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    Looking for tonicization of VI in minor mode.

    The other day a student asked me to recommend an excerpt that illustrates a simple tonicization of VI in minor mode. After drawing a blank, I went to my database and realized the only basic examples I have are in major mode. Could someone point me toward an elementary example of tonicization of VI in minor mode?

    My student and I would appreciate it greatly!

    All best,

    Tim Cutler

    Professor and Co-Chair of Music Theory

    Cleveland Institute of Music


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    • 11 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
    • I wonder if tonicization of the submediant is more common in the major mode because of the satisfying chromatic bassline that's possible when approaching from V; i.e., V, V6/5 of vi, vi.  Or IV, V6/5 of V, V, V6/5 of vi, vi.  

    • Tim,

      They are not common, but here are a few from my files (probably lifted from various textbooks, since many of the examples I've collected have come from such sources):

      Beethoven, String Quartet in D (Op. 18/3), Mvt. IV, mm. 282–293 (a long tonicization that prolongs bVI with a neighbouring b6–5–b6 bass)

      Chopin, Ballade in F minor (Op. 52), mm. 212–213 (very quick, but an effective passing bass from 1 through b7 to b6)

      Beethoven, Piano Sonata in A (Op. 2/2), Mvt. II, mm. 58–64 (connecting Tonic to bVI, with a complex arpeggiating bass under the seconary Dominant, but perhaps best read as an arpeggiation from 1 under the Tonic, through b3 to the bVI chord)

      Schubert, Piano Sonata in E (D. 157), Mvt. II, mm. 13–16 (the secondary Dominant, over b3, interpolated between V and the deceptive move to bVI)

      Chopin, Prelude in E (Op. 28/9), mm. 5–6 (like the last example, but now in E major—so the bVI and its secondary Dominant result from modal mixture)

      Mendelssohn, Song without Words in A minor (Op. 19b/2), mm. 62–72 (the most complex of all; my preference is to read the bVI chord as a non-functional neighbour between the 6/4 and V, with the secondary Dominant linking the 6/4 and the bVI chord…but there are likely some other equally plausible readings)

      Hope these are helpful. If you'd like more, I probably have some in my notebooks, which are at school (and I'm on sabbatical leave this semester); I can consult them the next time I go in.


      PS By the way, feel free to add any or all of these to your very fine collection at MusicTheoryExamples.com!

    • Another example (within a quickly moving sequence) is in Chopin, Ballade, Op. 38.  The passage in Am, beginning at m. 7, tonicizes F major before moving into a ii-V-I cadence in Am.

    • Dear Tim, here are a few more that I've used in classes:

      Schubert, "Der stürmische Morgen" from Winterreise. The second phrase, which begins at the upbeat to m. 10, is in the key of VI.

      Haydn, SQ Op. 74 #3, mvmt ii, mm. 23–30. The interior theme begins with a phrase that modulates from i to VI.

      Regards, David Heetderks


      You might look at the finale of the e-minor Razoumovsky Op59/2. Although that begins on the tonicized VI. 

      You could also look at the finale of Brahms String Quintet Opus 111, which starts in  B minor and then tonicizes G major (which is the "actual" tonic). Peter Smith as a nice analysis of this in 2009 Music Analysis article. 




    • Chopin, C Minor Prelude, bar 2, if memory serves.


      John Snyder

    • The inverse of my comment above may also be worth considering.  A descending chromatic line in an upper voice produces tonicization of the submediant in minor, but not in major.  Because the chordal seventh of the secondary dominant falls chromatically to Do in minor (tonicizing a major submediant, so the local ^4-3 resolution is a half step) but would fall by a whole step in major (tonicizing a minor submediant, so the local ^4-3 resolution is a whole step).  For examples, see WTC 2, fugue in g# minor, usage of the second subject (e.g., m. 109ff).  (Although these are certainly not the straightforward type of examples you are looking for.)

    • The G#-minor fugue (Book II) has an entry in E major at m. 111. It is in the middle voice and harmonized so strangely that one only gradually becomes aware of the key.

      Bill Benjamin

    • As an addendum to my initial remark about the momentum of ascending chromatic basslines, check out mm. 81-83 of the fugue.  Here we have an eight-note chromatic ascent tonicizing III, IV, V, and then vi!  (This ascent itself begins by building on the momentum of the second subject appearance in the upper voice, with its ascending chromatic line.)  The momentum is so strong that he can't resist another iteration, thus overshooting E Major (VI) and taking us briefly to the key of e# minor (vi)—a truly deceptive "cadence"!!

      Bill—yes this is part of the passage I was referencing, and some of the strangeness of the harmonization results from the fact that the second subject appears simultaneously in the upper voice.

      Rich Pellegrin

      University of Missouri

    • Thank you everyone! I very much appreciate your generosity.

      Tim Cutler

      Cleveland Institute of Music

    • Hi Tim, 

      There's a very clear example in Schumann, Kinderscenen, No. 11--both of the "Schneller" sections start in e minor and tonicize C major. 

      Jena Root