[Smt-talk] Final Plagal Cadence and a Summary of Wondeful Features in the Schumann Song

Olli Väisälä ovaisala at siba.fi
Mon Dec 16 22:52:57 PST 2013

Dear List,

Some comments to Dimitar Ninov's and William Caplin's dialogue  
concerning Schumann's Der Einsiedler:

>> 1. A true neighboring 6/4 in m. 4 and m. 19.
>> 2. Aeolian mode between mm. 1-5 and mm 16-19 (considering both  
>> melodic contour and harmony).
> I initially hear this sonority as a cadential six-four in A minor,  
> where the music seems to be heading, but gets deflected when the  
> expected melodic G# remains G natural.  This is the second time  
> that an expected "sharp" fails to appear: in the previous bar 3, we  
> could well expect the melodic C of m. 3 to be C#, not C natural.   
> Simply "explaining" these bars as residing in D aeolian fails to  
> acknowledge the strong implications for tonal motions that Schumann  
> sets up, but denies.

First, I would emphasize (in agreement with Caplin's point) that the  
6/4 in m. 4 can be readily classified as an accented 6/4, in which  
the upper voices resolve by step through the typical 6/4–5/3 motion.  
To some extent, this hearing is also supported by somewhat comparable  
appoggiaturas (accented dissonances) in preceding music (downbeats of  
m. 3 and m. 4). Hence, this 6/4 is not caused by a neighbor in the  
bass but by upper-voice resolution. Another thing is that the bass E  
might be well be perceived structurally as a neighbor to the  
surrounding Ds, but the primary chord above it is not 6/4 but 5/3.

Second, whether the music is Aeolian. While I do not want to dispute  
Caplin's points about tonal implications, I think there is a strong  
sense in which we CAN speak of Aeolian or natural minor or whatever  
we wish to call it. In mm. 2–5 there is an easily hearable D–C–Bb–A  
framework in the melody (supported by D–A–D6–C#6 in FB notation),  
which is archetypal of natural minor. Hence, I think we should  
recognize both the local implications for tonal motions that fail to  
take place and the larger pattern that actually does take place.

Third, concering Ninov's question whether things such as occur in  
this song are described in theory books. At least, Aldwell and  
Schachter (3rd edition) readily recognize that "descending lines in  
minor tend to use the descending melodic (or natural) form" (p. 17)  
and describes the use of minor V in such lines (p. 258). They also  
discuss accented 6/4s (p. 307) in a way that helps to explain the 6/4  
in m. 4. Moreover, they describe a "consonant 6/4–5/3" (p. 320–321),  
in which the upper voices of I momentarily appear above V before the  
bass moves to I, as in m. 9 of the Schumann song, another point  
mentioned by Ninov. Incidentally, while A&S mention Brahms as a  
composer for whom the last-mentioned usage is typical, their example  
(19-26) is actually from Schumann.

Olli Väisälä
Sibelius Academy
University of the Arts, Helsinki

ovaisala at siba.fi
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