[Smt-talk] Final Plagal Cadence and Other Wondeful Features in the Schumann Song

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Mon Dec 16 14:37:57 PST 2013

Dear Bill,

Thank you very much for showing interest in this wonderful song. In fact, we do not differ dramatically here, with the exception of the plagal cadence whose audible effect I personally do maintain. Let me re-address the issues with some corrections of mine as needed.

1.	About the formal design. I hear two extended phrases in mm 1-15. The first phrase ends with a modulation from D minor into F major via V9 – I (m. 7).  The second phrase ends via PAC in m. 15. That makes a simple contrasting period, which is then repeated with a different cadence in the end (a double period). The text may not agree with these harmonic-melodic considerations, and I do not rule out your hearing of three phrases instead of two. There are periods with three phrases as well.
Furthermore, I would gladly agree this is more of a large repeated period with a reduced cadential formula, rather than a genuine double period. Instead of offering the full S-D-T closure as he does in the middle, the composer is satisfied with a reduced S-T ending. Having said that, for me the final root position motion of IV–I is a tangible cadence. I do not attribute a special meaning to the word “cadence” as you do in your JAMS article. I simply translate and interpret the word “cadence” as “closure”. If you doubt a cadential moment in the end of this song, you probably imply that it ends as an unfinished, harmonically open thought. I guess very few people will agree with this concept.

2.	I too hear the neighboring 6/4  introduced as a cadential 6/4 in Am which deviates from its path. But this creates a neighboring contour, and since this particular 6/4 is not confirmed as cadential, I prefer to use a name that implies its dissolution in the prevailing context. Note that this 6/4 is followed by an SII in Dm. 

The fusion of a cadenttial six-four with accented passing, accented pedal or accented arpeggiated 6/4 is an interesting phenomenon that I examine partially in a paper of mine (you are acquainted with it). For example, an accented six-four can be introduced “dramatically” as cadential but led away as passing (Second section of “Fur Elise”, where the initial attempt to modulate from F to Am is cancelled and the “cadential six-four” in Am is reinterpreted as a common chord in a modulation to C major (passing III6/4 in F = passing VI6/4 in C). Another similar fusion is the accented passing 6/4 in the first theme of Mozart’s A La Turka, where it is introduced after an augmented six-five S chord (in the form of F7 in m.20) but immediately progresses as passing, to reach the true cadential six-four a few beats later. With all these reflections I want to imply that, occasionally, our first expectations may be overridden by a logical operation which is not necessarily deceptive by nature, but discloses other potential features of a chord or progression which are more rarely employed. Consider a Mm7 chord – it always bears very strong expectations as a certain V7. But we cannot tell how it functions until we hear its behavior in context. If it resolves deceptively, that is one thing, you may rely on your prevailing expectations and describe it accordingly, but if it is interpreted as an altered subdominant or altered dominant chord with an augmented sixth – this changes the picture and the behaviour of the chord. 

3.	I still maintain the feeling of an overall D minor tonality during the first five measures of the song’s beginning. In Measure 2, a Gm chord is introduced which has nothing to do with an anticipated feeling of an A minor. As you shared with us, you were longing to hear the 4-3 suspension over the Am chord as one that occurs over a harmonic dominant bearing a C#. Alas, Schumann decides otherwise – he postpones the arrival of the harmonic dominant until m. 5. For me, the best clue to the tonality of the first five measures is the combination of melody and  harmony. If you play the whole passage without stopping to reflect on the dual character of the neghboring 6/4, you will find yourself in a very concrete D minor key before the modulation into F in m. 6. 
My interpretation is this. The song begins with a plagal connection IV–I, after which a subtle T–SII–D–SM progression takes place, the minor dominant weakening sufficiently the progression, adding some ambiguity to it.

4.	Although this example may not be a precise illustration of a genuine double period, such periods do exist, of course. One conspicuous example is the first theme of the second movement of Eroika (the funeral march) which modulates with a PAC into the mediant key, then the repetition of the period returns the home key with another PAC. Now this is neither a binary form, nor a repeated period, because the shift in tonality creates a new quality of perfect ending for each of the two periods. 

Thank you,


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

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