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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.
Dr. Dimitar Ninov
School of Music
Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas
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