[Smt-talk] Cuation versus Generalization

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Thu Aug 29 14:29:32 PDT 2013

Dear Edward, Dave, Nicholas, and all colleagues,

Thank you very much for your inputs and insightful comments. In this message I will take a moment to reply to Edward and Dave Headlam. With your permission, I will use another time slot to reply to Nocholas, for he brought up a great issue that deserves tackling in terms of the psychological impact of terminology on the understanding and practice of 
harmonic syntax.

Edward, thank you for the nice references to different articles. They all sound intriguing! Interestingly enough, I witnessed the presentation of Gabriel Fankhauser on "Deviant Cadential Six-Four Chords" at a CMS Regional Conference in Brownsville, Texas (March 2, 2013). My presentation on Theory of Meter was in the same room and time frame, and Gabriel and I got acquainted and talked. I liked his presentation very much, for he brought cases from popular music, among other things, where different 6/4 chords are occasionally treated as substitutes of fifth chords (5/3 chords). Some of them are even introduced on an accented beat, but do not trigger an immediate cadence or phrase ending. 

As for the concept of an "inverted six-four" per se, I will have to respectfully rejected it, for I already consider the six-four chord a triad in second inversion. Yes, such triads are functionally ambiguous, and this is why we create special conditions in the form of weak passing and pedal six-four chord figures - where their ambiguity is reduced to a minimum and they can reveal their latent function. Depending on the tempi, this function may be more or less discernible from the surrounding harmony. 

The cadential six-four, which is accented, may be thought of as a tonic which has lost a great deal of its original function and has acquired a dominant momentum. I do not have a problem calling the cad. 6/4 "a dominant in  a process of formation", but for me, this process is different from a simple introduction of two non-chord tones to a dominant function. When the cadential six-four - thanks to its outer structural equality with the tonic - serves as a temporary point of resolution of non-chord tones and altered chords, when it is freely arpeggiated and sounds like a tonic over a dominant bass, or when it is expanded by I6 or I before the appearance of V - its dormant tonic component is activated to a certain extent. Eventually, the dominant bass prevails in the conflict, and if I am to analyze progressions on a very general level, I will place the letter D over the "dominant complex" of I6/4 - V. In more rare cases, when V does not follow I6/4, different options are available, one of them being an accented tonic six-four.

One interesting feature that we all seem to miss in our discussion is the melodic content over 6/4 chords (in solo instrument and voices), which contributes to the overall perception of functionality. For example, if you play the passage between mm. 5-8 of Mozart's Sonata No. 1 in C (K279, first movement) you will very clearly grasp the subdominant function over the tonic pedal point. Whether you analyze that as I-IV6/4-I, or as T-S-D over a pedal point is not so critical. The important factor is that the melody outlines a tonicization of IV which is very tangible. I think that interpreting this fine moment as a "tonic prolongation" will be an insensitive and blunt approach to harmonic analysis. Yes, there is a tonic expansion or prolongation in the bass, but harmonies unfold over it that impress the mind with functional exchange. Occasionally, such functional exchange over a pedal point shapes period forms and other structures as the implied cadences and other characteristic features are not undermined. (Schumann, Op. 68, No. 18 - Schnitterliedchen).

Dave, Thank you - I agree with your citations and I am interested to learn more about this source! I myself explain the harmonic progressions as alternation of stability-instability, e.g. tonic-non-tonic areas. I also agree about the V11 chord. Not only this, but V7 itself already contains a subdominant element (the 4th degree). This is why T and D7 are enough to outline a key, for D7 contains an S element, and we do experience this conflict in favor of the tonic.

Best regards,


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

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