[Smt-talk] Criteria for Old and New

Nicolas Meeùs nicolas.meeus at scarlet.be
Mon Mar 11 14:07:24 PDT 2013


I don't quite see what you mean by saying that the fundamental bass is 
'real' and the singing bass 'not true'. What is certain is that, 
whenever they are not the same, the continuo bass is that written in the 
music and the fundamental bass is that imagined by the theorist.

Speaking of dissonances foreign to the harmony, you must realize that 
the French Conservatoires were conceived in the early 19th century as 
local branches of the Conservatoire National in Paris. The Conservatoire 
National issued official manuals which were to be used throughout the 
country. Most important for our discussion is Catel's Traité d'harmonie, 
which became the official manual for all conservatoires in France and 
which established the distinction between "natural" dissonances and 
contrapuntal ones. Fétis has been one of the most zealous advocates of 
this official, national doctrine, but even today Conservatoire teachers 
and students consider it Gospel. That is to say that to view dissonances 
as "foreign to the harmony" is neither new – it dates back to the 18th 
century –, nor risible. In your place, I would very much hesitate to 
call it "vulgar", especially in European circles were I believe it to be 
very common.

You cannot seriously claim that any embellishment bears tonal-harmonic 
function. This seems obvious in the case of a diatonic scale as 
embellishment of a chord: the passing notes in the scale have no other 
function in that chord (or in harmony at large) than that of being 
passing notes.Also, in the case, say, of a 4–3 suspension, where 4, 
however you consider it, is foreign to the harmony. You may claim that 
its preparation, in the preceding chord, belongs to that chord. But the 
preparation as such is not an embellishment.
     You may mean that these embellishment, whether they have 'harmonic' 
function or not, certainly are loaded with musical meaning, which would 
remind us of Schoenberg looking in vain for all these little notes in 
Schenkerian reductions. But this is one of the most essential 
misunderstandings about Schenkerian analysis. Schenker never ceased 
repeating that it where the embellishments that gave music its meaning. 
This had been one of the main points of his Beitrag zur Ornamentik, in 
1904, and remained at the basis of his theory until the end, in Free 

If you believe that T–S–D–T can express a tonality, then you do believe 
that it is an elaboration of a tonic (or, say, the affirmation of a 
tonic) because that is what these terms mean. You are bound to admit 
that the tonality exists at a level higher than any of these four 
chords, even if it obviously results from successions of this kind. 
T–S–D–T may be the mainframe component of harmonic progression, but T is 
the mainframe component of tonality.

The whole idea of analytic reduction is that it is just that, "analytic 
reduction". It aims at explaining what is happening in the real music, 
not at replacing it. Besides, I never saw the letters T, S, or D in real 
music either: these too belong to analytic reduction.

I think I will stop here, because our "discussion" turns to monologues, 
and I see nothing of interest that could be added, especially if you 
don't try to hear what I say.


Nicolas Meeùs
Université Paris-Sorbonne

Le 11/03/2013 13:35, Ildar Khannanov a écrit :
> Dear Nicolas,
> thank you for this clarification. I enjoy reading Rameau in 
> the original. It dawned at me that he had a stronger point than 
> Schenker imagined. By the way, Rameau does not seem to use the 
> adjectives "real"  and "abstract." Apparently, it is your evaluation, 
> from Schenkerian standpoint. In Rameau's terms, basso fondamentale is 
> REAL, and singing bass is common, but not true.
> Yes, I know, that Fetis and some other French teachers avoided 
> Rameau's terminology. There must have been some political reasons for 
> that.  Well, at the same time, Fetis aknowledged the profound 
> contribution of Rameau to theory of tonality, including his own theory.
> It is common (and I would say, vulgar) to treat non-chord tones as 
> non-harmonic tones. This, however, does not eliminate my question: are 
> there true non-HARMONIC tones? What is the reason to treat them as 
> non-HARMONIC? Perhaps, this is my fantasy, but the question remains 
> open, because, if to reverse Schenker's argument, one can say that 
> even the smallest "embellishment" note in classical style bears 
> tonal-harmonic function (either T, or S, or D).
> In addition, to your response to Dimitar, I do not think that T-S-D-T 
> is an elaboration of tonic. There is no such thing as "tonic" before 
> T-S-D-T plays out. It is clearly seen in modulation: we have 
> not modulated until the full functional circle T-S-D-T in a new key 
> has sounded. The T-S-D-T is the mainframe component of harmonic 
> progression. It can be reduced only on paper, in ABSTRACT graphic 
> analysis, but not in real living music.
> Best,
> Ildar Khannanov
> Peabody Institute
> Solfeggio7 at yahoo.com <mailto:Solfeggio7 at yahoo.com>

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