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Music in the Nineteenth Century


CHAPTER 2 The Music Trance
Richard Taruskin

For an example of “aria time” impinging on the progress of a more extended musical argument, we can turn to a locus classicus, the codetta from the first movement of the “Great” C-major Symphony, Schubert's last. This movement was Schubert's longest and most complex orchestral composition in “sonata form.”

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fig. 2-8 Schubert's “Great” C Major Symphony, together with his letter dedicating it to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, Vienna (which in fact did not perform it).

But whereas we have learned from Beethoven to expect such a piece to form one single-minded, overarching trajectory through struggle to the inevitable victory, Schubert is likely to entice us—and entrance us—with islands of mysterious repose amid the hurly-burly, interrupting the forward thrust of the circle of fifths and calling out with Faust to the passing moment, “Stop, stay awhile!”

The function of a codetta is to confirm closure in the secondary key (in this case G major), and so this codetta does. But Schubert's way of establishing the key is to take an elaborate walk around it, shadowing it on both sides with mediants, B above (established through its dominant in m. 184) and E♭ below (approached via a deceptive cadence directly from G in m. 190). The submediant tonality is prolonged for a total of thirty-eight measures, to m. 227, where it is forced back to G (in a manner recalling the Moment musical) by the addition of an augmented sixth. During its period of sway, it is temporarily resolved as a dominant (mm. 199–210), rocking back and forth with its tonic , characteristically expressed in the parallel minor, producing a tonality (A♭ minor) that could be described either as the minor flat submediant of the original tonic (C) or as the minor Neapolitan of the local tonic (G).

And then the A♭-minor triad is turned into a pivot through its C♭ (spelled B), which is applied as a dominant to an F♭-minor passage (spelled E minor) that could be viewed either as the minor Neapolitan of the E♭ (the local flat submediant), or as submediant in its own right to the momentary A♭ minor. The F♭(E) minor is treated almost exactly the same way that Beethoven treats the same tonal digression in the first movement of the Eroica Symphony. It is led back to the E♭ whence it sprang (soon to be resolved through the augmented sixth back to G, the reigning tonic).

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ex. 2-7 Harmonic abstract of Franz Schubert, Symphony no. 9 (“Great”), I, mm. 181-240

As shown in the analytical chart given as Ex. 2-7, which may be compared with the score, the passage between the B-minor triad in measure 185 and the dominant seventh on B in measure 212 amounts to a sequence of flat submediants, creating a closed circle (enclosed in a box) that could be excised from the analytical chart without disturbing the coherence of the surrounding circle of fifths that gives the codetta its tonally functional import. But of course the really memorable and affecting music is contained precisely within the box. Most memorable of all is the A♭-minor episode, rendered uncanny by the virtually unprecedented use of a solo trombone. It shows up in the analysis simply as a digression within a digression.

Again, it is the remoteness of the progression that appeals to the imagination, and its attendant static quality of time, rather than its logic—even though, as in the case of the Impromptu or the Moment musical, the logic of even the most remote connections can easily be demonstrated, and their relationship to the active harmonic ingredients easily understood. Moreover, and somewhat perversely if one insists on measuring Schubert's procedures by a Beethovenian standard of efficiency, the actual running time of the different harmonic areas and individual chords seems as if by design to vary inversely with their functional caliber.

Once again it should be emphasized that, contrary to what is often said about these processes, they do not render tonality—that is, the structure of key functions and relations—in any way ambiguous. Tonal coherence is not weakened or diluted by an increased range of relations and possible connections, but enormously enhanced. Departures and returns can now cover far more ground than ever, and mean more than ever. More territory is “hierarchized,” brought under the direct control of the tonic.

But while tonality itself is not rendered ambiguous, the nature and behavior of many of its constituent harmonies certainly are so rendered. Homologous chords—chords identical in intervallic structure (hence in sound) but different in function—can now be used interchangeably with marvelous effect. We have just seen how the German sixth and the dominant seventh, chords that sound the same but resolve differently, can be freely interchanged so that the effective tonic can appear to fluctuate by a semitone. (Compare once again the resolution of the German sixth of A♭ in mm. 41–43 of the Moment musical and the enharmonically equivalent dominant seventh of A in mm. 65–67, or the two resolutions of E♭ in the symphony extract.)

The harmonic vocabulary of romantic introspection is one in which, as a matter of course, any augmented sixth chord can be resolved as a dominant seventh and vice versa, any triad in first inversion can be resolved as a Neapolitan and vice versa, and any constituent tone in a diminished seventh chord can resolve as a leading tone. The whole panoply of major and minor degree functions is freely available for use, and any one of them can function at pleasure as a pivot for modulation. In all of these techniques and more, Schubert was the chief pioneer, precisely because his art was nurtured in the intimacy of domestic genres.

Pride of place is still given to mediant relations as a source of inward expressivity, especially the dusky flat submediant where, one could say, it all began. In fact, the flat submediant often functions in “late Schubert” as a constant shadow to the tonic, so that the music seems perpetually to hover on that “edge” of inwardness. Perhaps the most famous example is the opening of the first movement of Schubert's last piano sonata, in B♭ (D960), completed only a couple of months before his death in the fall of 1828 (Ex. 2-8).

