[Smt-talk] Subdominant versus Predominant

Stephen Jablonsky jablonsky at optimum.net
Sun May 6 13:25:01 PDT 2012

Dear Ildar,

I am tempted to reply to you privately because when the Theory Police come to get you I don't want to be rounded up as a co-conspirator!!

I have always felt that Schenker was wrong in his premise and his technique but there were so many enthusiastic believers out there that I didn't want to be the one to shout "The Emperor has no clothes." As a composer/theorist I have little interest in reducing a sonata form movement into a three-chord progression with embellishing annotations. It is analogous to reducing Romeo and Juliet to the following: 

           Boy meets girl. They fall in love. They die.

Where is the voice of Shakespeare (if there really was such a fellow) in all that?

One needs the chord a fifth above and below the tonic to locate the focal point in the center (the tonic). You can see them flanking the tonic on the Chromatic Circle of 5ths. The progression I - V - I can easily be mistaken for IV - I - IV. The subdominant and dominant help to triangulate the tonic the way two cell towers locate your cell phone. Every time I hear a large piece of music end with a plagal cadence I grin.

Yours truly,

On May 6, 2012, at 3:49 PM, Ildar Khannanov wrote:

> Dear Stephen,
> I cannot agree more! Yes, it is the Subdominant which finalizes the determination of tonality. Schenker was wrong saying that tonality is unfolding of a tonic triad. In a very poetic metaphoric sense, it is true, but practically, tonality in music is created not by unfolding of a single triad but by interaction of several triads.
> I wanted to add that I disagree with professor Biamonte that it is sufficient to have only two, that tonic is defined and dominant defines. If there are only two of them, perception can play tricks on us and inadvertently T and D will change places turning into another pair, S and D. That is why Schenker is wrong again when placing only I and V on the same structural level and reducing IV to a grace note. Music will not live and breathe with only black-and-white, zero-and-one, yes-and-no system, going from I to V and back.
> It is when the subdominant added to this dead oscillation, the processual, dynamic, temporal aspect of music is created. The subdominant triad which possesses neither the central position of tonic, nor the energy of domination of the dominant,  presents something on the side and sets off the ballance: instead of spacial T-D-T we receive temporal T-s-D-T and everything starts moving and the storyline of instrumental dramaturgy unfolding.
> Forgive me if I understood your posting incorrectly, but I have to confess, it feels like I saw the light at the end of a tunnel.
> Best,
> Ildar Khannanov
> Peabody Conservatory
> Johns Hopkins University
> solfeggio7 at yahoo.com

Prof. Stephen Jablonsky, Ph.D.
Music Department Chair
The City College of New York
160 Convent Avenue S-72
New York NY 10031
(212) 650-7663

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