[Smt-talk] Soudominante versus Sous-dominante

Thomas Noll noll at cs.tu-berlin.de
Sun Mar 11 01:03:43 PST 2012

Dear Nicolas, dear Colleagues,

I still remain curious about the motivation of the term sous-dominante in Rameau.

> Is it possible that Rameau in "Nouveau système de musique théorique" not only adopts but also slightly changes Dandrieu's term "soudominant" towards "sous-dominant" just in order to leave a trace of the shift in the meaning, which he undertakes?

I'm puzzled by two things.

(1) The two meanings:
Nicolas wrote to Dimitar on february 24 :

> "It often is difficult to say how the term was understood. In French today, and probably from Rameau and before, it means the degree under the dominant, not the dominant under the tonic. The earliest instance of the term that I know of is in Dandrieu's Principes de l'accompagnement, c1719. That Dandrieu understood "soudominante" as the degree under the dominant can be deduced from his usage of "sudominante", the degree above it. This has been the almost constant usage in French (and a few other languages) since then. Note that the word does not occur in Rameau's Treatise of 1722, nor, for that matter, in Fétis' Treatise: they both merely write "the 4th degree".
Joel Lester (1994) writes in "Compositional Theory in the Eighteenth Century" (p. 132) the following:
"In the Nouveau systéme, Rameau adopts the name subdominant (sous-dominant); apparently coined as soudominante in Dandrieu c. 1719) to refer to scale step 4 as well as to the added sixth chord build there. Whereas Jean-Françiios Dandrieu (c. 1682 - 1738) probably intended the prefix  sub to refer to the note below the dominant, Rameau denotes by that prefix that scale-step 4 lay a fifth below the tonic, complementing the dominant a fifth above the tonic. Just like the dominant, the subdominant supports a dissonant first chord of a cadence.

(2) The two expressions:
Are the prefixes sou and sous-  the same or not? Could one associate a semantic difference between the two creations "soudominant" and "sous-dominant"? "Something which is below the Dominant" vs. "a Dominant which is below something"?

many thanks for any comments
Thomas Noll

Thomas Noll
noll at cs.tu-berlin.de
Escola Superior de Musica de Catalunya, Barcelona 
Departament de Teoria i Composició 


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