[Smt-talk] Subdominant

Olli Väisälä ovaisala at siba.fi
Sat May 19 08:18:35 PDT 2012

Some further comments to Nicolas Meeùs:

> 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.

Your description of the roles of F and D here is synonymous to what I  
expressed by saying that they have greater structural weight; hence  
there seems to be no actual disagreement here. Of course, their  
significance is not limited to those single notes; nevertheless, in  
order for the structure to be comprehensible, these notes and their  
special structural status has to be expressed somehow in the musical  
surface. My considerations of analytical criteria concerned these  
ways of expression.

> 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.

Here, our attitudes seem to differ. In my view, the relative neglect  
of such "heuristic tools" is a major defect in Schenkerian theory. We  
can construe Schenker's theory as a systemic description of syntax in  
tonal "masterworks" (Schenker himself compared music with language).  
While Schenker described with great finesse the system of structural  
levels that is crucial to his theory, he offered us too little to  
clarify how the structural positions are expressed in composition or  
how they are to be inferred by the listener or the analyst. In my  
view, the theory has nothing to lose but much to gain, if we try to  
supplement Schenker's accomplisment by determining principles  
relevant to this question. In the end, this question is not only  
heuristic or pedagogical, but epistemic. Insofar as we can identify  
what kind of compositional features are required to justify readings  
of structural weight, it becomes possible to test the theory  

>  (I may be wrong in that, but I cannot refrain from associating the  
> "reductionist" view with GTTM.)

I would not cite GTTM as a cautionary example but would credit it  
with a laudable effort to clarify the basis of structural readings.  
My considerations of analytical criteria are, indeed, somewhat  
comparable to the preference rules of GTTM. However, while I regard  
the aims of GTTM as quite legitimate, there are several respects in  
which I find its system of preference rules as unsatisfactory. It is  
too simplistic (Lerdhal and Jackendoff themselves admit that it does  
not work well with polyphonic music), and I also find some preference  
rules as simply wrong or given false weight. There is also the basic  
problem that GTTM treats each element in the prolongational structure  
as subordinate to a *single* element, whereas musical elaboration  
characteristically concerns motions from an element to another, in  
the manner of passing tones.

My points of criticism against GTTM's preference rules are too  
various to be discussed here (at least we should rename this thread),  
but one consideration may be worth presenting. GTTM places a great  
weight to "harmonic stability" in its determination of structural  
weight, in the sense that I chords are much more likely to become  
structurally significant just because they are I chords. In the  
Carnaval, this would imply that the I in m. 5 would, in terms of  
GTTM, be less likely to become subordinate to the surrounding IV and  
V4/3 of V than in Frank Samarotto's (or my) Schenkerian analysis. I  
believe that the criteria of prolongational weight should be more  
strongly independent of Roman-numeral chord identification than what  
GTTM asserts. Hence, prolongational patterns are created actively  
through composers' treatment of chords, they do not arise passively  
from the mere identity of chords.

Olli Väisälä
Sibelius Academy
ovaisala at siba.fi
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