[Smt-talk] Subdominant versus Predominant

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Sun Feb 26 08:00:06 PST 2012

Dear Nicholas,

Thank you for this quotations. They only reflect what I have been saying up to now, namely: "By associating the fourth degree to the two preceding ones (the first and the fifth), the tonal effect is complete." Also, "...they [T, S,, and D] form the "bonnes notes" of the key". That is not Schenkerian, is it? Schenker does not need the 4th scale degree to complete the tonal effect and he does not think that T, S and D form the "bonnes notes" of the key - he builds a house on two columns instead of three. 

Another quotation from your letter: "And it is by no means true that Reber explains it as "a reflection of the dominante". No disagreement here either - the S chord is a reflection of D as referred to the tonal center; it lies a perfect fifth in the opposite direction from the tonic - a mirror inversion of the position of D with T as an axis. Remember: T as an axis.

I do not have to prove that all the chords in a key relate to the tonic. This is an axiom, not a theorem. Otherwise, the tonic would not posses the power of gravity, and there will be no key. PD is an invented sub-category which implies a "dominant paradigm" which does not exist at a pure diatonic level. The only paradigm in a key is the tonic. Only when the dominant is tonicized does it create a temporary paradigm, as it happens with any tonicized major and minor triads. But many theorists claim that, even if the dominant is tonicized, they steel hear it as D, not as a local T. There is some truth in this.

Best regards,


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

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

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