[Smt-talk] Subdominant versus Predominant

Berry, David Carson (berrydc) berrydc at UCMAIL.UC.EDU
Fri May 4 05:34:48 PDT 2012

Hello Danny, et al.,

First, I should congratulate you on having found a comparatively rare book. As someone who has studied quite a number of Anglo-American theory textbooks of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, I have never come across the Venth book. (It's not even on WorldCat!) But of course, you are based near Dallas/Ft. Worth, and Venth (a German transplant) was prominent in that area. So perhaps that accounts for your find.

However, while the book itself may be rare, Venth's terminology is not; that is, it was not atypical of period American texts. Consider George Howard's Course in Harmony (1886) -- also published by Presser. He too calls the sixth scale degree the "super dominant" ("a note above the dominant"), and the dominant itself is similarly characterized as having its name because it is the "ruling tone" (see p. 43). "Tonic" means "first tone," and all other names and definitions more or less match Venth's -- although Howard says that the subdominant is the "note below the dominant," which is conceptually quite different than an "under dominant."


David Carson Berry
Associate Professor of Music Theory
University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music

From: smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org [smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org] On Behalf Of Arthurs, Daniel [Daniel.Arthurs at unt.edu]
Sent: Thursday, May 03, 2012 7:07 PM
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Subdominant versus Predominant

[...] I found this old theory text published by Theodore Presser, authored by Carl Venth, and titled Musical Theory and Writing Book (1920). [...] After a brief introduction, Venth discusses the formal names of the scale steps, where he writes on p. 5:

“Each tone of the scale, whether major or minor, has its distinctive name.  The first tone: Tonic, tone.  The second tone: Super tonic, above the tone.  The third tone: Mediant, between. The fourth tone: Sub Dominant, the under dominant. The fifth tone: Dominant, the governing tone. The sixth tone: Super Dominant, above the dominant. The seventh tone: Leading tone. The eighth tone [!]: Octave, the completing tone.”

It seems very strange to me that he considers the dominant “the governing tone”; the subdominant is under it, but then he adds a second moon orbiting around the dominant when he describes VI as the super dominant, not submediant!

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