Voice Leading and Chromatic Harmony in the Music of Chopin

July 13, 2017 | Author: AbelSanchezAguilera | Category: Chord (Music), Harmony, Musicology, Musical Techniques, Elements Of Music
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Voice Leading and Chromatic Harmony in the Music of Chopin...


Yale University Department of Music

Voice Leading and Chromatic Harmony in the Music of Chopin Author(s): Richard S. Parks Source: Journal of Music Theory, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Autumn, 1976), pp. 189-214 Published by: Duke University Press on behalf of the Yale University Department of Music Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/843684 Accessed: 25/07/2010 22:42 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=duke. Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected]

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Richard S. Parks

An interesting aspect of Chopin's compositional technique is his use of altered chords in passages where they do not appear to function in their conventional harmonic roles such as applied dominants, leading-tone chords, and so on.' Gerald Abraham was probably the first scholar to have examined this aspect of the composer's style in systematic detail, and a continuing discussion of various passages incorporating successions of altered chords is interspersed throughout his monograph on Chopin.2 He coined the term "harmonic parenthesis" as a descriptive label for such passages, first using it in the foreword to his book (p. vii), in reference to an earlier writer's description of a passage in the Nocturne, opus 9, no. 2, bar 12. That earlier writer, Henry Hadow, expressed confusion over the passage, which appears to modulate, but ends in the same key in which it begins.3 Hadow observed that the passage sounds logical despite its enigmatic appearance. Abraham stated that it is an example of "harmonic parenthesis" and added that the performer must convey the parenthetic effect. Since Abraham's discussion of the phenomenon serves as a point of departure 189

for the present study, I shall summarize his main ideas before proceeding further.4 Abraham cited passages similar to that of opus 9, no. 2 in early works of Chopin in which the main constituent is the fully diminished seventh chord, stating that only the initial and last seventh chords in the succession can be related to a key; thus, in his words, "there has been a temporary suspension of the principle of tonality."' He proceeded to cite examples from the works of Haydn, Jomelli, and Gluck which are similar to those of Chopin but less highly figurated so that they would be easier to relate to their tonal contexts. In this way he provided some insight into the origin of this technique of Chopin. Somewhat later, he asserted that Chopin thinks "in terms of more advanced, chromatically complicated harmony and [employs] the free weaving in of passing notes, ornaments, and even ornaments-to-ornaments (e.g., acciaccatura before notes that are themselves not true harmony notes)."6 Abraham also discussed the kinds of altered chords employed by Chopin and some specific characteristics of how they are handled. He said that Chopin's harmony is primarily diatonic, but is chromatically embellished. This observation, as well as that concerning the use of ornaments, accounts for some of the difficulty in ascribing function in the passages with which we are concerned. Chromatic ornamentation complicates analysis, as does the composer's occasional use of chord spellings which conflict with their function. Non-harmonic tones do not always resolve in the same voice (a truly harmonic conception) and are often retained for long periods, so that at the point of resolution, the circumstances of origin may be forgotten. Abraham alluded to a space-filling function for the chords in these kinds of passages, although he does not use this terminology. He recognized, in a reduction of a passage from the Etude, opus 10, no. 8, such a chromatic passage as occurring between a structural chord present in two positions, consisting of separate voices moving by half steps from the point of origin to the goal. The resultant chords are coincidental, though he observed a tendency towards fully diminished seventh chords and dominant seventh sonorities. He called these sonorities "transitional" chords.7 190

