[Smt-talk] Realizing a figured bass in the curriculum

Ildar Khannanov etudetableau at gmail.com
Mon Dec 15 07:21:59 PST 2014

Dear Olli and the List,

thank you for clarification! I thought that you went through the whole
cycle of thorough training (some 10 to 14 years) in tonal-functional style
in harmony and related disciplines and, upon its completion, remained
dissatisfied with it. That I would underestand and take into consideration.
However, from what you have provided, I have learned that you never had
fundamental training in functional harmony. I am afraid I have to assume
that most of my collocutors on the list never studied functional harmony as
such. Recently, I have discovered that in Denmark some schools still
provide this kind of training, but it remains marginal today.

So, may I suggest something. Before unleashing the power of critique on
something, let us learn it more carefully. Let us translate some texbooks
on functional harmony and let us try to reintroduce the tradition of the
conservatories. After years, or decades, of testing it in practice, one may
still say that Schenker is more dear to him or to her than 300 hundred
years of real tonal music in all its variety of methods and approaches.
That would be relevant and professional.

I would also like to raise the discussion to a more categorical level. The
two concepts--tonal-functional and revisionist can be formulated:

1)  In the course of development of musical composition, some elements of
higher level in a hierarchy, such as chord and tonalities, received their
functional roles that determined the structures of the lower level, such as
melodic tones, embellishments and combination of such. The functions of
higher level provide the answer to the question Why this tone follows into
another and Why this chord is connected to that chord, Why this key is
related to that key.

2) In the early 1900s another theoretical concept occured, the one that
revised the theory of harmony. It suggests that the higher-level functions
of chords and tonalities are irrelevant in tonal composition and the
structures of embellishment and local prolongations can be extended to the
higher levels of structure and replace tonal functions.

These are two theoretical concepts that we discuss constantly on SMT
mailing list. The figured bass tradition, species counterpoint and other
interesting words and phrases are historically irrelevant at this juncture.

Best wishes,

Ildar Khannanov
Peabody Institute
drkhannanov at gmail.com

2014-12-15 1:05 GMT-05:00 Väisälä Olli <olli.vaisala at uniarts.fi>:
>  Just a short comment to Ildar:
>  I wrote:
>  Quote: Speaking of personal experience, I was about 12 or 13 when
> studying FB. Before that, I think I considered myself rather fluent in
> ”harmonizing melodies” at the piano, but this was the first time I started
> to understand that chords are not just concatenated chunks, i.e., that
> there is a such thing as voice leading.
>  Ildar wrote:
>  Voice leading IS an aspect of the art of harmonization of unfigured
> melody. It has always been a part of harmonization, together with many
> other important aspects. Voice leading cannot be detached from the theory
> of harmony (Rameau) and taught separately or on the examples of so-called
> figured bass *theory* or so-called *species* counterpoint (both—figments
> of imagination and revisionism).  I seriously doubt that someone can
> “consider himself or herself rather fluent in ”harmonizing melodies” if he
> or she understands it solely as “concatenated chunks.” Perhaps, this is the
> result of poor pedagogy and not the deficiency of the method as such.
>  I comment:
>  By no means was my attitude a result of poor pedagogy, because I had not
> yet gotten any tuition in the art of harmonization. What I spoke about was
> just the complacency of a 12-year old who had learnt to find
> "good-sounding" chords on his own through keyboard improvization.
>  (Incidentally, I think theory pedagogy in the music school I went to may
> not have been very good, but that didn’t prevent the FB course from
> alerting me to voice leading.)
>  Olli Väisälä
> University of the Arts, Helsinki
> olli.vaisala at uniarts.fi
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