[Smt-talk] Subdominant

Ildar Khannanov solfeggio7 at yahoo.com
Sun May 13 13:22:26 PDT 2012

Dear Giorgio,
I was thinking about the continuo tradition and the role of subdominant. As I mentioned, I am convinced that Schenkerian ideas somehow contaminated our understanding of the 18th-century music. I do not know if composers of Neapolitan tradition disregarded subdominant as a chord equalliy important as tonic and dominant (I know that these terms, let alone, predominant, were not in use), but all the most famous examples of continuo retained for us the presence of subdominant. Romanesca bass line consists of subdominant harmony. It cannot be reduced. Try to eliminate it and play the bass without it. Other notes, strangely enough, can be eliminated, but not this subdominant. It occurs at a crucial turning point leading to a cadence. The term "predominant" does not describe its actual function. Rather, it is the dominant which depends on subdominant.
In general, all the themes of ostinato variations, la Foglia, all types of Chaconne, Passacaglia, all have the Subdominant as a crucial turning point, without which the bass line would walk away from the key.
In general, the principle of variation and diminution is used (although it is not the most important type of compositional technique) in 18-20th centuries, including jazz, but I would have serious difficulty improvizing on only I and IV. It is funny, that they improvise on I-IV connection in jazz, but no on I-V.
Ildar Khannanov
Peabody Conservatory
Solfeggio7 at yahoo.com
--- On Fri, 5/11/12, Giorgio Sanguinetti <giorgio_sanguinetti at fastwebnet.it> wrote:

From: Giorgio Sanguinetti <giorgio_sanguinetti at fastwebnet.it>
Subject: [Smt-talk] Subdominant
To: Smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
Date: Friday, May 11, 2012, 5:12 PM

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

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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