[Smt-talk] Chord Inversion

Eytan Agmon agmonz at 012.net.il
Mon Apr 22 20:46:06 PDT 2013

Dear All,

Like many of us I would also be very sorry to see Gregory off the list, its
dire current state notwithstanding.
Like Olli and others I was also puzzled by his remark. Although of course I
cannot speak on his behalf, it seems to me that he merely overstated an
obvious point for anyone who believes in the existence of harmonic
functions: rarely, if at all, can the inversion of a chord change its
function (the cadential six-four chord is a conceivable exception, but
perhaps only apparently so). For example, in the Bach prelude that Olli
cites the opening "contrapuntal" progression expresses T-S-D-T much in the
same way that does that I-IV-V-I progression that governs the piece's
large-scale harmonic structure.
This is of course not to say that chords always have a function. In some
contexts and usually, but not always, in inversion, chords are obviously
"passing," and so forth.

Eytan Agmon
Bar-Ilan University

-----Original Message-----
From: smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org
[mailto:smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org] On Behalf Of
ovaisala at siba.fi
Sent: Monday, April 22, 2013 6:46 PM
To: smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] ABSENCE OF LEAD SHEET

Dear list,

Reacting to my previous post, Gregory Proctor wrote:

> I knew people would choose to miscast my remarks. I should know better 
> by now that lists like these have sunk bit by bit to the level of 
> comments on political blogs. I give up. Goodbye list.

Unfortunately prof. Proctor seems thus to have chosen to abandon the list
owing to my humorous comment. I regret this; it was certainly not my

I by no means "chose to" misunderstand his assertion that "inversion is
overrated in classical music." I genuinely found no sensible way to
understand it and thought that perhaps taking this assertion at its face
value and drawing conclusions from it ad absurdum might provoke him to
explain what he actually meant. Unfortunately his post implies that this
will not be the case.

Perhaps I should not have tried to be humorous or ironic (especially in a
foreign language, whose nuances I am far from mastering), but my attempts to
find a serious approach to that assertion simply failed. I thought that in
principle it might mean either literally "inversions were overrated by
classical composers" or "approaches to classical music overrate inversions."
In my previous post, I played with the consequences of the first option. But
the second option also seems ?  
how should I say ? utterly problematic, if we consider how an approach
making no distinction between "root position" and "inversion" would succeed
in describing the organization, say, in a paradigmatic classical piece such
as Bach's C-major Prelude from WTC I.

Hence, what I hoped to do in my post was to provoke greater clarity in
postings, but clearly my approach was a failure.

Olli Väisälä
Sibelius Academy
University of the Arts, Helsinki
ovaisala at siba.fi

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