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    The Concept of Appoggiatura: From Local – to Intercontinental

    Dear Colleagues,

    By opening this thread, I want to resurrect the topic of appoggiatura. My goal is to gently instill a certain type of awareness in as many theory instructors as possible – knowledge born from old tradition and practice, from the legacy of European and old American school of harmony – which will motivate contemporary American scholars and teachers to reintroduce on a large scale the traditional concept of appoggiatura in our academia – as it is currently taught in most parts of the world, including some American colleges and many private studios. Your opinion on the matter will be highly appreciated.

        The interpretation of the appoggiatura as "a leaping dissonance" is a relatively new, quite local, and isolated concept – it is only used in a certain number of US music departments, schools and conservatories (roughly, from the 1950-60s onward), and in those Canadian schools where some US teachers currently promote it. According to the international music community, the term "appoggiatura" means "an accented dissonance", regardless of its melodic contour. There is a big difference in the aural effect between accented and unaccented non-chord tones, and a teacher cannot simply call "a passing tone" one which collides with a chord and resolves like a suspension. This is why German theory generally explains the appoggiatura as "Freie Vorhalte" (free suspension). In older American harmony books, including the Walter Piston book, the appoggiatura is explained as rhythmically strong dissonance. Piston writes: "All non-harmonic tones are rhythmically weak, with the single exception of the appoggiatura" (Piston, 1941, p.107). He thinks of suspension as a form of appoggiatura. In this regard, one may consider the following formulation of mine (included in my harmony book in progress):

        Suspension is a prepared appoggiatura, and appoggiatura is an unprepared suspension!

        Notice the curious description of appoggiatura given by Robert Jones in his book "Harmony and Its Contrapuntal Treatment" (New York: Harper, 1939): "The appoggiatura, or accented passing tone, may be defined as an unprepared discord...(p. 60). Later he explains that the neighboring and leaping dissonance are also a part of the appoggiatura concept. Indeed, my conservatory book of polyphony that I used in Sofia in the late 1980s, also depicts the appoggiatura as "an accented passing tone".

        Therefore, a logical question arises: What happened in the theoretical circles in the US after the 1950s that caused some authors (not all) to insistently  re-define all NCTs by melodic contour only, ignoring the metrical factor, the European tradition and the old American school of harmony? This "new concept" – lacking historical support (in traditions like the vocal polyphony of the Renaissance or the keyboard practice of the Baroque era) and going counter to the most popular concept of appoggiatura used in music departments and conservatories around the world – is virtually unknown in the countries where music theory was born. Even the most ardent followers of some American theoretical concepts on European soil are not using this concept of appoggiatura.

        Understanding the problem, some contemporary American authors began to mark the passing appoggiatura as "an accented passing tone" (APT) and the neighboring appoggiatura – as "an accented neighbor" (AN). I do the same in my teaching, and I explain to my students that all three forms of appoggiatura (APT, AN, and APP) as well as the suspension (S), have the same or quite similar effect. Empirical proof? Go to the piano and hit a chord constituted of the following tones (from bottom to top): C-E-G-D; then resolve the tone D down a step and explain what type of non-chord tone it was. I bet you would be inclined to immediately describe it as a suspension or appoggiatura... Yet, did you prepare that tone in some way in the first chord (as a repeated, passing, neighboring or leaping tone)? No. There you go; you do not need to see or hear the way a strong non-chord tone is approached, because accented NCTs are not about a melodic contour – they are about a harmonic conflict and the necessity for resolution!

        I kindly suggest that teachers follow this tendency if they want to do justice to logic, tradition, and centuries of teaching practices. Last but not least, in today's harmonic terms, there is no "weak appoggiatura", unless it occurs within a syncopation figure (where it does not sound weak anyway). Therefore, a weak non-chord tone which enters after the chord and makes a leap, should not be called "an appoggiatura". We know that the word "appoggiatura" means "a leaning tone", which is opposite to "weak". For such quazi-appoggiature, I use the term "free tone" which may be encountered in some writings.

        If, with this short essay I managed to inspire some colleagues to investigate the theme in question and to develop the willingness to reintroduce the traditional concept of appoggiatura as it is currently taught all over the world, I would be a deeply satisfied Bulgarian/American theory instructor in American academia! In any event, I would be grateful to receive your thoughts, and I remain optimistic about the prospective to gradually inspire a national discussion on this topic.  


