[Smt-talk] Genuine Neighboring Six-Four Chord and More

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Fri Dec 13 17:11:51 PST 2013

Dear Colleagues,

I came across interesting phenomena in one of Schumann’s songs (Der Einsiedler, No. 3 of Drei Gesänge, Op. 83).

1) A neighboring 6/4 chord on a supposed III chord in F in m.4, surrounded by different harmonies. Please, notice that I am not talking about a pedal six-four which some people erroneously call “neigboring” – I am talking about a genuine neighboring 6/4, whose bass is an upper neighbor of the tones that surround it. When I was a student, we were told about the neighboring 6/4 just for reference, but I have rarely come across this interesting and quite rare event. Now some of you probably understand why I objected the term “neighboring 6/4” as related to conventional pedal 6/4 chords, but it does not hurt reiterating that: a) the name of the six-four chord is determined by the contour of the bass, and not by the way the upper voices connect to each other, no matter how smoothly this could be; and b) there is a genuine neighboring 6/4 in music, whose bass is a real neighbour (more likely an upper neighbour) to the surrounding tones. 

2) A leaping 6/4 with a tonic structure, which connects T5, of course failing to produce an authentic resolution. It is interesting that this 6/4 is preceded by V7, but still the appearance of a tonic structure with a dominant bass before the resolution of the genuine dominant directly into T creates the impression of D and T over a dominant bass, after which T appears. One may say there is an anticipation of T in the form of the entire tonic itself, over a D bass.

3) The tonic of the main key (F) does not show up for five full measures from the beginning of the song until measure 6, and the initial passage sounds like D natural minor until the appearance of its harmonic dominant (A7) in measure 5. In fact, the entire piece oscillates between Dm and F, finally stopping in the latter. This duality is called by some Russian scholars “changing tonalities”, passages which oscillate between two relative keys. Notice the “minor dominant” with a 4-3 suspension, followed by VI with a suspension, finally D minor being outlined in a more decisive manner through II2 – V6–V2–I6. Of course, the chords before that could be explained like II–III–VI in F, but this somewhat fails to outline the profile of the major tonality – it is only our “knowledge” that the piece is eventually in F that reinforces some psychological boost of the non-existing F major in the beginning.

There are a lot of interesting events in Schumann’s music and in the Romantic music literature in general, and it is only a pity that some colleagues teach harmony as if the common practice period begins with Bach and ends with Beethoven. In the daily practice of harmonic analysis and part writing, they do not introduce their students to more unusual connections, free resolutions of V7, interesting modal decisions, and much more. By the way, Bach’s music is abundant with probably the boldest harmonic solutions, the study of which could produce an original book of harmony of its own. Occasionally, there is a plagal cadence and a half-cadence on a fermata, probably creating a little stir in some minds which are programmed to not see or hear an S function in all tonal music (smiling face).

Thank you,


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

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