Abraham also observed patterns in the movements of these chords, saying that in the composer's last period, which Abraham defines as 1841-49, Chopin, "having accustomed himself to successions of dominant sevenths a semitone apart and a fifth apart . . . now writes them in whole-tone successions.. ."8 He cites, as an example, bars 72-75 of the F minor Ballade, opus 52. Abraham's discussion is illuminating. However, his explanation is incomplete since he does not go far beyond isolating the passages in question and describing their harmonic constituents. In those instances where he ventures further, his terminology becomes obscure. For example, he refers to the chromatic movement within these "parenthetic" passages as "semi-tonal side-slips;" occasionally he asserts that such passages are atonal.' The problem is perhaps one of perspective. Abraham appears to rely heavily upon harmony as a means of accounting for these kinds of passages. But except for secondary dominants and leading-tone relationships, which occur often enough but usually account for only a portion of a given example, a look at the vertical dimension yields only an identification of a given sonority by quality-French augmented sixth, dominant seventh sonority, or whatever. The logic of these passages with regard to tonal organization is to be found in the melodic dimension; their function may be explained by voice leading. A number of passages of the sort that Abraham describes are reproduced below, examined in some detail with a view toward establishing, in each case, a connection between the excerpt and the tonal design of the piece in which it is found. The examples selected include the following works: Mazurka, opus 6, no. 1 (1832); Prelude, opus 28, no. 4 (1838); Nocturne, opus 9, no. 2 (1832); Etude, opus 10, no. 3 (1832); and Fantasy, opus 49 (1841)."o These pieces were selected because they furnish examples of this technique in a group of pieces which are diverse in proportions and character, and which also span a substantial portion of the composer's career. The Nocturne, opus 9, no. 2 is Abraham's first example and is among those works cited by Henry Hadow (see n. 3). It is also the example provided by Rey M. Longyear in his brief discussion of this principle." 191

The examples selected may be divided into two categories: those which involve voice-leading movement between two different chords, of which the Mazurka,opus 6, no. 1 and the Prelude, opus 28, no. 4 provide examples, and those involving movement around or within appearances of the same chord. The remainingexamples all belong to the latter category. Mazurka, F-sharp minor, opus 6, no. 1, bars 5-8 (Example 1) This four-measure passage reappears in bars 29-32 and 61-64. The basic harmonic motion begins on the tonic chord of bar 2, moves to the mediant chord of bar 4, on the way to the dominant seventh chord of bar 9, reaching the tonic again in bar 10 (Figure la). Both the initial tonic and mediant chords are preceded by their applied dominants in bars 1 and 3 (Figure lb). It is the movement from the mediant to the dominant seventh chord which is of special significance. First, the bass ascends an octave in bar 4, thereby increasing the distance to the dominant by inverting an ascending third to a descending sixth. The soprano also ascends, to the third of the mediant chord, so that it, too, has the interval of a sixth to fill in order to arrive at E-sharp, the leading-tone of the dominant seventh chord, in bar 9.12 The composer then fills the space in both outer parts by descending in half steps through bars 5-8. The passage is highly embellished with neighbor notes and passing tones as well as skips between various chord members (Figure 1c). The inner parts follow the descending scheme in bars 5-9, but only after the tenor note of bar 4, E, divides into two separate voices. The only melodic whole step in any of the voices occurs in the tenor part of bar 5, D-sharp to C-sharp. The resultant sonorities are of three kinds: fully diminished sevenths, half diminished sevenths, and dominant seventh sonorities. The logic of this succession of sonorities is not harmonic; it is to be found in voice leading, as each voice descends chromatically from a member of the mediant triad to a member of the dominant seventh chord. Prelude, E minor, opus 28, no. 4, bars 1-12 (Example 2) This well-known piece provides a second illustration of chromatic harmonies generated by voice leading between two 192

diatonic chords. The passage consists of a descending spacefilling motion, from a tonic chord in first inversion to a dominant seventh chord in root position supporting a stepwise descent in the soprano (Figure 2a). Bar 12 marks a point of interruption, after which the motion begins over again. The space between the inverted tonic and the dominant seventh chord is filled by descending stepwise motion-for the most part chromatic-in the lower three voices (Figure 2b). Harmonic interest is increased and the passage lengthened by staggering the points of descent in the different voices (Figure 2c). The soprano, bass, and tenor are also elaborated by neighbor-note motion. The sonorities which result from the confluence of voices include minor triads, minor-minor seventh chords, dominant seventh sonorities, half and fully diminished seventh chords, French augmented sixth and major-majorseventh sonorities, and several which are not so easily categorized but which might be labeled seventh chords with "added" notes. Though the succession of sonorities is fascinating, one searches in vain for an explanation through harmony. The guiding principle here is to be found in the voice leading, within the diatonic structure provided by the tonic and dominant chords of E-minor. Several editions notate the E-flat of bars 2-3 as D-sharp. The editors of the collected edition make this change, with the explanation that "in these bars, we have changed the el-flat of the original notation into dl-sharp. The chord in this second bar is a chord of the dominant seventh in E minor This change is clearly contrary (B-D-sharp-F-sharp-A)."13 to the voice leading at this point, which, since it is descending, logically demands an E-flat-as Chopin himself evidently understood. The same reasoning obtains in bars 14-15 with regard to the E-flat, and also in bar 15 to the A-flat of the tenor, which is sometimes notated as G-sharp. Nocturne, E-flat major, opus 9, no. 2, bar 12 (Example 3) This is the example cited by Hadow, Abraham, and Longyear.14 The passage occurs in bar 12 and again in bar 20. The dominant chord is prolonged at the end of bar 12 by employing the chord in two positions: first as a triad with




