[Smt-talk] The Concept of Appoggiatura

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Mon Oct 22 14:49:07 PDT 2012

Dear Colleagues,

There are a lot of things and situations in conventional books that are highly objectionable and not solidly supported. One example of what I think of as a false concept, is the manner the appoggiatura is presented in the Kostka/Payne book and other books (not in all American books, though). This concept is neither historically nor practically supported; it seems to have been “invented” by someone who could not find peace until all the non-chord tones have been placed in one basket and indiscriminately labeled by melodic contour only - thus mixing weak and strong. 

The difference between unaccented and accented non-chord tones is essential. While the former occur after the chord and create a subtle nuance in the harmonic motion, the latter enter with the chord, create a harmonic conflict, and require special treatment. This is why an indiscriminate classification of all non-chord tones by melodic contour alone creates a misleading picture that mixes up strong and weak dissonances and ignores the fundamental difference in their aural effect. It does not make sense to simply label as a “passing tone” a note that creates a clang with a chord and resolves like a suspension, or to call an “appoggiatura” a metrically weak tone that enters after the chord.

Many theorists, among whom Hugo Riemann and Richard Stör, refer to the appoggiatura as “suspension” (Vorhalt ) or “free suspension” (frei Vorhalt) to suggest that it has a similar effect. (Riemann, Dictionary of Music, revised ed. 1897, trans. by J. S. Shedlock. Philadelphia: Theo. Presser, 1899, 29; and Stör, Praktischer Leitfaden der Harmonielehre. Wien: Universal-Edition, 1917, 61.

Therefore, the appoggiatura, or the leaning tone, is not about a melodic contour but about a moment of entrance and a necessity for resolution. In this sense it may appear as an accented passing, accented neighboring or accented leaping dissonance. 

In some theory books, the appoggiatura is explained as a non-chord tone that is approached by a leap and left by a step. This notion is not supported historically, and it is all the more surprising because it assumes the existence of weak appoggiaturas. In fact, the appoggiatura emerged in the 16th century counterpoint as an accented passing tone (Robert Jones, Harmony and Its Contrapuntal Treatment. New York: Harper, 1939, 60), and the so-called “long appoggiatura” in the keyboard practice of the Baroque Era was approached both stepwise and by a leap. We know that the verb “appoggiare” means “to lean” and therefore it implies a tone which leans on the chord on a metrically accented position. Consequently, there are no “weak appoggiaturas”, unless they are included in a syncopation figure, where they will still be accented. 

I would highly appreciate any comments on that issue.

With best regards,

Dr. Dimitar Ninov, Lecturer
School of Music
Texas State University
601 University Drive
San Marcos, Texas 78666

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