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This morning I came across the piece "Winter Morning" from Tchaikovsky's Children's Album for Piano. I was pleasantly surprised with the freedom the author brushes away some postulates which are being imposed massively on those who major in music nowadays.
First, I will offer you a brief formal analysis of the piece. Then I will comment the theoretical myths that are being dispelled by Tchaikovsky's pen.
The form is simple ternary: ABA, with an eight-measure transition between A and B and an eight measure Coda. Part A (mm1-16) may be regarded as a compound modulating period which consists of two sentences of Schoenberg. All cadences here are imperfect, even the modulatory one. Part B (16-32) is in B minor. It may be analyzed as a compound sentence with an eight-measure presentation and an eight measure continuation which sounds like another compound presentation but the harmonic motion is more active and the cadential formulas are more articulated (ends with a plagal cadence: altered S - T). A sequential transition follows (mm.33-40) which modulates to the dominant area of D major. Reprise: part A (or A1), (mm. 41-57) - same compound modulating period. However, it ends with a PAC, the only one in the piece. Coda (mm.57-64), containing plagal gestures with a diatonic and altered S resolving into T, and ending with plagal cadence IV6-I.
Below are my comments on the myths that I call "false claims".
False Claim 1: "A triad in second inversion cannot substitute for a root position triad, because the fourth above a bass note makes the structure dissonant."
At the outset of the piece, Tchaikovsky resolves a series of altered dominant chords: first in T5, then in T6, and finally in T6/4. In measure 3 for example, one can hardly claim that the author resolves the dominant chord into a "dissonant sonority".
As for the level of acoustic perfection of a triad, I will add the following: 5/3 = perfect; 6 = imperfect but stable enough; 6/4 = more imperfect, unstable (but lacking a true dissonance), needs special conditions to sound like a substitute of a 5/3 chord. These special conditions are called passing, pedal and arpeggiated 6/4 chords which are generally weak metrically and have nothing to do with dissonance.
Besides, in three part close structures (encountered in choral music and piano accompaniments) the use of 6/4 chords as a substitutes for an original 5/3 takes even greater freedom.
False Claim 2: "Inverted dominants, subdominants and tonics do not produce a cadence and this is why this type of connection must be called "tonic prolongation".
Well...in the whole Tchaikovsky piece there is only one PAC in mm. 55-56...I do not think anyone would put forward the proposition that all those periods, sentences and modulations are executed miraculously over "a tonic prolongation". After all, when you change the key center in a modulating period, whose tonic do you "prolong" – the previous, or the new one?
False Claim 3: Plagal cadence does not exist. This type of connection must be called "tonic prolongation".
This funny concept is rejected even by some Schenkerian-influenced musicians, not to speak of the musical world as a whole. Certainly, Tchaikovsky uses a number of plagal resolutions in this piece, some of which rise to the level of cadence as they fall in the end of the period or the coda. A most interesting examples of plagal cadence is presented in mm. 28-29 and 31-32, where the composer resolves at a tritone an altered S chord into T. The chord is IV7#1 (an S with a raised root in minor mode, or your German in root position, if you will). Geographic terminology notwithstanding, one has to know if the diminished third/augmented sixth chord functions as an altered S or an altered D chord, according to the way it resolves.
Another interesting example of plagal resolution is the resolution of an altered SII2 into T (m.60), some would call this a French chord, followed by a plagal cadence IV6 –I, which marks the end of the Coda.
False Claim 4: "Avoid resolving a IV6 chord into the tonic".
That really sounds nonsensical, for in his piano album and elsewhere, Tchaikovsky displays a certain number of IV6-I connections, some of which rise up to a cadence (mm. 61-62 of the piece).
False Claim 5: The cadential six-four is nothing more than a V chord with two accented non-chord tones.
Generally, this concept is easily dismissed by all kinds of empirical evidence in the musical literature which include but are not limited to:
– embellishment of the cadential six-chord via non-chord tones (ironically, some of them are dominant members but sound like dissonant suspensions!);
– resolution into the cadential six-four of altered S chords in the same way they resolve into the tonic;
– free arpeggiation and rearrangement of the cadential six-four which may occupy one or more measures (see concerto cadenzas);
– free motion of the so-called "dissonant fourth" which occasionally moves up (see Marpurg cadence) or even leaps when going to the dominant;
– while a true Dominant with suspensions will produce an authentic resolution even if the suspended tones are not resolved prior to the resolution into the tonic, the Cad.6/4 is incapable of that, and this is why there is no piece of music in the literature which uses a "cadence" involving only Cad.6/4 – T.
What is Tchaikovsky's answer to that? In m. 54 he elegantly introduces an embellished Cad.6/4 by suspending the second scale degree over it. Please, notice that the possible artificial label 5-4 suspension (as formally referred to the bass) is actually a disguised 9-8 suspension over the tonic root. Ironically, the suspended tone is the fifth of the dominant but it sounds like a dissonant suspension over the tonic structure of Cad.6/4. Thus the segment within mm. 53-55 introduces a series of chords embellished by a suspension: an embellished S, an embellished Cad.6/4, and an embellished D. Logical, isn't it?
Hence, is the cadential chord a true tonic? No. Is it a true dominant? No. What is it, then? Popular music very practically gives the answer to that – they label it as I/V (or T/D) – a tonic over a dominant bass. A tonic six-four which, falling on a metrically stronger position, losses half of its tonic function and acquires a dominant momentum in the bass, creating a conflict between T and D. Therefore, I think that the simplistic presentation of this unique chord as a "dominant with two non-chord tones" reveals lack of awareness of all the matters discussed above and most of all – a disregard to all the examples in the music literature wherein the structural equality between Cad. 6/4 and T is explored musically. For your reference, I have published a whole article on the cadential six-four (Functional Nature of Cadential Six-Four, Musicological Annual, LII/1, 2016) .
Before concluding, I would like to bring to your attention the fact that Tchaikovsky's free use of all harmonic positions of the so-called "augmented sixth chords" and their resolution directly into the tonic in root position bears the features of a late Romantic style, combined with the emancipation of the plagal cadence, pertinent to the Russian music of the late 19th century.
What is my point with this letter and deliberations? To promote the awareness of the fact that today's music theory studies in the "serious departments" across the country (and to a certain extent abroad) suffer certain lack of practicality which makes them quite detached from the real music practice. What is the remedy? Simple analysis of real music, the use of popular music and jazz as new perspectives of looking at harmonic functionality, and the removal of mythology. In our judgment and analysis it is good to keep in mind that, it is the entire routine language of composers which counts and creates a style, not only the "very typical situations" to which we should stick, ignoring or denying everything else.
I will appreciate all kinds of comments on that matter.
Thank you for your attention,
Dr. Dimitar Ninov
Texas State University
San Marcos, Texas
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