        Thank you for your attention.


        Kind regards,

        Dimitar Ninov


        Dr. Dimitar Ninov

        School of Music

        Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas

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    • 11 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
    • Thanks for this contribution!  I agree that the subject is of historical interest.  However, the theoretical point made here seems simplistic to me.  It is stated that “accented NCTs are not about a melodic contour.”  But why can’t we describe both the melodic contour and its accented or unaccented quality?  As is mentioned, many north American theorists—most I would say—speak of “accented passing tones” or “accented neighbor tones,” etc., and understand that accented NCTs are generally more striking than unaccented ones.  “Appoggiatura” in the traditional sense seems to simply be a more general category of NCT, one that omits information about melodic contour.  But this information can be significant from voice-leading or motivic perspectives.  It is indeed inconvenient that there is more than one meaning of the word “appoggiatura,” but there are also several meanings to words like “inversion.”  Multiple systems of analytical notation and solmization are in use as well, each with their own benefits and drawbacks.

      Perhaps one could draw a parallel between the more general meaning of the word “appoggiatura” and the more general system of Roman numeral notation—all caps with no chord qualities indicated—that is also more traditional.  Again, less information is provided by such a system.  I prefer specificity, not just because I was originally trained that way, but because I want to be able to analytically notate features such as modal mixture.  I’m curious to read what others think about this subject.

      Rich Pellegrin
      University of Missouri
    • Dear Dr. Pellegrin,

      Thank you for your comment. My overall point was to remind the community that the traditional concept of appoggiatura is today's official worldwide concept, and it cannot be limited to a single melodic contour, because there is no reason to do so. You say: "But why can’t we describe both the melodic contour and its accented or unaccented quality?" Certainly, we can – why not embrace Jones' claim that "The appoggiatura is an accented passing tone"? Does this not give you a simultaneous explanation of metric moment and melodic contour? Obviously, the musical world as a whole did not eventually embrace the narrow idea of appoggiatura as either a passing or a leaping tone for a good reason; after a few centuries of deliberation and experiencing different musical effects, a number of composers and theorists must have come to the conclusion that the main feature of an accented non-chord tone is the harmonic conflict it creates and the fact that it resolves as a typical suspension. The melodic contour is a secondary feature, which does not affect the aural impact on the listener to the point of making further strict distinctions. On the other hand, weak non-chord tones have to be described by melodic contour, for they enter after the chord on a moment which makes them smooth and unimpressive; there is no effect of collision and necessity for resolution. This is why most traditional books of harmony divide the NCTs in two main categories: accented and unaccented. 

      But if you still insist on being very specific, you could break the appoggiatura in the following categories by using  this statement: "Appoggiatura is an accented dissonance which may have a passing, neighboring or leaping profile. One may call the passing appoggiatura 'an accented passing tone', the neighboring appoggiatura 'an accented neighbor', and the leaping appoggiatura either 'an accented leaping tone' or just 'an appoggiatura', for the sake of being partially compatible with some new writings". This is what I explain to my students. Do you find anything wrong with this kind of specification?

      Finally, how specific is the loose statement that "an appoggiatura is a tone which is approached by a step and left by a leap"? Where is the specification concerning the metrical moment? Yet, in many books this frivolous and confusing statement is made, allowing the anomaly of a "weak appoggiatura" alongside a "strong appoggiatura". That is confusing, for the verb "appoggiare" only implies a strong non-chord tone, and therefore the concept of a weak appoggiatura does not make sense in reference to the verb. Thanks.

      Dimitar Ninov

      Texas State University

    • The topic about using capital Roman numerals only versus a binary system of capital and lower case numeral is very intriguing. With the uniform capital system the information about chords' size is implied by the key signature and some other symbols, which develops students imagination and quick reaction in decernement. Besides, sometimes less information is more convenient and means less writing, especially if you have to present the same harmonic scheme in both major and minor modes; then you do not have to write the quality of the chords twice but just once. Having said that, this is a theme which deserves its own extenseove discussion.

