[Smt-talk] Subdominant

Ildar Khannanov solfeggio7 at yahoo.com
Thu May 17 07:10:22 PDT 2012

Dear Nicolas,

I think your theory of vectors is very interesting and useful. It adds living energy to Neo-Riemannian abstractions (otherwise, any two chord can go back-and-forth) and to understanding of tonal-harmonic functions. Perhaps, the geometry of these vectors can be more complex than just the straight lines (this is the question which is better to ask from Dmitri, of course).

My quotation of Schenker is taken from the English translation of Counterpoint. Book One (Shirmer 1987), p. xxx.

I keep reading it and cannot stop laughing. For example, on p, 33 he insists that "The cantus firmus must always begin with the tonic of the key." Is not this ridiculously funny?
He, apparently, misread Kirnberger, who wrote about harmony in the first half of his book and then switched to discussion of the counterpoint in strict style. The term cantus firmus has been never used in the tonal period. Even in the centuries of strict style, it was not always there. And cantus firmus is firmly associated with music which has neither tonic, nor the key!  Fux-the-confuser has "contributed" into  this misundertanding as well. 
Schenker accuses Ernst Richter (p. 175 of Harmony) in mistreatment of cantus firmus in the bass, while poor Ernst just wrote some exercises in harmonization of unfigured melody! And what is the "strict composition in four parts"? Strict counterpoint (16th century) or harmonization (19th century)?

On p. 30 Schenker mentions balalaika tunes of the Russian provenance, trying to defend music of Bach from bad influence--also very funny.

OK, I will laugh alone.
Schenker published Harmonielehre in 1906 and first book of Kontrapunkt in 1910. Hugo Riemann died in 1919. How come that the great German theorist (the true Master and Creator of music theory as a university discipline!) did not pay any attention to two books which libeled his great achievements? How many copies of Kontrapunkt were originally printed? Were they sold successfully?


Ildar Khannanov
Peabody Conservatory
Johns Hopkins University
solfeggio7 at yahoo.com
--- On Wed, 5/16/12, Nicolas Meeùs <nicolas.meeus at paris-sorbonne.fr> wrote:

From: Nicolas Meeùs <nicolas.meeus at paris-sorbonne.fr>
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Subdominant
To: "smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org" <smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org>
Cc: "Dimitar NNinov" <dn16 at txstate.edu>
Date: Wednesday, May 16, 2012, 5:43 PM

Ildar, Dimitar,

1) Nobody, neither in the 19th, nor in the 18th century, used the term "predominant" or used the idea of scale step 4, the triad on scale step 4, any modified chords on scale step 4 in the function of "predominant."I think that Rameau's idea of the chain of dominants leading (as sevenths and their resolution) to the "dominante-tonique", as distinct from the subdominant leading (as 6/5 and its resolution) to the tonic, anticipates the distinction between "predominant" and "subdominant".

2) The theory of Heinrich Schenker is filled with major inconsistencies and crude errors of judgement.This may be so, it is your judgment, about which I won't argue here. Note however that the idea of the "predominant" never is mentioned, either directly or indirectly, in Schenker's own writings, and that nothing indicates that its American origin is to be found in Schenkerian circles. If you can produce evidence for a Schenkerian origin, I'd be much interested.

The subdominant is not the only problem in this theory. The next topic for discussion can be the leading tone. Apparently, Nicolas does not like the idea of the leading tone as such, as the source of attraction to tonic.It is not that I "do not like the idea", rather that I came, at one point in my reflexion on tonality, to the conclusion that it may be wise to consider the situation of tonal music without presupposing the tonal center (and the attractions it is supposed to cause). To state that a composition is tonal because of the attractions leading to the tonic is to beg the answer and my explicit concern was how we could decide that a composition was tonal without presupposing that it was. 
    I therefore took the methodological stance of supposing that there were no a priori attractions, and it resulted in my theory of harmonic vectors, which claims that tonal harmony may be directed primarily by such algorithmic principles as the descending fifth progression. I am perfectly aware of the shortcomings of this theory, especially in explaining the tonal centricity, because descending fifths inexorably lead away from their starting point. I suggested that the centricity resulted from a necessary substitution, more specifically from a "parallel" neo-Riemannian relation from minor to major, which appears necessary in any tonal phrase.
    This is a rather complex theory, but it has nothing to do with Schenker, and I began writing about it at a time when I knew nothing of Schenker 

And the Master Himself: "The new confusing world of “leading tones” and “doublings” is fabricated, a world of which the true theory of voice-leading and scale-degrees can know nothing."Can you provide the reference of this quotation? I'd be interested.
Thanks in advance,


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