[Smt-talk] Subdominant versus Predominant

Nicolas Meeùs nicolas.meeus at paris-sorbonne.fr
Mon May 7 05:39:58 PDT 2012

Le 6/05/2012 22:25, Stephen Jablonsky a écrit :
> [...]
> 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.
Schenker, that I know, never suggested such a thing. What he did suggest 
is that one should start by viewing the work as the unfolding of a triad 
(but see below), that one should realize that this unfolding soon 
produces a dominant (and a subdominant) triads, and that the analysis 
further consists in reconstructing the whole work up to its surface 
elements. To view the analysis as consisting in a reduction to the 
"fundamental structure" indeed is a caricature.
> On May 6, 2012, at 3:49 PM, Ildar Khannanov wrote:
> [...]
> 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.
Schenker did not say this, or at least not in these terms. He may not 
have been as clear as one might wish, but it can be deduced from his 
usages and from his graphs that a true tonal affirmation often consists 
in a T--S--D--T cycle.
     Having quoted two examples, by Mozart and Chopin, he explains in 
/Harmonielehre/ that "In both cases we see triads, unfolded as such in a 
rather satisfactory way [...]. But since throughout these four measures 
it is only one single triad that is asserted, it is impossible for us to 
find any satisfaction, particularly considering that the triads [...] 
may belong in three or six different keys" (E. Mann Borgese's 
translation, p. 213; p. 283 of the German original). And a few pages 
later, he adds: "If we consider such a step progression, I--IV--V--I, 
from the harmonic angle alone [...] we find that it emphasizes, first of 
all, the tonic and, second, the key of the tonic" (p. 217 of the 
translation, p. 287-288 of the original).//In later writings, he names 
such progressions /Stufenrund /or /Stufenkreis/, "cycle of the degrees".
     Schenker certainly stresses the dominant as the most important 
elaboration of the tonic, but he also underlines the importance of the 
progression to the dominant, for which he proposes several models (/Das 
Meisterwerk in der Musik/ II, p. 21; I unfortunately do not have the 
English translation). It is there (/ibid/., p. 22, note 7)//that he 
mentions for the first time the two interlaced slurs, one of which 
doubly curved, which he uses to denote /das Wegbahnen zur Dominante/, 
"the marking out of the way to the dominant", either I--IV--V--I or 
I--II--V--I. This sign, as I mentioned earlier, probably is taken over 
from Alfred Lorenz (/Das Geheimnis der Form.../, vol. I, p. 16) where it 
represents a kind of sinusoidal curve leading from the tonic to the 
subdominant under it, to the dominant above, and back to the tonic.

Nicolas Meeùs
Université Paris-Sorbonne
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