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

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Sun Feb 12 12:28:21 PST 2012

Dear Daniel,

Thank you very much for bringing this issue up. Of course this occurs occasionally, and although we cannot immediately point  out to a specific source we have seen and heard that. Some musicians describe the last IV6/4 as another kind of cadential six-four, which occurs more rarely. Thus they explain that there are two types of cadential six-fours: 1) a six-four which has a tonic structure and dominant bass, and 2) a six-four which has a subdominant structure and a tonic bass. I have been educated in this manner many years ago. Formally this is correct, in the sense that these are incidentally formed chords, but let me tell you how I feel about your specific example.

Since after the arrival of V7, our only expectation is the tonic, anything which would appear instead of the tonic would bring surprise. Thus I feel the arrival of IV6/4 after V7 more as a tonic embellishment than as a separate chord. But this is not necessarily true about the typical cadential six-four; after the arrival of IV or II6 the only expectation is not necessarily V; occasionally I comes in, creating a nice plagal relationship. This is why I do not automatically explain the cadential six-four as a V chord, but as a bi-functional sonority - a conflict between T and D.

Having said all the above, I will not argue against the "plagal feel" in the end of your example, and if a student wants to label it as IV6/4-I, I would gladly accept it. Sometimes thing could be explained in more than one way, and I personally welcome different approaches that bring up the same truth.

I would be curious as of how you would feel about my attachment in my  previous posting.

Best regards,


Dr. Dimitar Ninov, Lecturer
School of Music
Texas State University
601 University Drive
San Marcos, Texas 78666
From: Arthurs, Daniel [Daniel.Arthurs at unt.edu]
Sent: Sunday, February 12, 2012 1:23 PM
To: Ninov, Dimitar N; smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
Subject: RE: Nature and Labeling of the Cadential Six-Four

Dear Dimitar and List,

In light of the recent discussion of six-four chord labeling, I have attached a simple progression with a not-so-simple conclusion: Does the progression represent a perfect authentic cadence, or a plagal cadence?  (It might be preferable at first to ignore my annotations/analysis so as not to sway one's hearing.)

Somehow I'm not completely satisfied with an either/or answer here.  To be sure, this progression doesn't show up very frequently and I apologize for not citing any specific instances in the literature, but I imagine there could be a (small) handful of progressions like this floating around.  Of course, dominant sevenths suspended over a tonic bass at a PAC are abounding (the "delayed tonic resolution").

To my ear the progression represents a PAC (with a clear dominant to tonic root motion) but with a special reference to the plagal.  Something like the Revolutionary etude comes to mind.

One labeling note: I teach the analysis of suspensions by placing them next to roman numerals and enclosing them in parentheses.  I continue this practice in the case of cadential six-fours and pedal six-fours.  This helps in part to separate triadic inversion from intervallic motion above a single bass.  Since this still may not be satisfying to those who prefer the identification of roots as in I6/4 to V, to each his/her own, I say.  When teaching cadential six-fours I summarize the debate and tell students to employ whichever label makes more sense to them.


Daniel J. Arthurs, Ph.D.
Lecturer of Music Theory
Division of MHTE
College of Music, UNT

-----Original Message-----
From: smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org [mailto:smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org] On Behalf Of Ninov, Dimitar N
Sent: Sunday, February 12, 2012 9:45 AM
To: smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
Subject: [Smt-talk] Nature and Labeling of the Cadential Six-Four

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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