Prolongation of Seventh Chords in Tonal Music

Name: Yosef Goldenberg

Title: Prolongation of Seventh Chords in Tonal Music

Degree: PhD, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel 2001.


The work explores prolongation of seventh chords in Western tonal music using Schenkerian methodology, although refuting the central Schenkerian idea that dissonances cannot be prolonged.

Prolongation of seventh chords is problematic in two respects: 1. It violates the control of strict counterpoint over free composition ; 2.The seventh and the octave are two adjacent tones within the same harmony.

Schenker’s resistance to accepting seventh chords as true harmonies intensified over time. In HARMONY, he regards dissonances in strict counterpoint as merely analogous to passing events in free composition; beginning in COUNTERPOINT I, he identifies the procedures of strict counterpoint themselves as the basis of free composition, but until DER TONWILLE 2, he thinks of scale degrees as an independent force. It is tonicization rather than prolongation that is indeed hardly ever applied to seventh chords. However, Schenker really prohibited rather vehemently any prolongation even of non-tonicized seventh chords.

The seventh of V7 may participate in background and deep middleground configurations in several ways: 1. An inner-voice seventh accompanyingV2^; 2. Harmonization of the 4^, either an Urlinie member, an upper neighbor to the structural 3^, or an incomplete neighbor between 3^ and2^. Sevenths of secondary V7s often participate in middleground levels.

The work discusses prolongations of V7, diminished seventh chords, other diatonic seventh chords (almost always with a minor seventh] and augmented-sixth seventh chords. The categorization is based on combination of chord type and voice leading procedures. Prolongations of seventh chords may involve the tone of the seventh actively, or occur under a stationary seventh.

Prolongations of seventh chords are in fact common, especially in unstable sections. They are possible via all voice leading techniques. One special technique is enharmonic parentheses, where the prolonged chord has one function in relation to its context, and another in relation to its inner content. Contrary to expectations, full circular prolongation of seventh chords is characteristic of common-practice music, and NOT of the late Romanticism. By the radical Romantics, circular prolongation, of consonance or dissonance, is usually lacking.

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