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the root in the soprano, and then as a seventh chord with the third in the soprano (Figure 3a). The space between the root and third in the soprano is filled with ascending whole and half steps (Figure 3b). At the same time, the bass descends stepwise to the root of the applied dominant, F, and returns to B-flat by leap. The inner parts also move, primarily stepwise, with two additional parts added at the end to intensify the passage (Figure 3c). The individual sonorities which result from this voice-leading activity are dominant seventh sonorities with the single exception of one major triad. But even though some roots are fifth related, the true role of these sonorities is melodic and space-fillingbetween the two positions of the dominant chord, and its applied dominant-and the chords which result are coincidental. Schenker shows the larger context of this passage as occurring at the point of division of a structural progression.'s Fantasy, F minor, opus 49, bars 268-76 (Example 4) Bars 268-76 of the Fantasy provide a somewhat longer example than those just examined. Similar material occurs earlier in the piece, at bars 101-09, but there it is a perfect fifth higher. The two passages are identical except for register, and the decision to employ the latter version in this illustration was made only because it is easier to read at the lower pitch level. The nine-measure passage begins and closes on A-flat major triads-the mediant of F minor. The third is in the soprano in both chords, but the register of the second chord is an octave higher than in the first (Figure 4a). The intervening measures permit the octave to be filled by a chromatic ascent in the right hand. The line is interrupted at D-natural and at E-natural, with neighbor-note motion around those notes (Figure 4b). The bass line descends chromatically from A-flat to F-sharp, the latter an applied dominant to a B-major chord, which serves as a neighbor note to B-flat. The bass again descends chromatically, from B-flat to A-flat. A-flat functions as a dominant to D-flat, itself a neighbor to C. Once more the process is repeated, with a descent to B-flat, the applied dominant of E-flat, which is the dominant


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of the prolonged A-flat triad. Thus the bass ascends from the root of the A-flat triad, through B-flat to the third, C, and the fifth, E-flat, before returning to the root. The inner voices combine with the bass and soprano to form various sonorities including major triads (one of which [m. 275, beats 1 and 2] is spelled enharmonically in a manner consistent with the voice leading at this point), complete dominant seventh sonorities, and French.augmented sixth sonorities (Figure 4c). There are several complete dominant sevenths, each containing an added note which derives from an accented passing tone equivalent to the raised fifth (marked with asterisks in Figure 4c). The goals of two of the applied dominants in bars 269 and 271 are chords whose outer voices function as neighbor notes to those which follow. The sonority which occurs at these points is the French augmented sixth chord and the voice leading follows conventional practice with the augmented sixth resolving out to the octave.16 Etude, E major, opus 10, no.3, bars 21-54 (Example 5) This is the most complex example quoted and it is also the longest. The thirty-three bar passage occurs at the midpoint of the piece, and the material is used only once. The passage may be divided into three overlapping sections, of which the first comprises bar 21, beat two, through bar 42, first beat. This portion prolongs the dominant seventh chord harmonically, through its applied dominant on F-sharp (Figure 5a)."7 Still another applied dominant may be found within the F-sharp chord, in bar 38 (Figure 5b). Bars 22-38 reveal a stepwise ascent in the bass, from F-sharp to C-sharp-the latter implied (Figure 5c). This is accompanied, in the soprano, by ascending stepwise movement made possible when the soprano voice descends a seventh into an inner part of the F-sharp chord in bars 22-23 (Figure 5d). The whole is elaborated by neighboring and passing motion throughout bars 22-37, for which bars 22-23 are typical (Figure 5e: the sketch is abbreviated in order to save space here). Repetition in bars 23-24 and 28-29 also contributes to the temporal span. Bars 38-41 contain a highly chromatic passage. These






