Holiday Mission Harmony – The Boston Musical Intelligencer


In tonal music (at least until Debussy) there are basically two kinds of harmony: the dominant harmony and everything in between. Dominant harmony is what we develop a feeling for when we consider harmonic movement: the dominant progresses to the tonic, V goes to I. The most obvious strong harmonic progression is from dominant to tonic at the end of a phrase. , and the louder version of this is called “Perfect Authentic Cadence”. Theorists cherish this as a PAC rather than a political action committee.

We hear the “most perfect” form of it in the root position, with the main tone (LT, or ^ 7) in the upper voice, rising to the tonic degree. Almost as “perfect”, the ^ 2- ^ 1 in the upper voice places the main tone in an inner voice. Imperfect authentic cadences always resolve the dominant in the tonic, but may include inversions (not in root position), for example V6-I, with the main tone in the bass.

In the half-cadence, the sentence ends on the V, however approached. But the strongest form by half a cadence precedes the dominant one with her own dominant, called V of V. (Some books abbreviate it as V / V.) If you imagine, for example, in the key of C, a phrase ending in a G major chord and preceded by a D chord major, this relation is just like VI in G major, but because it’s a momentary thing and we’re still in C major, we say V from V going to V, using a dominant secondary. This means using a chromatic tone – a tone outside the seven degrees of the major scale. When you see an accidental sign in a short tonal piece, it is a signal that most likely a secondary dominant is being used.

Earlier we saw simple hymns like Saint Anne and Ellers. Maybe now we can see again Saint Anne and put some Roman numerals below – analyzing the fundamental functions of chords (Roman numerals in upper case are major; lower case, minor).

This harmonization treats the melody as a cantus firmus: a change of harmony per note of the melody. Bach would have done it that way in his chorale style, but with more counterpoint – melodic movement in the other parts, but still one syllable of text per change of harmony.

The harmony helps the melody to point towards a tonal goal: a cadence on the dominant one. The harmonic movement towards the dominant at the end of the phrase is one of the most frequent phenomena in all tonal music. Look for it in Sleepers, Alarm clock Where Ellers. In Sleepers, Alarm clock it occurs at the end of the first sentence, which is repeated; in Ellers, he ends the second sentence, right in the middle of the hymn.

After identifying V of V, we can examine other secondary dominants. The beloved hymn of the Navy, Melita, offers beautiful illustrations. Composed by the Reverend John Bacchus Dykes (1823-1876), canon cantor at Durham Cathedral, it offers further proof that such a high percentage of good hymns come from Anglicans. (As a former Episcopal Church choirboy who used to earn $ 0.25 per service, I confirm that we had a lot of the best music and still have it. It was a good thing that Mendelssohn made so many regular trips to England, materially adding to the tradition of the Oratorio Society.)

Melita is slightly longer than Saint Anne – three longer sentences instead of two – and thus has the possibility of a wider tone. (I omitted some root scans just to save time and space.) Saint Anne has a strong secondary function (theory teachers, remembering Schenker, speak of “toning” – I accept this term, but Piston told me it was too much wissenschaftlich to his taste), Melita shows the secondary dominants of ii, iii, IV and V. You will notice that the third chord of bar 6 (“deep”) is actually V of V, so “ocean”, strictly speaking, should be called V of V of V; V of V and ii have the same root, D, and the functional relationship of the previous dominant (root A) is the same for both. For the ear, it’s a slight surprise, and one can wonder if this phrase, in cadence on E minor, is still in C major – should we rather say that there was a drift in E minor , a modulation? (After all, “Its own fixed limits remain” is half of an entire sentence in E minor.) It is possible; the question could be seen as ambiguous, and the ambiguity remains apparent to the ear in the context of the entire hymn; but it probably doesn’t matter whether you decide one way or the other, unless you practice Musikwissenschaft..

Here is another example of a skillful and rich use of secondary dominants, taken from Schubert’s waltzes, which we recently discussed. (To save space, we’re omitting the first 8 bars and simplifying the notation slightly. Bars 9-12 are the same as bars 1-4.)

The secondary dominants include the seventh of the chord, like G sharp in bar 15. The seventh in bar 17 (C sharp) hangs in bar 18 and resolves to B; likewise, the B in the next bar; bars 17-20 are part of a sequence. Bar 21 is a diminished seventh chord, used as the dominant of C sharp. You will notice that in these limited 16 bars, Schubert uses every note of the chromatic scale, although with his well extended and harmonically rich tonality he never leaves the B major.

Don’t worry if the mix of Roman and Arabic numerals is confusing right now; the romans identify the roots of chords, so look for them. (When we talk about melody, as in the second ¶ of this article, we talk about scale degrees, for example ^ 1 is the first degree of the scale, the tonic; ^ 5 is the dominant, and so on.) And if you are interested in trying a mission while on vacation, take a look at Praetorius’ “Lo, how a rose e’er blooming” and spot his two secondary casts. In this beautiful hymn dating from around 1608, at the very beginning of the era of tonal harmony, the secondary dominants widen the tonality as they reinforce it.

Mark DeVoto, musicologist and composer, is an expert on the music of Alban Berg, Debussy and other composers of the early 20th century. A graduate of Harvard College (1961) and Princeton (Ph.D., 1967), he has published on numerous musical subjects and edited the fourth (1978) and fifth (1987) revised editions of Harmony by his teacher Walter Piston.

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