[Smt-talk] Abbreviated Labels of Seventh Chords

Jill T. Brasky jill.t.brasky at gmail.com
Sun Feb 12 19:08:44 PST 2012

Dear Ildar, Schenkerians, Riemannians, etc.

The defense of Schenkerian analysis  and its customs (and thus Stufentheorie!) is a longstanding tradition, but I'm not sure I understand why a vigorous defense is problematic—especially when the alternatives to Schenker are equally problematic in their own ways. As Robert Wason notes, the Stufentheorie tradition is the history of American pedagogy and theory (see Wason 1985, p. ix). It is clear in many of the textbooks we use in our classrooms, old or new, overtly Schenkerian or not. 

All best, 

Assistant Professor of Music Theory
University of South Florida

On 12 Feb 2012, at 20:33, Ildar Khannanov wrote:

> Dear List,
> I am puzzled by this vehement defense of Schenker, "figured bass" and “counterpoint” against the theory of harmonic functions. Is there something important at stake?
> The arguments like “point-by-point’ chord definitions" are quite old. They remind me another one, “the gloves do not fit.” Yes, the theory of tonal-harmonic functions implies that chords in a harmonic progression must have functions and they have to be heard. I just do not understand why it is necessary to disregard them, or even throw them away in order to understand musical meaning of the progression. Do you normally throw away the words from the sentence in order to understand it? So, if I say: “I do not like potato salad” you need to reduce it to “I like the potato salad,” or “I like the potato,”  or, even,  “I am the potato?” How do you know, which notes to eliminate, beside the claim that there is a mysterious Urlinie—a claim, which is impossible to substantiate?
> Concerning the theory of harmonic functions and the French tradition, I find it fascinating how Schenkerians, obsessed with revenge to European tradition of the 19th century, just as their teacher, tend to read texts selectively, omitting the paragraphs containing the undesirable information. However, if they took time and read slowly, say, Fétis’ famous treatise on harmony, they would find the following:
> “Je demandai quels accords existent par eux-mêmes, comme de conséquences de tonalité actuelle, indépendamment de toute circonstance de modification, et je n’en trouvait que deux: le premier consonant, compose de trois sons, et appelé accord parfait; le deuxième dissonant, composé de quatre sons placés à des intervalles de tierces l’un de l’autre, et appelé accord de septième de dominante. Je vis que le premier constitue le repos dans l’harmonie, parce que lors-qu’il se fait entendre, rien n’indique la nécessité de succession; l’autre, au contraire, est attractif, par la mise en relation de certains sons de la gamme; par cela même il a des tendances de résolution, et il caractérise le movement dans l’harmonie.
> [] l’isolement absolu me permettait de me livrer sans distraction à mes rêveries sur la théorie de l’harmonie. Après avoir fixé le caractère et les fonctions des deux accords consonant et dissonant, je cherchai avec soin si quelque autre aggrégation harmonique était nécessaire pour constituer la tonalite; mais je n’en pus découvrir, et j’acquis la conviction que tous les autres accords sont des modifications de ceux-là, et que leur destination est de jeter de la variété dans les forms de l’harmonie, ou d’établir des relations de gammes différentes.”
> François-Joseph Fétis, Traité complet de la théorie et de la pratique de l’harmonie, http://books.google.com/books, 1853, page viij.
> The terms in italics are carefully copied by Fetis from Rameau’s Traité de l’harmonie. In fact, these two paragraph provide a better definition of the concept of harmonic function than the texts of Rameau. They are tied to the interpretation of tonality. Thus, this is the theory of tonal-harmonic functions, advocated by one of the most brilliant French theorists of the 19th century who also taught at the Conservatoire. Riemann considered him one of his most important influences.
> Theoretical position of Fétis does not support Schenkerian revisionism at all. It supports Rameau and Riemann. I can provide the documented evidence that Simon Sechter (who alledgedly created or supported a teaching of scale steps, alternative to Rameau-Riemann’s functions) fully supported functional theory. There are many statements in Kirnberger which show profound understanding of Rameau’s contribution.
> I do not know what Nadya was teaching. The CPE’s libel of Rameau present little interest. In fact, his Versuch is not a book on counterpoint and voice leading. Again, this is a common misconception (just as Zarlino did not write a book On Counterpoint; it was  a subtitle of a 4-volume treatise on harmony, called Institutione harmonische). CPE’s book is about musical emotions and the task of a performer. As such—a rare topic, preceded, perhaps, only by Tinctoris’s Compendium. As for CPE’s recommendations concerning voice leading, I would not recommend any sane composer to follow them. His contemporaries had the reason to doubt his sanity precisely because his harmonic progressions in Fantasias and Rondos did not carry syntactic unity.
> J.S. Bach was the first composer to fully realize tonal-harmonic function and functional syntax in music. I can write another email about that.
> K6/4 is a smaller fish, comparing to these issues.
> Best,
> Ildar Khannanov
> Peabody Conservatory
> Solfeggio7 at yahoo.com
> _______________________________________________

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