[Smt-talk] Chopin Prelude

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Sat Apr 20 15:19:53 PDT 2013

Dear Colleagues,

I agree that Chopin's prelude in Em has a lot of chromatic motion, but this is not a reason to dismiss the vertical harmonic analysis of this piece in favor of simultaneities and/or purely linear passages. In fact, I the prelude is susceptible to fairly easy harmonic analysis which clarifies the linear motion in the light of functional interaction. I offer my version below. One interesting feature of this harmonic analysis is the outline of key areas with evaded tonic.


Between measure 1 and the first half of Measure 3 the progression is T-D (Em: Im6 - V4/3sus - V4/3 - V4/3 flat 5). 

Between the second half of Measure 3 and the first half of Measure 4 the progression is S-D in the subdominant area, whose tonic does not appear immediately (Am: II half-dim.4/3 - VII dim.2 - V7, or simplified as II-V of IVm).

In the second half of Measure 4 one may find an S-D progression in D major, whose tonic does not appear (D: IIm7 -   VIIdim6/5, or simplified as II-V root omitted, of VII).

Thus we can see a motion in descending fifths among the outlined key areas of Em - Am - D (with evaded tonic).

Measures 5 and 6 represent an S-D progression in the main key (Em: IVm 4/3 - II half-dim2 - VIIdim7). 

Measure 7 contains VII7 which functions as V7 of III, whose tonic does not appear.

Measures 8 and 9 reveal an S-D-T progression in the subdominant area (Am: IVm7 - II half-dim 6/5 - VII dim4/3 - Im6)

Measures 10-12 prolong the dominant, including  a repeated Phrygian half-cadence.

SECOND PHRASE (mm. 13-25)

Reprise, no changes in mm. 13-14, compared to mm 1-2. 

Measure 15 is occupied by an expanded dominant of the subdominant area, whose tonic does not appear (Am: VII dim2 - V7). 

The first three beats of Measure 16 reveal an S-D progression in the dominant area (V: IVm7 - VII dim.4/3 - VII dim.6/5) and on the forth beat, through de-alteration,  the subdominant in the main key appears as IVm6 (or II half-dim4/3 on the dotted eight note that is an accented passing tone, and IVm6 on the sixteenth note).

Measure 17: D-T, Measure 18: S-D

Measures 19-20 prolong the dominant function which resolves deceptively in m. 21.

Measure 21: VI - IV6 alt. (Italian or Sicilian, or Toscanian or...ha-ha) - de-alteration into II half-dim4/3 which creates a subdominant inclination to the tonic.

Measure 22: notice that this is an accented passing Tonic six-four chord with a suspension in the tenor, which would be labeled as 7-6 to the bass note, while it is actually  a disguised 4-3 suspension towards the root of the tonic triad. This wonderful phenomenon would not be easily swallowed by Schenkerian followers, for whom the fourth engaging the bass note is always a dissonant interval. I do not know if, following this rigid logic they would also consider dissonant the various apreggiated six-four chords in marches, waltzes or popular music, for they also contain a forth which engages the bass, but let me not deviate...Here, within the accented tonic six-four chord, a resolution creates a point of leaning and temporary loosening of the tension. The major tonic is followed by a minor one. 

Finally, after a DD chord in Measure 23 (VII dim7b3 of V = Bavarian or Prussian or Shvabian...ha-ha) the dominant comes dramatically with a 4-3 suspension which resolves and then the tonic ends up the piece in measure 25.

Please, never mind my joking about the chords with a diminished third/augmented sixth. However, notice that the altered dominant of the dominant (Ger.) in Measure 23 is in root position and does not contain an augmented sixth. Nevertheless, some teachers and authors of books confuse the students by labeling this as Ger.+6, the students looking for the augmented sixth...In such situations, it is time to change to Ger. dim3 as some authors already realized that, but we must not forget that geographic names are only nicknames with no functional relevance. 

Thank you for your attention,


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

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