[Smt-talk] Subdominant

Giorgio Sanguinetti giorgio_sanguinetti at fastwebnet.it
Fri May 11 15:12:40 PDT 2012

Dear List, 

now that we are back to our favorite talks (Schenkerian vs. rest of the world) I think I may add something to the discussion about subdominant. 
Schenker probably rejected the idea that the subdominant was on the same foot of the tonic and the dominant because his theory has its roots in the continuo practice and, in general, in the eighteenth century pedagogy. If we look at the several manuscripts of exercises written by generations of students in the conservatories of Naples and -- more generally -- in Italy during the eighteenth century, it is clear that the basic, most essential tonal structure was: opening tonic, middle dominant, closing tonic. The Neapolitan called this as "cadenza semplice": the concept of "cadenza" was not identical to the modern cadence: it was also the simplest possible tonal utterance. Using the cadenza semplice as a basis, the Neapolitan masters asked their students to write countless diminutions in the upper voices. But at a certain point, the began making diminutions in the bass as well, and often the first diminution was scale degree four, used in the predominant function. 

The Neapolitan pedagogy of composition was not even confined in Italy, but was hugely influential all over Europe, and in particular in Vienna. In fact, Vienna has been the capital of a large part of Northern Italy and, for almost three decades, also of Naples (the so-called Austrian viceregnum, ended in 1734). Many Austrian composers (such as Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert) had Italian teachers. So it makes perfect sense that Schenker, who explicitly regarded thorough bass as a fundament of his own theory, did not consider the subdominant as important as opening tonic, dominant, and closing tonic. He simply followed one of the most important theoretical fundations of the music he devoted his entire life on. 

Giorgio Sanguinetti
via Giuseppe Avezzana, 6
00195 Roma
giorgio_sanguinetti at fastwebnet.it
tel. 06 32110265

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