    • Thanks for the response!  I certainly agree that the statement you (apparently) quote, "an appoggiatura is a tone which is approached by a step and left by a leap," is overly general, as it omits the weak form of this structure, the échappée.  I also agree that it is important to educate students about the different meanings of various terms, as long as one is also careful not to confuse them in so doing.


    • Isn't there some confusion, in all this, between voice-leading and melody?

      Voice-leading, IMO (but I am perhaps being too strict here), differs from melody in that it neglects octave shifts or, in other words, that it works which pitch classes instead of actual pitches.

      From the point of view of voice-leading, an appoggiatura, like any other dissonance, always is prepared because, as the music under consideration works with triads, any pitch-class either belongs to a triad or is adjacent to one of its pitch-classes. Any dissonance, therefore, can always be viewed either as a suspension or as a passing or a neighbor note, with or without register transfer. (Heinichen said something of the kind, namely that a dissonance could always be prepared in another voice.)

      If a dissonance is reached by leap, this can only be a melodic phenomenon, always hiding an implied preparation. But the melodic leap is one way of accenting the appoggiatura, and this apparently is the cause of the confusion: the appoggiatura is an accented dissonance, but in many cases the only way to accent it is to reach it by leap. A true passing note, even if it falls on a strong beat, does not sound accented to the same extent. On the other hand, appoggiaturas approached by leap may be accented even on weak beats.

      To sum up, I would not say that an appoggiatura is "an unprepared suspension", because it necessarily is prepared, at the level of the voice-leading at least; I would neither say that it is metrically accented, because its accentuation may not depend on the metre. An appoggiatura is an accented dissonance, it may be accented either by a leap or by its metric position, or by both.



    • Dear Nicholas,

      Thank you for your input. I think you are mixing some things, on which even your French colleagues would not agree. Firstly, a mere leap on a weak beat does not necessarily create an accent (unless it represents a syncopation); and secondly, a true passing tone is always rhythmically weak. If it is not, it is a true appoggiatura, with a melodic contour of a passing tone, the latter being a secondary feature within the chord. As I suggested in my first letter, please apply a 9-8 suspension over a major chord in root position and do not prepare it in any possible way. When you hear its effect, then approach it in four possible ways: 1) by repetition, 2) as a passing tone 3) as a neighboring tone and 4) as a leaping tone. You will realize that the harmonic conflict it creates is the same, because at the moment of collision, the attention of the listener is focused on the conflict and the resolution, rather than on how this tone was approached. This is why Richard Stor and Huggo Roemann call all kinds of accented tones "suspensions", whether it be a "free suspension" or just a "suspension". The tone I described above is a true appoggiatura which takes the form of either a prepared one (suspension) or an unprepared one (accented passing, accented neighboring, and accented leaping). By the way, how do your French textbooks of the past 100-to 50 years describe the appoggiatura? Do they claim that every leaping tone which is introduced after a chord represents an appoggiatura, or that a "true passing tone" sometimes falls on an accented beat? Appoggiatura is not about a leap or step; it is about a moment of entrance (typically with the chord). The interim level between appoggiatura and a passing tone is reached in triple meters where the middle beat may be a passing tone, entered after the chord that was introduced on the fist beat, and not be heard as an appoggiatura, even though beat 2 is stronger than beat 3. In such cases, we may not bother with the term "appoggiatura" to reflect this relatively accented moment.

    • Dear Nicholas,


      I want to hastily correct myself on an important point. While generally there are no weak appoggiaturas (for the meaning of the verb appoggiare implies a strong metrical moment) there are definitely two occasional situations where a non-chord tone entered on a technically weak beat may create the effect of an appoggiatura:

      1. The non chord tone represents the core of a syncopation figure (the middle note value between the two surrounding note values).

      2. The non-chord tone is entered on a weak beat after a certain chord has been sounded once, but at the same time the chord is sounded again and collides with this tone (this happens occasionally in Chopin's waltzes, on the third beat).

      Therefore, the collision with the chord matters a lot, even on a weak beat. But since in typical situations the non-chord tone and its resolution divide a chord's beat in two parts (even if it is a weak beat) and its first portion is always stronger than the second, there is a true rhythmic accent. In Chopin's waltzes, on the other hand, the NCT and the chord collide on a non-divided weak beat, both being quarter notes, and create a similar effect.


