[Smt-talk] Subdominant

Ildar Khannanov solfeggio7 at yahoo.com
Thu May 17 21:55:00 PDT 2012

Dear Olli,
nice to hear from you! 
Good, real music analysis gives weight to theoretical arguments. 
I still think that Schenkerian analysis is boring and unmusical. Yes, one may enjoy discovering that some notes or chords at a distance form "counterpoint," that there are some "passing chords," and "chromatic voice exchange." These discoveries do not give me pleasure, for some reason. It is like watching the shapes of the clouds, may be fun sometimes, but has nothing to do with creative activity.
Instead, I have to ask why Schumann wrote this mystereious progression in the beginning of the Carnaval. In general, how to write an introduction? How different it is, for example, from the common presentation phrase? In order to answer to these ultimately creative, musical questions, I should not reduce any chord or note. On the contrary, I have to pay attention to every detail. Even the first chord, which is I6, is ultimately important and heavy in meaning. It should not be reduced.  It is Tonic. But, at the same time, Schumann makes every effort to turn it into something else. In fact, by the logic of the first motive, it is V6 of IV. He repeats this gesture in order to make sure that we understood it this way. Then, he pretends that it was a joke: the next chord, the V4/2, comes of IV by very common voice-leading move, and he resolves it into the I6. Now, we understand that we were duped and the very first chord was, indeed, Tonic triad in the
 first inversion. But Schumann does not leave it there and ends his progression in the dominant, with the question mark.
Schuman in the beginning asks rhetorical questions about validity of tonality of his composition. That is, we all know the answer, but he still asks the questions. So, the normal thing to do in the introductions is to question tonality, as if a composer has any doubt. The following presentation phrase is perceived as a denuement, a sigh of relief. But in the beginning Schumann gives usa  hard time by manipulating T, S, and D. He does exactly the same thing as did Beethoven in the Introduction to the first movement of the First Symphony. And the opening deceptive gesture, when we do not know, which chord is tonic, is taken directly from the Waldstein sonata, where the same iambic motive disorients us tonally in the beginning. It is very common to "digress" in the introduction, especially into the sphere of Subdominant (Rachmaninoff's introduction to the first movement of Piano concerto No 2 comes to mind).
So, it is much more interesting to discuss creative aspects of music using good old harmonic analysis than to artificially and mechanically judge the weights of notes. 

Ildar Khannanov
Peabody Institute
Johns Hopkins University
solfeggio7 at yahoo.com

--- On Thu, 5/17/12, Olli Väisälä <ovaisala at siba.fi> wrote:

From: Olli Väisälä <ovaisala at siba.fi>
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Subdominant
To: "Frank Samarotto" <fsamarot at indiana.edu>
Cc: smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
Date: Thursday, May 17, 2012, 1:56 PM

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 years.

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
Smt-talk mailing list
Smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
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