[Smt-talk] Governing Tone (Functions and Historical Evidence)

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Fri May 4 16:30:35 PDT 2012

Dear Colleagues,

It is good to keep in mind that "history" is not an abstract relm behind which all the wisdom in the world has been hidden; terms and concepts have changed historically no less due to personal preference or mistake than to other more objective reasons. It is widely known that Glarean has copied and interpreted the Greek modes "wrongly' in comparison to the way Greeks designated those (he gave them the wrong starting pitches), and this is how they remained in our theory today. 

Also, we did have a long argument about the S function and its name, and in terms of historical evidence Ildar and I brough at least four theorists who deliberately considered that chord as a low dominant or a fifth below the tonic (le chord de quinte inferiere, according to Vincent d'Indy, Paris 1912). I am sure you could find others who consider it as a chord a step below the dominant "le chord sous la dominante". 

Therefore, very often history cannot decide who is right and who is wrong, for we have evidence on both sides. What do we do in such case? Apply our own judgment based on how we feel about those functions in general. There is nothing wrong in this approach; in fact we are fortunate that music theory is not science, as some colleagues may be misled to think, looking for proof of every statement than one utters. Even in science there are hypotheses that deserve respect and investigation, rather than immediate dismissal because of lack of evidence.

Sniffing for proof on everything stated or thought out, eventually becomes an illness, which has turned the style of many scholarly paperwork into a dry, standard, boring work where the over-citations and over-quotations literally drown the authors' personal style and undermine his/her stream of thought. Articles that nobody cares to read but which bring a lot of reputation to a quasi scientist, who eventually proves nothing.

A simple approach that make sense in terms of harmonic functionality is to describe and label the chords in their relation to the tonal center - distance wise, and structurally. They may be other approaches, but I prefer that one. 

Best regards,


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

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