The first insinuation of the flat submediant comes after the first phrase of the opening theme, in a ghostly trilled G♭ (the lowest G♭ on the keyboard of Schubert's time) that immediately falls back a semitone to the dominant. After the second phrase, the trill is repeated—only this time it is measured, and applied as a “Phrygian” half step above the tonic. The B♭ and C♭ thus sounded act as a pivot, becoming the third and fourth degrees of the scale of G♭ major. The third phrase of the melody begins on the same pitch as the previous two, but that pitch has now been reidentified as the third scale degree rather than the first, and the melody continues in the key of the flat submediant for fourteen measures in a single unbroken phrase, culminating on the fifteenth downbeat on an unexpected, but enormously strategic E.

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ex. 2-8 Franz Schubert, Sonata in B-flat, D. 960, I, beginning

That E, of course, creates an augmented sixth against the ostensible tonic, forcing resolution by contrary semitones to F. But the F, when it comes, is treated as the bass of a tonic , capping the opening theme with a radiant return to the original tonic, comparable in its effect to the manner in which the first theme of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony had reached its climax a quarter of a century before. Schubert, in this case, was at once vying with Beethoven and updating him by adapting his strategy of reiterated, climax-driven thematic presentation to his newly subjectivized harmonic vocabulary.

Nor are we finished with the flat submediant even yet. Just at the point where the first theme should be making its long-deferred final cadence (m. 45), the tonic triad is preempted by the diminished-seventh chord that shares its third and fifth. This deceptive cadence plays the traditional eliding role. It signals the move toward the secondary key area where, since the days of the Bach sons listeners had learned to expect a lyrical “second theme.” Schubert, from what we know of him, would seem the least likely composer to frustrate that expectation.

Nor will he, but the treatment of the diminished-seventh chord introduced in measure 45 requires comment. It receives an unusual resolution that Schubert did a great deal to popularize in his published music, for it further expands the range of available harmonic connections. Normally (which is to say, traditionally) the diminished-seventh chord is built on the leading tone, and its resolution coincides with the progression of the leading tone to the tonic. Its first use as a modulating agent came about when its other constituent tones were resolved as ersatz leading tones, as sketched (in Bt> major, the key of Schubert's sonata) in Ex. 2-9a, turning the diminished-seventh chord into a pivot that could lead to four different keys, pitched (like the tones of the diminished-seventh chord itself) a minor third apart.

In the resolution demonstrated in Ex. 2-8, one of the tones of the diminished-seventh chord is treated like an appoggiatura, resolving not up (as would a leading tone) but down, thus turning the chord into a dominant seventh which resolves the usual way, with a root progression along the circle of fifths (Ex. 2-9b). Of course the same effect can be obtained by treating the remaining three notes in the chord as appoggiaturas to a single held tone, enabling four more resolutions (Ex. 2-9c). And this last model suggests a further decorative refinement of the chord, in which, by the use of multiple neighbors, a diminished-seventh chord can embellish a single triad—normally, but not necessarily, the tonic (Ex. 2-9d).

The progression demonstrated in the Sonata (Ex. 2-8) is the one shown in the first two “bars” of Ex. 2-9b, where Schubert's enharmonic spelling shift is also illustrated.

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ex. 2-9a Cyclic resolutions of diminished-seventh chords, leading tone to tonic

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ex. 2-9b Cyclic resolutions of diminished-seventh chords, single appoggiatura to dominant

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ex. 2-9c Cyclic resolutions of diminished-seventh chords, triple appoggiatura to dominant

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ex. 2-9d Cyclic resolutions of diminished-seventh chords, neighbors to a triad

The key thus established is once again the key of the flat submediant, incarnated this time in the parallel minor as in the Impromptu, op. 90, no. 2 (Ex. 2-5). On this appearance the key is less stable; it will be dissolved the same way it had been created, through the use of a diminished-seventh appoggiatura, which leads it eventually to the expected dominant, F major. It has the quality of a mirage, or a will-o’-the-wisp.

But note that a single tonality, G♭/F♯, has shadowed both primary functions of the key of B♭, playing submediant to the tonic and Neapolitan to the dominant. This not only tinges both functions with what Romantic poets called Doppelgänger (ghostly or hallucinatory doubles), but also mitigates their opposition, showing that on the other side of the mysterious “edge” the tonic and the dominant share a hidden common ground. At the same time it relativizes the 150-year hegemony of the circle of fifths as sole arbiter of tonal coherence, positing two other cyclic models—thirds and semitones—as equally viable tonal administrators, the first accessible through mediant relationships, the other through Neapolitans. And finally, since the flat submediant is the “dominant of the Neapolitan,” this opposition among disparate harmonic routes—fifths, thirds, semitones—may be relativized in turn, and freely intermixed.

Never had so many routes of harmonic navigation been open to composers, so many ways of making connections, so many methods of creating and controlling fluctuations of harmonic tension. And to the extent that these fluctuations were understood as metaphors or analogues to nuances of feeling, never had there been such a supple means of recording and, as it were, “graphing” the movements of the sentient subjective self—and all, in instrumental music, without any reference to externally motivating “objects.” Never had “absolute music” been so articulately expressive of the verbally inexpressible.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 2 The Music Trance." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 19 Jan. 2021. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume3/actrade-9780195384833-div1-002008.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 2 The Music Trance. In Oxford University Press, Music in the Nineteenth Century. New York, USA. Retrieved 19 Jan. 2021, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume3/actrade-9780195384833-div1-002008.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 2 The Music Trance." In Music in the Nineteenth Century, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 19 Jan. 2021, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume3/actrade-9780195384833-div1-002008.xml