[Smt-talk] cadential 6/4 chords

Ildar Khannanov solfeggio7 at yahoo.com
Mon Feb 13 15:41:40 PST 2012

Sure, the chord is bi-functional. It has some 40 percent  of tonicity and 60 percent of dominantness, just as Rachmaninoff's Subdominant (F-Ab-B-D#) contains 40 percent of dominantness (Russ. dominantovost')--its upper two notes-- and 60 percent of subdominantess (Russ. subdominantness) --its two lower notes. However, at some point these two characteristics merge and--voila-- there is a new animal, cadential 6/4 chord. I think that the problem of lableing it is redundant: if you call it "cadential six-four" you should label it this way. In Russian undergraduate theory, since 1937 at least, it is labled as K6/4. Yes, it has a bit of tonicity and some of dominantness, but it functions as a separate function. Then, also, lable dominant 7 as D7. Problems solved.
K6/4 in a PAC presents a certain compositional strategy. It is not embellishment or decoration of the V. We can compare the PAC with K6/4 to another type, the so-called Baroque cadence, with ii6/5 on the strong beat of cadential measure, instead of K6/4. Composers of Baroque period and of Classical period tend to avoid the V on the strong beat of a cadential measure. Bach used Sii6/5 in its place, Haydn--K6/4. The dominant in both cases appears on the weak beat. I assume that these composers were ready to use anything on the strong beat, but not the dominant. Suspensions from Netherlands polyphony are remote ancestors of these two cadences. However, in Bach and in Haydn, the chord on the strong beat is given its own function (S in case of Bach, and K in case of Haydn). 
In general, cadential 6/4 chord is not an abstract category: it has evolved through the history of music theory and cannot be perceived in abstract terms.
Ildar Khannanov
Peabody Conservatory
solefggio7 at yahoo.com

From: Charles J. Smith <cjsmith at buffalo.edu>
To: smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org 
Sent: Monday, February 13, 2012 12:40 PM
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] cadential 6/4 chords

As Rick elegantly reminds us (in the spirit of Lewin and many other greats of the discipline), dialectic richness is the name of our game. Reductionism, the belief that statements of the form "X is nothing but a Y" are important, is the enemy—tempting, seductive, flattering, but oh so destructive. 


PS In the sketches that UB undergraduates learn to do in their first-year harmony course, a cadential 6/4 is usually shown as a [I 6/4] on the first level—the RN indicating that affiliation with Tonic material, and square brackets serving as a reminder that this is not a normal functional Tonic chord. On the second level, it then becomes part of a larger V chord that begins where the cadential 6/4 began—with qualifying figured bass symbols 6–5 and 4–3 on the V to show what are now accented non-chord-tones on this level. It's not an ideal solution, but it is an attempt to capture more than one aspect of what common-practice composers clearly recognized as a distinct and discriminate harmonic entity. This kind of phenomenological balancing act is almost impossible with acknowledging more than one level of harmonic activity, as well as more Lewinesque overlaps of functionality on any one level—one more reason why "beginning" harmony instruction
 should be multi-level right from the start!

On 13 Feb 2012, at 11:49 AM, Richard Cohn wrote:

Yet another intervener, here to endorse Dimitar's position on the hybrid status of cadential 6/4 chords. My own experience of 6/4 chords that arrive in cadential positions (near end of phrase, fifth degree in bass, strong metric position) is that, under most circumstances, the arrival carries with it a first-default expectation of resolution to a dominant, with the generic down-by-step voice-leading, etc. When that first default is executed, I think there are good reasons to consider the 6/4 as a dominant chord with displaced voices; and those reasons have been amply articulated in this discussion.
>But there are times that my default expectations are not fulfilled. I come to find out that this "dominant" chord does things that only a tonic can do: for example, it can support thematic material that has been previously securely in the key of the tonic, and is untransposed from its previous presentations. To the extent that I rely on such associations, I hear that thematic presentation as being IN THE TONIC, and hence hear the chord that supports the thematic material in the tonic as being a tonic chord, even though it is in 6/4 position. When Beethoven begins the recapitulation of the first movement of the Appassionata or of the 4th Symphony, or when Schubert brings in the counter-statement of the first theme of his Bb-major Sonata, over a bass 5^ that has been approached as if it were a 6/4 preparing a dominant arrival, then we are being shown how what we initially took as bearing dominant function is revealed to do things that only a tonic can do;
 put differently, is revealed to "function like a tonic." (Brahms was a master of this, as Peter Smith has shown in more than one publication.)
>The origin is perhaps the classical cadenza, which is characteristically approached through what Vasili Byros identifies as a le-so-fi-sol bass scheme, culminating in a 6/4 chord that is adorned with a fermata. Here, if we are appropriately acculturated, we have full awareness of two things. Our global knowledge of the classical style makes us aware that the fermata chord is approached in just the way that a pre-dominant cadential 6/4 characteristically is ---- from an applied chord whose proper resolution is the dominant--- and that the fermata chord, to the extent that it fulfills the expectation of its application (as V or vii of dominant, not of tonic), bears DOMINANT function. At the same time, our somewhat more specific knowledge of the conventions of the classical concerto make us expect that the soloist will begin improvising on thematic material in the TONIC--- and that the fermata chord therefore bears TONIC function.
>To claim that such a chord is nothing but tonic, or nothing but dominant, and walk away with arms folded, is to deny oneself access to the richness of this dialectic.
>Many will recognize the extent to which I stand on the shoulders here of David Lewin's "Music Theory, Phenomenology, and Modes of Perception," which is my perpetual reference point for thinking about music-theoretic problems that otherwise might take the form of a forced choice between non-overlapping categories.
>--Rick Cohn
>Smt-talk mailing list
>Smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org

Prof. Charles J. Smith
Slee Chair of Music Theory & Chair of the Department
Music Department, 220 Baird Hall, University at Buffalo
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cjsmith at buffalo.edu
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