[Smt-talk] Subdominant versus Predominant

Ildar Khannanov solfeggio7 at yahoo.com
Mon May 7 14:48:02 PDT 2012

Dear Nicolas,
no, Schenker did suggest that the continuity of the work is based upon unfolding of a triad and he, indeed, gave it the status of priority. On every Schenkerian graph, on all three levels, the notes in the bass which he randomly selects always comprise the arpeggiation of the tonic triad. It is always 1, 3, 5 that are beamed together. If there is 4, it is notated with the " single eighth note,' that is, with the note with the stem and the flag. In all graphs it means that the Subdominant it downgraded to the "lower structural level' than Tonic and Dominant. In the posting by Walt Everett there is even an attempt to "downgrade the Subdominant" in the blues 12-bar progression. This lowering of the status of  Subdominant creates, indeed, a caricaturistic picture of tonality. In fact, it is very rare in the music of the 18th and early 19th century that the bass in a harmonic progression goes 1, 3, 5, and much more common 1, 4, 5 or, as a substitute, 1, 2,
 5. The 3 can be harmonized either by mediant triad (ask Dmitri Tymoczko for statistics of it usage) or by the tonic triad in the first inversion (which is even worse as a candidate for "structural" harmony).
Then, Schenker and his supporters would appeal to music of Chopin and early Romantics, to find that there, indeed, the bass goes often 1, 3, 5. I have heard a paper by Janet Schmallfeld suggesting that this bass line "supports Schenkerian bass arpeggiation idea." However, motion from Tonic to Mediant in the presentation phrase in music of Chopin (and in late Beethoven, e.g. op.90) reveals not the support for triadic tonality, but the attempt to escape from it. The repetition of the basic idea in the key of the mediant is a horrible, jarring syntactic dissonance, after which Chopin often introduces descending linear chromatic progression instead of the structural dominant (see Mazurka op. 6, no1).
So, there are problems with the idea of continuity in Schenker. Everybody likes continuity, but the model of Bassbrechung is simply wrong: it does not describe the practice of harmonic progression. In real progressions of music of Baroque and Classico-Romantic period T, S, and D have equal status. 
Ildar Khannanov
Peabody Conservatory
Johns Hopkins University
solfeggio7 at yahoo.com

--- On Mon, 5/7/12, Nicolas Meeùs <nicolas.meeus at paris-sorbonne.fr> wrote:

From: Nicolas Meeùs <nicolas.meeus at paris-sorbonne.fr>
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Subdominant versus Predominant
To: "Stephen Jablonsky" <jablonsky at optimum.net>
Cc: "Ildar Khannanov" <solfeggio7 at yahoo.com>, smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
Date: Monday, May 7, 2012, 7:39 AM

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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