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measures correspond with the arrival in the bass on the implied C-sharp, which coincides with the neighbor note, E-sharp, in the soprano (Figures 5c-e). The series of chromatic chords serves to prolong the neighbor note motion around the E-sharp in the soprano, ascending to G-natural, then descending stepwise chromatically to E-sharp. This is complicated by octave shifts filled symmetrically through arpeggiated augmented triads, with neighbor notes to each chord member. In addition, the inner voice of bars 39-41 -C-sharp, C-natural, B-natural-temporarily dominates by ascending above the soprano, while the left hand shows an exchange of registers which places the inner part below the bass at times. The chords which result are all fully diminished seventh chords. The second portion of this passage consists of bars 42-46, beat 1, and employs the dominant triad stated three times with different soprano notes, prolonged by neighbor-note motion (Figures 5f-h). The dominant chords are arpeggiated through several octaves. The last part of the passage, consisting of bars 46-54, begins and ends on the dominant. In bar 46, the soprano skips up, from the fifth of the chord to the root, B, and then descends stepwise for an octave (Figure 5j). This descent is interrupted twice, in bars 47-48 and 49-50. At the same time, the bass line skips from the root of the dominant, B, to the lowered third, D-natural; this is a result of modal mixing. The bass then descends stepwise through the interval of a seventh to E. Like the soprano line, the bass descent is interrupted twice. The outer parts move together in sixths, and are supported by chords descending stepwise in inner parts. These chords consist of fully diminished seventh chords for bars 46-52 (Figure 5k). In bar 53, the supporting sonority is that of the French augmented sixth chord, which moves to a half diminished seventh sonority-a supertonic seventh chord from the parallel minor-which moves to the dominant. The entire passage, like those preceding, is subjected to extensive arpeggio figuration which obscures any sense of line in the inner parts, though the outer voices are easily heard (Figure 5m). Taken together, the three overlapping passages which comprise bars 34-54 serve to prolong the dominant of 211

E major, producing, in effect, an extended half cadence (Figure 5n). Bars 54-61, not included in this illustration, further prolong the dominant with its tonic six-four chord. They also provide a thematic transition preparing for the return of the material which opens the piece. The greatly prolonged dominant finally resolves to the tonic in bar 62. The foregoing examples constitute a very limited sample of this kind of chromatic prolongation, but they are generally typical of those encountered elsewhere in Chopin. Some other examples may be found in the Mazurka, opus 30, no. 4, bars 128-31, the Mazurka,opus 67, no. 2, bars 21-24, the Ballade, opus 52, bars 72-75, and the Mazurka, opus 7, no. 2, bars 17-25. All of the passages examined above share important characteristics. In each case, the effect is to prolong and thus emphasize the chords which frame the passages. These chords may be different, as in opus 6, no. 1, or the same, as in the remaining examples. The chords so emphasized are always of primary significance in the tonal scheme. In opus 6, no. 1, the two chords are the mediant and the dominant, which complete a tonal journey begun on the tonic, so that the members of the tonic triad are emphasized in the bass, supported by their own chords. In somewhat similar fashion, most of opus 28, no. 1 prolongs movement between the tonic and dominant. The passage in opus 49 prolongs the mediant, while those of opus 9, no. 2 and opus 10, no. 3 prolong the dominant. The chromatic chords which the passages contain are coincidental, that is, they result from the coincidence of moving parts whose rationale is primarily melodic rather than harmonic; thus the chords are not "functional" and do not require resolution to their conventional harmonic goals. Since their purpose is melodic, the ear must follow the lines in order to understand their role vis a vis the tonal scheme in each case. Heard from this perspective, the passages are emphatically tonal. The particular sonorities employed are not randomly selected. In addition to major triads, they include half and fully diminished seventh chords, dominant seventh sonorities, French augmented sixth sonorities, and a few unusual constructions. Most of these chromatic sonorities were an integral part of the harmonic vocabulary of the period. In 212

