[Smt-talk] Subdominant

Olli Väisälä ovaisala at siba.fi
Thu May 17 11:56:23 PDT 2012

Some further thoughts on the opening of Carnaval:

Frank Samarotto's and Eytan Agmon's discussion raises interesting  
questions about the criteria of determination of structural weight in  
Schenkerian analysis, an issue that I have pondered a lot in recent  

A crucial criterion, on which most of us would probably agree, is  
that in a passage of unified design, based on the repetition of a  
pattern, the framing points should be strongly preferred as the two  
elements with the greatest structural weight. In the Schumann, mm. 3– 
6 form such a passage, especially on the basis of the sequential  
right-hand part. Consequently, the IV and the V at the endpoints of  
this passage are structurally superior to the intervening chords, as  
both Frank and Eytan (and myself) agree.

I would suggest, however, that the criteria for determining the next  
most significant element are more complex. Two principles seem to  
compete here, which might be called "partition principle" and "penult  
principle". Under partition principle, the elements that occur at the  
points that subdivide the passage take precedence. This principle  
would support Eytan's reading of the "I" in m. 5 as overriding the  
subsequent V4/3 of V. Under penult principle, the next-to-last  
element tends to take precedence. This principle supports, of course,  
Frank's reading of a voice-exchange between the IV and the V4/3 of V.

My analytical experience suggests that it is by no means simple to  
decide which of these two principles is more powerful in each case.  
Sometimes the penult has to be chosen simply because it is  
indispensable for the Schenkerian syntax. But the question can also  
be approached from an empirical viewpoint: are there some particular  
compositonal features – for example, registral or gestural – that  
might reflect the structural signficance of either the partition  
points or the penult?

In the present case both the "I" and the V4/3 of V are syntactically  
possible. As an empirical argument, one might note that the V4/3 of V  
is registrally underlined by the bass's leap, which deviates from the  
preceding motion. Hence, this aspect would support Frank's reading of  
voice exchange (on which I am also intuitively inclined to agree).

The dilemma between the partition principle and penult principle has,  
of couse, much larger implications for Schenkerian studies, and is  
one of the several evidential questions of Schenkerianism that would  
be in need of better illumination.

Olli Väisälä
Sibelius Academy
ovaisala at siba.fi

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