[Smt-talk] The Concept of Appoggiatura

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Wed Oct 24 11:14:41 PDT 2012

Dear Donna,

Thank you for you comments and suggested classification. I agree to a certain extent with it, and in fact this is what my students are using right now, to be more compatible with other requirements in other schools. But they know that the accented passing, neighboring and leaping tones are all appoggiaturas, and that appoggiatura has never been tied to a melodic contour for its validation. 

If someone suddenly decided to attach a specific contour to it, I do not have to buy their ungrounded innovations. History shows that the first leaning tones widely accepted in contrapuntal practice were the repeated tone (suspension) and the accented passing tone (appoggiatura). There have never been serious historical arguments about the melodic contour of an appoggiatura. 

I am afraid that your classification places all non chord tones in the same basket. For me, a theory that introduces suspension among weak tones and appoggiatura separately from suspension does not take into account the acoustical and aural differences between accented and unaccented non-chord tones.

I tell my students these two opposite things, so that they grasp the essential difference between accented and unaccented tones as well as the essential similarity between suspension and appoggiatura:

1. The only accented non-chord tone is the appoggiatura,. When it is prepared, it is a suspension.

2. The only accented non-chord tone is the suspension. When it is unprepared it is an appoggiatura.

The above two statements are in full unison with historical practices and with the comments of Hugo Riemann, Richard Stor, Walter Piston, Robert Jones, and many other authors. Furthermore, this notion is widely accepted in the theory world for centuries, while the "leaping profile" of the appoggiatura is just a recent (some 50 years ago) private decision made by some author who could not find piece unlessuntil all the non-chord tones were placed in one basket and labeled by melodic contour. This decision twists the concept of appoggiatura, localizes it within the boundaries of the United States, and does not do good to any traveling musician and theorist who will have to do a lot of explanation if he/she exposes their "innovative" concept of appoggiatura abroad. But this is not all; I do not think that there is a wide agreement on this in the United States either, because we have printed books and living theorists who have not bought the "all-by-melodic-contour-only" concept.

Now, I offer my classification:

I. Accented NCTs: suspension and appoggiatura. The former is a prepared appoggiatura, and the latter is an unprepared suspension. The main criterion is the collision with the chord on a strong beat or on the stronger portion of a divided weak beat. The profile of the appoggiatura does not affect the collision with the chord and the necessity for resolution. All the the numeration that is applied for the suspension is valid for the appoggiatura. You may label the appoggiaturas as apt (accented passing tone), acN (accented neighbor) and aft (accented free tone) or simply app, but the labels must not make us forget the nature of these accented dissonances. Labeling all of them as "app", especially  when their collision with the chord is prominent is not only not a mistake, but a desirable act, for it shows the difference between typical weak and typical strong tones.

Unaccented NCTs: classification by profile, because they do not create a strong vertical conflict. 

1. Passing. 2. Neighboring. 3. Anticipation. 4. Free Tone. This latter category has three different profiles: a) step-leap; b) leap-step (not an appoggiatura!); and c) leap-leap (more rare) You may call the step-leap profile an echape, and the other two simply a free tone. If someone is so obsessed with labels and tags, they may use "incomplete neighbor" for the leap-step profile. But it is interesting that the leap-leap profile does not have a label, because it seems as if it has escaped the attention of generations of theorists. But I do not need labels for everything. Free tone is sufficient. Finally, we do not need labels for a long time; only until the matter is mastered. After that they are in the way of creativity.

The pedal point is a compositional device, and I am not sure it must be included ion the non-chord tones section. Some authors do that, some others introduce it after modulation.

Thank you,


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

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