[Smt-talk] Subdominant versus Predominant

Yuri Broze yuribroze at gmail.com
Wed May 16 12:33:50 PDT 2012

One could view the functions of Tonic, Subdominant and Dominant
as referring to the phenomenology of hearing music which emphasizes
certain scale degrees in reference to one another:

re - fa - la - do - mi - sol - si - re - ra ...
-----[S]-------[T]-------[D]------|------[S] ...

In this case, we are using these terms to specify the "feeling"
of certain synchronic tonal spaces.

On the other hand, one could view the functions of Tonic, Predominant,
and Dominant as referring to certain diachronic relationships characteristic
of common-practice tonality:

 I - vi - IV - ii - V  -  I
[T]----  [PD]----  [D] - [T]

It seems that if one sticks to common-practice tonality, subdominant
and predominant are easily conflated.  If we want to expand the
scope to include other music (blues, for instance), then we just
have to be careful that we specify the right concepts, and define
our terms to fit.

How's this?

Yuri Broze
103-1/2 King Ave
Columbus, OH 43201

On Fri, Feb 24, 2012 at 10:55 AM, Ninov, Dimitar N <dn16 at txstate.edu> wrote:
> Dear Colleagues,
> I have been thinking for a long time about the term "predominant" which
has been in use mostly in Schenkerian theory or in theoretical formulations
influenced by Schenker and his followers. I have come to the conclusion
that this term is theoretically unjustified, and my arguments in support of
this statement are explained below.
> As the planets in the solar system gravitate around the sun, so the
chords in a tonal system gravitate around the tonic. The tonic is the only
center of gravity in a key. Therefore, the harmonic function of any given
chord is validated by its attitude towards the tonic. This attitude depends
on the distance between the chord and the tonic, on the one hand, and on
the structure of the chord, on the other.
> The term "subdominant" suggests that the IV chord is located a fifth
below the tonal center, and that it is a "lower dominant". However, the
term "predominant" contains no reference to the tonal center but to the
dominant triad itself, as if a key had two centers. The attempt to validate
a harmonic function with no relation to the tonal center seems
theoretically unsupported to me.
> The IV and the II chords are called "predominants" because they stand
"before" the dominant. But they also stand before the tonic (IV-I, II-I6;
II6/5-I, etc.): how are they predominant in that case? On the other hand, I
could attach the label "PD" to the tonic, the mediants, and all the
different borrowed or altered chords that can precede the dominant. Would
all these chords be “predominants” in such a context?
> Behind the dismissal of the term "subdominant" in a portion of
contemporary American music theory stands the Schenkerian notion that a
plagal relationship and a plagal cadence do not exist in music. According
to this idea, any connection between IV and I, for example, will be
interpreted as a "tonic prolongation". Therefore, the former subdominant
function is evaluated not in the light of the tonic, but in the light of
the dominant. This is how Schenkerian theory created two separate centers
of evaluation of harmonic functions: the tonic, on the one hand, and the
dominant, on the other. Two suns in a solar system.
> I would highly appreciate your thoughts concerning this matter.
> Best regards,
> Dimitar
> Dr. Dimitar Ninov, Lecturer
> School of Music
> Texas State University
> 601 University Drive
> San Marcos, Texas 78666
> _______________________________________________
> Smt-talk mailing list
> Smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
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