[Smt-talk] Subdominant versus Predominant

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Sat Feb 25 07:38:01 PST 2012

Dear Nicholas and Colleagues,

No one has all the answers concerning a particular aspect in music theory. However, I was not asking for advice in this discussion; I claimed with conviction that PD was theoretically unjustified, both at the level of paradigm and syntax. At the level of paradigm it depends on the tonic, and at the level of syntax it again depends on the tonic, for when a progression unfolds over time, the most important question which reflects the direction of the motion is "What follows X?". In this sense the initial start T-S exemplifies a departure from  the state of stability. Thus the inherent logic of the syntactic T-S-D-T sequence may be interpreted as: stability-instability-increased instability-stability. In this functional order over time (syntax) the contact point "instability-increased instability" does not matter so much as the points where stability meets instability and vice versa. Those who invented the label "PD" obviously did not think of all these implications; their goal has been to erase the subdominant function by transferring it to a non-existing "dominant paradigm" - just because Schenker must be always right. 

Ildar's last message was very interesting, for it stressed the fact that in Schenker's notion a key has only two pillars - tonic and dominant. This is astonishing, for even in the V7-I progression the subdominant element is present (scale degree 4 in the structure of V7) which brings a new quality into the V chord -  the element that counterbalances the tendency of V to sound like a local tonic. So even in the V7-I resolution the third point of support, about which Ildar is talking, is present. A complete work, however, does not have a life without the S function fully explored.

As for the degree under the dominant; you seem to be talking about the hen and the egg here: the chord which is a fifth below the tonic is also one degree below the dominant. The main point in this discussion is that many of us are convinced that this chord is fully dependent on the tonal center - both paradigmatically, and syntagmatically; that it is neither a mere prolongation of I nor a mere preparation of V; and that its function constitutes the third pillar of tonality.

Thank you,


Dr. Dimitar Ninov, Lecturer
School of Music
Texas State University
601 University Drive
San Marcos, Texas 78666
From: Nicolas Meeùs [nicolas.meeus at paris-sorbonne.fr]
Sent: Saturday, February 25, 2012 2:35 AM
To: Ninov, Dimitar N
Cc: smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Subdominant versus Predominant


If you have all the answers to all your questions, I do not see why you ask them, nor what you expect from us all.

As I tried to show in my preceding message, Rousseau was unclear as to the meaning of subdominant, and wrote: "I may be mistaken in the acception of these two words, not having under the eyes the writings of Rameau as I write this article. He may understand by subdominant simply the note that is one degree under the dominant." I added that it was not Rameau who first gave the name, but probably Dandrieu, and that Dandrieu most probably understood the word as meaning "the degree under the dominant". This is how the term is understood in French today. See my article "Scale, polifonia, armonia" in J. J. Nattiez ed., Enciclopedia della musica, vol. II, Il sapere musicale, Einaudi, 2002, p. 84, which is precisely about that question of the difference of conception between German and Roman languages.

Nicolas Meeùs
Université Paris-Sorbonne

Le 25/02/2012 00:22, Ninov, Dimitar N a écrit :


Since I-IV is acoustically and functionally more impressive than IV-V in a I-IV-V-I progression, the question "What follows the tonic?" is more relevant in identifying the harmonic function of IV than the question "What precedes the dominant?" The former question is an equivalent to a more important question, namely "How do we leave the state of stability?". On the other hand, "What precedes the dominant?" is an equivalent of the question "What is the lower degree of instability?" which does not seem as important.

According the the logic explained above, the arrangement T-S-D-T makes perfect sense, but T-PD-D-T does not, for it answers the question "What is the lower state of instability?" instead of answering "How do we leave the state of stability?". This argument, paired with the fact that harmonic functions refer to the tonal center, in my view renders the label "PD" both superfluous and superficial.

Thank you,


Dr. Dimitar Ninov
Texas State University
dn16 at txstate.edu<mailto:dn16 at txstate.edu>


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