[Smt-talk] Subdominant versus Predominant

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Sun Feb 26 19:02:46 PST 2012

Dear Nicholas,

Thank you for your input. I will address your points in order. 

I do not think we can leave Schenker out of this discussion in view of his heavy influence over those who teach harmony today.  One of my missions as theorist and pedagogue is to stand against this abstract theory which is too detached from real music, and into which generations of students are currently being dragged as if it is the heaven of musical analysis. You say: You have the false notion that Schenker did not consider the subdominant, or considered it unimportant. I say: Schenker and his followers erased the subdominant function as a word and as a relation to the tonal center. They slashed it in two, and started calling the first portion "a tonic substitute" and the other portion "a pre-dominant". I find this ridiculous. 

1) The fact that a harmonic function in a key refers to the center of gravity is as open to discussion as the topic of the planets in the solar system which depend on the sun for their existence in a system. You are welcome to doubt it and to call it unprovable.

2) The 4th scale degree is a 4th scale degree - whether below D or a 5th below T. The degrees are counted from the center of gravity, and they may be counted from left to right or backwards.

3) You have not read my writings carefully - I have never assumed that I-IV-V-I is the only expression of the T-S-D-T syntax. It is only one of its representatives. Of course, the S functional is diatonically represented by IV and II, but VI may also perform an S function, especially in I-VI-V progression. With the relative emancipation of the mediant function in late romanticism and XX century, some theorists, among which myself, tend to view the mediants as a separate function (M), for more clarity. This is not in discrepancy with the general notion that M can be at least three things: a T substitute, an S subsitute (in the case of VI), a typical mediant, and a D substitute (in the case of III).

In view of the T-S-D-T form you have probably missed my comparison of I-bVI-III-I progression, used by Prokofiev with the melodic contour Do-do-si-do. In this context, bVI is S, and III is D. I gave this example to suggest how much the complex T-S-D-T may be expanded, and you are saying that I assume it is only represented by I-IV-V-I. If you wish, at least re-read my last posting.

4) It is namely the religious sticking to the cycle of fifths that leaves the book of the Kostka/Payne and many other books with no theory of harmonic functions and with lapses of valuable connections (among which VI-I6 and III-V, to mention a few). It is also this firm belief in the miracle of the cycle of fifths which prevented Kostka/Payne and many other American authors from realizing an obvious fact: when Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven use T-S-D-T, they explicitly prefer the bass on the 4th scale degree as a fundamental bass, which makes II6 a substitute of IV, and not the other way around. Poor Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven - they did not realize that, by thinking of II as a substitute of IV, they would be thrown into Siberia, with Riemannian flavor!

5) You say:"... while you are more familiar with a simplified post-sovietic Riemannian tradition, which sees II as a substitute for IV, the "subdominant". Perhaps you think that by using the expression "post-sovietic tradition" you would hurt me somehow. On the contrary. I think that the Russian school of harmony in the XIX century, founded by Rimsky Korsakov, Tchaikovsky and the Mighty Five in their works and theoretical writings, was at least as strong as the German school. Today, I have the hunch it is stronger, for Germany, as many other European countries is pro-Americanized, with all the shortcomings that this entails, including a big reliance on Schenkerian analysis. In addition, I had the luck to study in Bulgaria, where I was equally well acquainted with both schools. But I do not belong 100% to either. My teaching is an amalgam of the solid traditions of Rameau, Hugo Riemann, Schoenberg, Stepan Grigoriev, Bentzion Eliezer, many other teachers, and my own original ideas. In this sense, I am not satisfied to simply quote and seek approval into the writings of many; I allow myself the liberty to question, and to create theoretical concepts that (in my view) help us to become better musicians in life. I do not recognize scholars who are no music makers of any kind. Their scholarship is not worth wasting anybody's time.

6) I am afraid that by generalizing about a single source of American tradition, you miss some important books of harmony and form by the "Old American school" as I call it: Piston, Ziegmaster, Tischler, Ratner, Jones, Getchius, Paul Fontaine, and others. These books explain harmony and harmonic functions in a similar manner that I do in my teaching - a manner which stems form Rieamn, Rameau, etc. I am surprised that you place Schoenberg as one who opposes this tradition. 

7) You say: "I probably knew your theory before you were born" That would be impressive. I am 49 years old; if you are around 75, I would agree with you.

Thank you,


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

More information about the Smt-talk mailing list