[Smt-talk] Subdominant

Nicolas Meeùs nicolas.meeus at paris-sorbonne.fr
Fri May 18 13:39:39 PDT 2012


If you felt my message in any way aggressive, please remember that my 
English probably is not as good as yours. Your question raises an 
important issue, and I'd really be distressed to appear to minimize it.

I myself am in visceral disagreement with the idea of Schenkerian 
analysis as a process of "pruning", of eliminating "light" notes in 
favor of "heavy" ones, and in considering the Ursatz made up of the 
surface notes that resisted the process. (I may be wrong in that, but I 
cannot refrain from associating the "reductionist" view with GTTM.)

Gregory Proctor, in an recent posting, aptly described what I have in mind:

    For all the use of Schenker's name in this thread, the language and
    apparent conceptualization is almost purely Salzerian. The idea that
    one note is "more important" than another really doesn't suit either
    theorist, but the notion that notes of structure are separated from
    one another by notes of prolongation is entirely Salzer. In
    Schenker, each level is an abstraction which is expanded into the
    next abstraction until surface counterpoint is reached. There are no
    gaps between the elements depicted at that level. 

Your stressing of "the framing points", your "partition principle" and 
"penult principle", all tend to give weight to single notes. This, I 
think, is a reductionist manner of presenting things (but I trust that 
your description is meant as pedagogical). When I stress a 
6th-progression from F to D, I do not mean that its framing points, F 
and D, are more important, merely that the progression is an elaboration 
of an abstract space delimited by these notes – i.e. of a triad to which 
these notes belong.

The criterion of "framing points" may be acceptable as one of the 
delimitation of a tonal space. But it must be realized that what is 
elaborated is not the framing points in themselves, but the /Stufe/ of 
which they mark the space. This raises the question of a Zug as 
elaboration either of its headnote or of its final note: this is an 
interesting question, which we might further discuss.

The "partition principle" raises the question of how one decides what 
articulates a higher level elaboration. I do not think the I chord in 
mes. 5 "subdivises" these 6 measures of Schumann's Carnaval; I think 
that what somehow does is the voice exchange by two 3d-Züge in contrary 
motion, Ab-C/C-Ab, mes. 4-5 (but so doing, I refuse to identify the note 
that subdivises).

As to the "penult principle", I suppose it very much depends on the 
context. Here, the penultimate chord realizes the chromatic inflexion 
and transforms IV into V of V [i.e. transforms the subdominant into a 
predominant; but these are words we should not dare pronounce on SMT]. 
So, indeed, there is some weight in this chord; but at the same time, it 
is but a chromatic inflection, passing from IV to V...

To sum up: your criteria seem to me perfect as heuristic or pedagogical 
tools, and I suppose I make use of similar criteria in my own analyses 
or my own teaching. But at a higher level of reflexion, they should 
shade away in favor of more abstract considerations: we should always 
remind our students (and ourselves) that reductional processes are but 
makeshifts for unveiling elaborations.

Nicolas Meeùs
Université Paris-Sorbonne

Le 18/05/2012 16:19, Olli Väisälä a écrit :
> Nicolas, I must confess that I do not understand your point:
>> It seems to me that Olli's criteria are excessively "reductionist" in 
>> that it tries to identify "points" in the score which, one supposes, 
>> are of sufficient weight to be retained at the next level of the 
>> reduction.
>> Schenker describes the process as one of elaboration and, more 
>> specifically, elaboration of a tonal space, i.e. of the disjunct 
>> spaces between the notes of a triad, by passing notes, i.e. a 
>> conjunct voice leading (see "Erläuterungen" in /Der Tonwille /9 or 10 
>> or /Das Meisterwerk /1 or 2). The identification of the elaboration 
>> therefore passes by the identification of conjunct, or at least 
>> "fluent" lines. In this case, there is a complete octave line in the 
>> upper voice, Eb–F–G–Ab–Bb–C–Dn–Eb (which probably warns that the key 
>> is not Db major), but it obviously is the 6th-line F–G–Ab–Bb–C–Dn 
>> that interests us, supported by an almost complete  6th-line in 
>> contrary movement, Db–C–Bb–Ab–(G)–F; these two lines form a voice 
>> exchange accompanied by a chromatic inflection, F/Db becoming Dn/F, 
>> elaborating a IVth degree. Embedded inside this elaboration (and at a 
>> lower level), one may see another voice exchange, Ab–Bb–C/C–Bb–Ab, 
>> elaborating the tonic.
> Under Schenkerian theory, the composer, of course, elaborates 
> structural frameworks at levels closer to surface. However, an 
> analyst, when trying to determine the underlying framework, cannot 
> help reducing out some elements on the basis of *some* criteria. I do 
> not understand in which sense my efforts to explicate such criteria 
> can be regarded as "excessively" reductionist.
> Of course, the criteria might be mistaken, but is this really what you 
> are suggesting? Given that you call the 6th-progression from F to D as 
> an entity that "interests us" and that my discussion of criteria 
> suggested how we can justify the demarcation of this 6th-progression, 
> our notions would not at all seem mutually incompatible.
> Olli Väisälä
> Sibelius Academy
> ovaisala at siba.fi <mailto:ovaisala at siba.fi>
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