple figures and, in complex cases, only the score will express the full ambiguity. The figuring chosen depends on what one wants to stress. If you want to stress the "moment of occurrence" on the beat, you may write I6/4; but if you want to draw attention to the overall meaning of the passage, V6-5/4-3 will be better. In any case, the reader would be fool not to consider the score itself, which says all.

Nicolas Meeùs
Université Paris-Sorbonne

Le 12/02/2012 16:44, Ninov, Dimitar N a écrit :

Dear Ciro,

Thank you for the comment. At the moment of occurrence which occupies the beat taken by the cadential alone, you label it as V-6/4. This is what is confusing. But how would you label it when you resolve non-chord tones into it as if it were a tonic? Such moments defy the notion of suspensions or appoggiaturas to V, because what is being introduced is suspensions or appoggiaturas to I, only that the vertical sonority is not I but I6/4. A 9-8 suspension to I, or a 4-3 suspension to I, each of them harmonized by the cadential six-four. What would you say about that?

Best regards,

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