    • Dimitar,

      Excuse me, my formulation may not have been entirely clear. What I meant is that, in terms of voice-leading, any dissonance (appoggiatura included) will always appear in the form of a (possibly articulated) suspension (if it repeats a note heard before), of a passing note (if it is approached and left in the same direction) or of a neighbor note (if both preparation and resolution are either above or below the dissonance). The approach by leap is but a melodic appearance, hiding a conjunct movement in the voice leading; another way to say the same is that a leap always is a change of voice. But you are right that a passing note on a strong beat will often count as an appoggiatura or, in the reverse, that a true passing note often appears on a weak beat; I never meant to deny that.

      I don't usually read French textbooks of the 19th century, because I find them rather poor. I nevertheless found interesting information in Reber's Traité d'harmonie (1862). He makes a distinction between the expressive appoggiatura, "which momentarily occupies the place of the principal note and which the performer must stress", and the weak appoggiatura, "an unaccented note that comes to lean on another one". The example that he gives,


      marks the appoggiaturas with an a ; those in 1 are "expressive", those in 2 and 3 are "weak".

      Reber says that the expressive appoggiatura most often is placed on the strong beat, but he adds the most interesting remark that "what particularly characterizes this note is that it calls to itself (elle attire sur elle) the principal accent: therefore any appoggiatura becomes expressive as soon as it is accented, independently of its length and of the place it occupies in the measure". And he adds this example:

      Reber 2

      where the appoggiaturas certainly cannot be said to appear on strong beats.

      Durand, in his Traité (1881) says roughly the same: "In the absolute meaning of the word, the appoggiatura is a note on which must bear the principal accentuation. This ornament therefore is found on a relatively strong part of the measure or the beat. Any appogiatura placed in these conditions is an expressive appoggiatura or true appoggiatura. However, at times one uses the appoggiatura on a relatively weak part of the measure. If nevertheless this appoggiatura is more accented than its principal note, it still is a true or expressive appoggiatura. But when the appoggiatura on the weak beat is not accented and when on the contrary it appears to lean on its principal note, it is but a weak appoggiatura." He gives the following example of weak appoggiaturas:


      Several treatises, like Durand, state or imply that the appoggiatura is a dissonance that comes before the "principal note", while the passing note comes after; but this is not entirely clear, in my opinion. F at the end of the first and third measures of the example above are for me doubtful cases.

      One interesting point, worth noting, is Reber's idea that the appoggiatura is a note "which the performer must stress" (sur laquelle l'exécutant doit appuyer). The true appoggiatura obviously is an accented dissonance: this is the very meaning of the word. But its accentuation may result from a diversity of factors: a strong metric position, an approach by leap, a silence before, a dynamic stress, an articulation, etc., or any combination of these.



    • Dear Nicolas,


      Excellent examples - thank you! I Let me just add a nuance or two by beginning with your last statement "The true appoggiatura obviously is an accented dissonance: this is the very meaning of the word.  But its accentuation may result from a diversity of factors: a strong metric position, an approach by leap, a silence before, a dynamic stress, an articulation, etc., or any combination of these."

      Excellent points with which I generally agree. Let me try to apply some selectivity by :1) removing the term "appoggiatura" for some of the examples and replacing it with "free tone" whose effect is not to lean by collision but to connect a chord tone on the following (stronger) metrical moment. Therefore, with your permission, I will  not use the term "weak or unarticulated appoggiatura" because of the obvious contradiction to the meaning of the verb "appoggiare" itself.

      1. Regarding the first pasted staff (single staff) with three examples in it:

      Example 1 represents appoggiaturas as stated (in both measures).

      Example 2 (one measure) also represents appoggiaturas, disguised as weak moment entrances, because practically a player will tend to play the grace notes on the first portions of each divided beat, and that would make them stressed. If a deliberate attempt is made to play them entirely before each main beat, they would probably sound as free tones which connect chord tones, the latter taking the accent of the downbeat motion. The appoggiatura effect will be very approximate and pale, because either no true collision takes place - (physical clash with the chord) or no rhythmic accent takes place. Quasi appoggiaturas.

