[Smt-talk] Subdominant versus Predominant

Nicolas Meeùs nicolas.meeus at paris-sorbonne.fr
Sun Feb 26 01:57:42 PST 2012

Reber, in this treatise of 287 pages, writes the word "sous-dominante" 
only four or five times in all:
-- p. 5, when he describes the names of the degrees of the scale. It may 
be noted that he names the sixth degree "sus-dominante ou 
sous-sensible", i.e. referring it either to the dominant or to the 
"sensible", certainly not to the tonic. The name "submediant" is unknown 
in French (or was until recently).
-- p. 12, where he says (a) that the tonique, the dominante and the 
sous-dominante are good notes to be doubled in harmony, and (b) that 
they form the "bonnes notes" of the key.
-- p. 19, where he writes: "By associating the fourth degree to the two 
preceeding ones (the first and the fifth), the tonal effect is complete, 
as the set of the chords of these three degrees include all the notes of 
the scale, as can be verified by disposing these chords as follows:" (a 
figure shows the chords a fifth apart and labels them respectively 
"domin.", "tonique." and "sous-dom.")
-- p. 41, where he describes the plagal cadence. "It consists in the 
chord of the 4th degree (sous-dominante) either in fundamental position 
or inverted, followed by the chord of the tonic;".
After that, the subdominant is not mentioned anymore. And it is by no 
means true that Reber explains it as "a reflection of the dominante".

It is striking that, in more than half these few cases, the word is 
associated with the expression "4th degree"; it may be reminded here 
that Fétis never uses the word "sous-dominante" and always speaks of 
"the 4th degree". I take this to be characteristic of 19th-century 
French treatises, where the subdominant is hardly considered. There is 
at most a vague reminiscence of the arrangement of the three chords 
forming just intonation, and that's it.
     As to the French teachers of harmony being "proud of Rameau", they 
explicitly claimed to the contrary. Catel's treatise was chosen against 
the Ramists; Fétis derides Boely's "Les véritables causes de 
l'ignorance" as being written in the defense of Rameau; Berton (1814) 
and Dourlen (1838) nominally criticize the errors of Rameau. I can agree 
that the French teachers of harmony were more Ramist than they were 
conscious of; but they certainly were no "proud" Ramists.


Nicolas Meeùs
nicolas.meeus at paris-sorbonne.fr

Le 25/02/2012 22:37, Ildar Khannanov a écrit :
> [...]
> I wend to our library and found Traite d'Harmonie by Henri Reber, 
> professor of theory at Paris conservatoire, published in 1862. On page 
> 19 I have found an excellent musical examle and thorough explanation 
> of sous-dominante as the scale step a p.5 below tonic, as a reflection 
> of the dominante. I cannot be sure  that all French treatises on 
> harmony had this same explanation, but I have found two more 
> conservatoire textbooks which followed, accroding to their 
> introduction, M. Reber's treatise. By the way, Reber begins with the 
> derivation of harmony from the corps sonore, just as Fetis some twenty 
> years before. I have a strange feeling that, contrary to Dr. Meeus' 
> attempt, French teachers of harmony were proud of Rameau's achevements 
> and used them extensively in their pedagogic practice.

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