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

Devin Chaloux devin.chaloux at gmail.com
Mon Feb 13 06:39:24 PST 2012

Good morning list!

This is quite the discussion on labeling 6/4 chords, something my
Master's colleagues and I have been discussing fervently in our pedagogy
class as we work through all of the different textbooks. It is fantastic to
see that our differing views are supported by a large swath of the music
theory community as well. Certainly this is a controversial
subject--possibly with no right or wrong answer given the situation.

I'd like to respond to Ciro Scotto and Dmitri Tymoczko's mini discussion
about labeling a 6/4 on scale-degree 5 that resolves deceptively. The
Beethoven example is a good one for this particular example. I think much
of it depends on how you consider the progression works. In that piece, a
ii6 leads into that 6/4. Today, I imagine most pedagogues, like myself,
probably find this spot tricky to analyze for our freshmen/sophomores. If
we go the I6/4 route, then we have the conundrum of a ii going to a I
chord. Then again, this depends on whether pedagogues have strictly
forbidden this (despite the many examples of ii(7) resolving to I in the
literature). If you label it a V6/4, it does not resolve where it should
go, V. However, I am part of the V6/4 camp as the 6/4 resolves down to 5/3
in the correct register. Essentially, we have a chromatic passing tone in
the bass as part of a deceptive resolution to vi. Nevertheless, it may be
possible to experience it both ways.

Since there is an easy explanation for the Beethoven "God Save the King"
example, I bring forth an example that may be a bit more problematic. Enter
R. Schumann, Op. 68, No. 30 (Album fuer die Jugend). The chord in question
lies in the third full measure on the downbeat. Clearly, this is some sort
of 6/4 chord, but how to label it? Or--maybe more importantly to
Schenkerians--how to graph it? My experience with the piece is absolutely
hearing this 6/4 chord with dominant function. The preparation of this
downbeat with the V6/5/V really adds to a dominant hearing. It becomes
problematic in the resolution however. Like the Beethoven example, the bass
moves chromatically towards a deceptive cadence. However, unlike the
Beethoven example, the 6/4 stays static. This creates an interesting
instance of an augmented chord, to the delight of Richard Cohn and his
Weitzmann regions, and (maybe) much to the dismay of Schenkerians. The
progression finally ends with a weak V6/5-I cadence. What is more
problematic is that the suspended 6/4 does not resolve in the correct
voices due to the inversion of the V6/5 chord.

I undeniably hear this instance of a 6/4 as having dominant function when
we enter the third bar; yet, by the time we leave the third bar, I have
sufficiently questioned myself to consider it as a tonic arpeggiation. In a
sense, over time, you reevaluate how that particular chord functions. This
becomes an interesting problem graphically for Schenkerians. I think it is
tempting to hear the bass arpeggiation from A-C-F to establish the tonic
after the auxiliary cadence; yet, can the 6/4 have enough structural weight
to allow for the 6/4 to be beamed?

With such an example, clearly there will never be one answer for this 6/4
problem. While most of us on this list are discussion exceptional examples,
clearly there are enough to raise a significant issue out of it. However,
one my age can only hope that these types of discussions are the ones that
keep music theory jobs available when I'm ready to apply for them!
Devin Chaloux*
University of Cincinnati - College-Conservatory of Music
M.M. in Music Theory '12
University of Connecticut
B.M. in Music Theory '10
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