      I hear the tone "fa" (the last note in the triplet) in Example 3 as a "free tone", which is short of creating a true appoggiatura effect. At best, I can call it "a quasi appoggiatura".

      2. Regarding the second pasted staff (a three-measure grand staff in 4/4 time):

      The first measure represents true appoggiaturas, for the middle note in a triplet (just like the middle note in a triple meter) is potentially stronger than the last note; if it can take a cadential six-four followed by a dominant on the third note, it can certainly take a stressed non-chord tone which resolves on the third note. Having said that, if those tones entered simultaneously with the chord (literally colliding with it), they would have even a stronger appoggiatura effect.

      The second and third measures of this grand staff are an exact illustration of what I described in my previous message to you: a non-chord tone which represents the core of a syncopation figure is a true appoggiatura, for this note values steals the accent from the following "official" beat. Thus, what formally enters on a weak beat is actually an accented tone because of the nature of syncopation. Special thanks for this example!

      3. Regarding the third pasted staff (a four-measure grand staff in 6/8 time)

      I will determine the tone sol-dièse in the first measure as an appoggiatura (similar to the triplets in the previous example), while I will call the tone rè-diese in the second measure "a free tone". While I recognize that a leaping dissonance after the chord is more impressive than a passing dissonance, I perceive their function as a connecting one, lacking a metrical boost. On the other hand, I would be inclined to recognize the effect of appoggiatura of a tone which enters on a weak beat, if it collides with a chord at the same time (this effect can be observed on the third quarter note in some fragments of Chopin's waltzes.


      Thank you again for bringing such interesting points of discussion and relevant musical examples!



    • Dear Dimitar,

      Thank you for opening this discussion. The traditional usage of the term appoggiatura certainly seems to be the most logical. I do have a comment about the "empirical proof" you mentioned. 

      While the experiment does show that the different appoggiaturas have a similar effect when played in isolation, I don't agree that "you do not need to see or hear the way a strong non-chord tone is approached". In many cases, the resolution of the appoggiatura is indeed influenced by the preceding note. An S will resolve downwards (possibly because of the metric emphasis that increases the need for proper "relaxation" after the dissonance), wheras an APT approached from below can easily continue in an upward direction. A leaping tone from above might have the tendency to resolve in the contrary direction (upwards). 

      In this sense, the melodic contour does have an influence on the effect of the appoggiatura, and the particular necessity for resolution that comes with that type.

      Kind regards,

      Caspar van Wijk

    • I agree with what you say, there are nuances. But when you do not know how an accented non-chord tone is approached, you still feel that it is accented, collides with the chord, and resolves like a suspension. That is the proof that the primary feature of a strong non-chord tone is the harmonic conflict it creates, and the necessity for resolution. It is not the melodic contour.
      Besides, USA is the only country which (in the past 50-60 years only) decided to ignore the general definition of appoggiatura (leaning tone) and postulate that it must be a leaping tone. There has never been such a claim to the appoggiatura coming from anywhere else, including the old American school of harmony. And last, but not least - "the new American school" decided to redefine all non-chord tones by using a melodic contour only, thus erasing the most essential difference between "weak" and "strong". The devastation of such pedagogical concept is frequently seen when a student labels as "passing" or "neighboring" an accented tone which collides with a chord and resolves like a suspension. Given the fact that the terms "passing" and "neighboring" are traditionally associated with weak tones, such kind of analysis is ridiculous form any point ofview. In Europe and Latin America such a concept is virtually unknown. Even the most ardent Schenkerina supporters in Europe explain the appoggiatura as a leaning tone with no regard to melodic contour. The true action of "appoggiare" does not depend on the melodic contour. For example, if you review a fragment from the first movement of Mozart's piano sonata in F (K332) mm 41-56, you will see how all these appoggiaturas and suspensions strike the ear in the same way, and only then you will realize (at a closer look) that some of them are passing, and others - neighboring. This is why the great Vienese theorist Richard Stor (and all Germans in general) - call the appoggiatura "a free suspension" (frei forhalt). Hence, the suspension is a prepared appoggiatura, and the appoggiatura is an unprepared or free suspension. Similarly, In Spain they call the appoggiatura "an articulated suspension". I think this approach says it all, and it has nothing to do with the particular melodic contour.