[Smt-talk] Soudominante versus Sous-dominante

Nicolas Meeùs nicolas.meeus at paris-sorbonne.fr
Sun Mar 11 06:37:58 PDT 2012

Dear Thomas, dear colleagues,
My answers are between quotations from your message:
> (1) The two meanings:
> [...]
> 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.
This is very true for the /Nouveau systême/. Yet, let me quote from the 
Master thesis of my former student Anne-Emmanuelle Ceulemans ("Les 
conceptions fonctionnelles de l'harmonie de J. Ph. Rameau, Fr. J. Fétis, 
S. Sechter et H. Riemann", UCL, 1989) (my English):

    Initially [i.e. in /Nouveau systême/], it is clear that this
    subdominant was to be understood as the dominant under, that which
    is symmetrical with respect to the upper dominant. Rameau himself is
    nevertheless responsible for the erroneous conception that one could
    have made of the subdominant as being the note immediately under the
    dominant, as in his /Dissertation/ (p. 7) he introduces the term
    "sus-dominante" [superdominant] to denote the note above the
    dominant, parallel to the subdominant. In /Génération harmonique/ he
    will make use also of the concept of "sus-tonique" [supertonic] (p.
    135 in the Jacobi edition) and in the alphabetic table of terms that
    closes the work, he defines the subdominant as follows:

        SOUDOMINANTE. C'est la quinte au-dessous, et par Renversement la
        Quarte du Son principal, dit Note-Tonique, et qui se trouve
        immédiatement au-dessous de la dominante dans l'ordre Diatonique.
        [Subdominant. In is the fifth under, and by inversion the fourth
        above the principal sound, said Note-Tonique, and which is found
        immediately under the dominant in the diatonic order.]

> (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"?
A partial answer may be found in ancient French dictionaries, e.g. 
which give the following information:
-- The term /sous-dominante/ appears for the first time in the 6th 
edition (1835) of the /Dictionnaire de l'Académie française/; it is not 
in the 5th edition (1798), nor in the 4th (1762), and most certainly not 
in the previous editions. It was found, of course, in specialized 
dictionaries, e.g. Rousseau.
-- Compound words beginning with /sous- /appear in in the 1st edition 
(1694) of the /Dictionnaire /(sous-gouverneur, sous-locataire, 
sous-sacristain, and the like) and in the following ones.
-- The same edition also has compound words beginning with /sous/ 
without hyphen: sousbarbe, souschantre, sousdiacre, sousferme, 
sousprieur (but sous-prieure, in the feminine), etc. It even includes 
"sousrire", which in modern French became "sourire" (but which lost its 
status of compound word). But these forms disappear in later editions.
-- I found in the same edition (1694) only one single compound word 
beginning with /sou/: souquenille.
-- The earlier form, documented only in Jean Nicot's /Thresor de la 
langue francoyse/ (1606) is /soub /(soubchantre, soubgardien, etc.).

I see no way in which a semantic difference could be made between /sou 
/and /sous-/. In the case of "soudominante" vs "sous-dominante", note 
that Rameau, in the quotation from /Génération harmonique/ above, uses 
"soudominante" apparently for both acceptions, "something below the 
dominant" and "a dominant below something". I have no inventory of the 
term in 19th-century French texts, but it certainly is not used at all 
by Fétis.


Nicolas Meeùs
Université Paris-Sorbonne

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