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

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Sun Feb 12 19:54:54 PST 2012

Dear Colleagues,

Many things have been said about the nature and the labeling of the cadential six-four chord. I suspect the discussion is not over yet, and I wanted to reiterate one point.

It has been claimed that we cannot simply cut off the label V6/4 from the overall label V6/4-5/3. But we have not heard the reason. If the chord is a genuine dominant with suspensions, we would be able to separate the first label from the second as explained below.

Every chord with a suspension goes through two phases: 1) the introduction of the suspension, and 2) the resolution of the suspension. Thus the first phase in a dominant with a suspension may, for example, be V5/4, and the second phase – V5/3.

My question is: would the dominant function of V5/4-5/3 suffer if we only introduce the first phase of that chord (V5/4), and then resolve it directly to I, without waiting for the second phase V5/3 to “clarify” the chord? I bet you will say it would not. Do we produce an authentic resolution? Yes, we do. Why? Because the first phase is purely dominant in function and it does not need the second phase. Therefore the label V5/4 can be used alone, as in  in V5/4 - I.

Now, let us apply the same procedure to the so called V6/4-5/3. Introduce the first phase only (V6/4) and then resolve directly into the tonic. Are we pleased with the “authentic resolution”? If not, why? Because the first phase of this chord is not purely dominant; it has a tonic structure and needs the second phase to help it convert into a genuine V chord. Therefore, the label V6/4 cannot be used alone as in V6/4 - I. If that is so, it is not the true label for the first phase of the supposed “dominant with suspensions”. 

Thank you, and best regards,


P.S. Experiment with more suspensions: V13sus4, for instance. You do not have to resolve it into a second phase dominant; just connect to the tonic and it will work. With a "fake" dominant such as the cadential six-four this is impossible.

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

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