addition, they are sonorities which are complex and somewhat ambiguous in sound. All are frequently encountered as altered chords as well as diatonic harmonies. Those which appear most often-the fully diminished seventh and dominant seventh sonorities-are susceptible to enharmonic interpretation and depend upon resolution for their functional definition. This characteristic of functional ambiguity makes them ideal choices for sonorities which serve a supporting and secondary role in passages which are primarily melodic in origin. REFERENCES 1. I am indebted to several theorists, and especially to Heinrich Schenker, for both the analytical procedure employed in this study and for the theoretical premise from which it proceeds. The idea that voice leading may serve as a determinant of chord successions is an intergral part of Schenker's theory of tonal organization. Discussions in English of this principle will be found in Felix Salzer, Structural Hearing (New York: Charles Boni, 1952, corrected reprint ed., New York: Dover Publications, 1962), pp. 102, 135-42, and in the chapter on Wagner in Adele Katz, Challenge to Musical Tradition (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1945, reprint ed., New York: Da Capo Press, 1972), pp. 194-247. 2. Gerald Abarham, Chopin's Musical Style (London: Oxford University Press, 1939). 3. Henry Hadow, Studies in Modern Music, 2nd series, 3rd ed. (London: Seeley & Co., Ltd., 1900), pp. 162-63. The quotation Abraham cites appears in the context of a discussion of Chopin's use of parallel sonorities, with special reference to the Mazurka, opus 30, no. 4. Hadow's explanation of these parallel chords alludes to the practice of doubling in orchestration. He states that "the law of consecutives is not held to be broken if in an orchestral piece a violin phrase is doubled by the violoncello or the bassoon. . . . So in these disputed passages of Chopin. They are not really harmonic at all, they lie in the same plane as the melody, and, for their support, imply a separate and distinct scheme of chords, which the ear can always understand for itself." The quotation Abraham cites follows this remark. 4. Abraham, Chopin's Musical Style, pp. 19-20, 73, 77-80, 82-83, 86-88, 98-99. 5. Ibid., pp. 19-20. 6. Ibid., p. 73. 7. Ibid., p. 83.


8. Ibid., pp. 98-99. 9. Ibid., pp. 19-20. 10. The dates of composition and publication are further detailed in Maurice J. E. Brown, Chopin: An Index of His Works in Chronological Order, 2nd ed. rev. (New York: Da Capo Press, 1972), pp. 45, 59, 65, 79, 81, 128, 139-40. 11. Rey M. Longyear, Nineteenth-Century Romanticism in Music, 2nd ed. rev. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1973), pp. 147-48. Longyear credits Abraham with originating the term "tonal [sic] parenthesis" and provides the passage from the Nocturne as an illustration. 12. The third-skip, A to C-sharp, reiterates a thematic cell introduced in bar 1 and re-used a step higher each in bars 2 and 3. 13. Fryderyk Chopin, Complete Works, I, Preludes, ed. Ignacy J. Paderewski, Ludwik Bronski, and J6zef Turczyfiski (Warsaw: Fryderyk Chopin Institute, 1949), p. 73. 14. Although he provides no illustrations or specific explanations, Hadow's remarks are quite perceptive. Of this and two other examples he has cited, he says: "these apparent consecutives [unresolved dominant seventh chords] . . . do not defy harmonic laws because they belong to a different jurisdiction: in a word, they are to be treated not as harmonizations of the theme, but rather as forms of melodic extension." Hadow, Modern Music, pp. 162-63. Compare these remarks with those of n. 3 above. 15. Heinrich Schenker, Der freie Satz, rev. and ed. by Oswald Jonas (Vienna: Universal Edition, 1956), "Anhang," pp. 42, 44. 16. The spelling of these chords is not always conventional. That of bar 269 is spelled B-E-flat-F-A-natural (i.e., D-sharp). However, the unusual spellings are correct in terms of the resolution of these notes in the chords which follow. 17. Schenker, Der freie Satz, "Anhang," p. 113. Schenker shows the applied dominant as a structural (altered) supertonic seventh chord in a larger view of the piece.


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