Post by paramucho
On Fri, 08 May 2009 14:05:17 -0400, Joey Goldstein
Post by Joey Goldstein Post by paramucho
Post by LJS
I don't know that Beethoven really used figured bass. He may have, but
I did not see any examples of this. Since this topic is about theory,
however, could it be that you mean Roman Numeral notation for
Functional harmony? Figured bass is a notational method that spells
chords used a lot in the Baroque period?
Functional harmony theory and Roman Number theory did not exist in the
18th century. You seem to believe that figured bass was merely a
notational device and you seem to be oblivious to the central role
that figured bass occupied in 18th century music theory. See further
By today's methods of functional analysis figured bass tells us hardly
anything about a chord other than its vertical intervallic qualities.
It tells us nothing about its relationship to the key.
By today's standards and compared to today's methods of Tonal analysis I
really don't think of figured bass as being much of a "theoretical"
description of anything. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I see figured bass as
being simply a form of chord-symbol notation similar to the jazz/pop
chord symbols in use today by jazz and commercial musicians.
Excuse my ignorance of pre-Tonal ideas, but in what ways was (is)
figured bass used in a theoretical capacity?
And by "theoretical" I don't mean a discussion of harmonic techniques
that were used or not used by various composers.
I mean an abstract explanation of important facets of the harmonic movement.
Regarding the the question of figured bass, while we now think of
chord signatures as mere labels that's not how they were approached in
the 18th century. There's an analogous situation with Roman Numbers,
which, without further intepretation, merely label chords, and yet
most of us associate particular behaviors with I, IV and V. Likewise,
the 18th century musician associated particular behaviors with chord
signatures or chord signature progressions.
Isn't this a description of functional harmony? We have spoken many
times in this NG about the tools of analysis. The numerals themselves
are notational devices, the patterns that they follow is the first
step of the analysis and when this is done, these [particular
behaviors] are the the functional progressions that we know to be
characteristic of that period. This is all rather common ideas and
established facts. Call it [Particular behaviors] if you like, during
my lifetime, I know it as Chord progressions.
Post by paramucho
For example, CPE Bach takes over twenty pages to describe behaviors
associated with the 7th chord which he presents in terms of figured
bass progressions. For each he describes the motion of specific
notes/intervals. He's also concerned with voicing, doubling and often
comments on behaviors appropriate to "galant" or church music.
Yes. That is an interesting example of a very important concept. The
one I remember reading was concerning the conventions of the day that
was acceptable for musicians to play from figured bass. He may have
dropped in theory as he was documenting the conventions that he found
and heard to be accepted at that time. It was an interesting lesson. I
didn't know that he wrote another one that used it for analysis.
The one I remember covered things that a performer might use in
performance. It was of interest to me because it talked about things
like voicing and motion and basic part writing "rule" and it was a
performance teaching text. Musicologists love it as it is so detailed
etc that they can and did write hundreds of papers on this. But CPE
used this as a vehicle for explaining how to play. He, as a teacher,
had to explain some things to the students that would study his book.
He may have even been the spark that created the RN notation, but
Figured Bass is the notation system. CPE then taught theory while he
taught the notation. You can see that it was a book that was showing
how to perform. Galant, church music, different ways of interpreting
the Figured Bass.
Let me ask you. Does his theory comments tell you HOW to use the
theory to perform the work? or does it tell you WHY the composer chose
that particular "figure" for that particular "bass"?
Post by paramucho
Now, you might wrinkle your brow at this point
[ I'm all a twitter ] and say that's all
Post by paramucho
irrelevant to the analysis of music, but there simply is no simple way
to project our mindset back on that period. They *wrote* about music
terms of chord-to-chord relationships, and I think we still do think
in that approach. The kind of structural analysis we expect these days
has been layered on top of chord-to-chord thinking.
Now you are describing Fux's teachings. Mostly the first species! and
then as you point out, we now expect chord to chord thinking. Well yes
it took a while for us to get to chord to chord thinking to the other
layers, it took the transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque
period. His FATHER really bridged the gap of the two ways of thinking.
I am sure that he knew more of the theory than even his father did. He
would have to teach it and maybe he did use Figured Bass in the same
manner that a Jazz musician would use chord symbols to show you how to
get through a gig on a society band that only required you to play a
musical part writing of the chords indicated. These composers knocked
out an arrangement simply for these types of things. A melody, maybe a
counter melody or more depending on who was available for the gig. and
a bass part that had the figures to spell out the chords for any of
the guys on the gig that could not hear what was going on. Sort of
like wedding casuals of today. So the composer basically wrote a bass
line chord symbols and the melody. That is the concept of figured
bass. The fake books of today is the Figured Bass of yesteryear. It is
no more theory than a lead sheet from the fake book is theory. Does
theory help to understand and preform it better? Yes, but Figured Bass
is NOT theory.
Post by paramucho
Functional analysis doesn't suddenly burst into life with Rameau. He
does provide major building blocks, but we tend to see them our
functional eyes, not as they were seen at the time. Rameau's
definitions of Tonic, Dominant and Subdominant overlap our modern
definitions, but they're not exactly the same. And while Rameau did
have an almost immediate impact, it was mostly concerned with
inversion theory and the like, not harmonic analysis.
Well, they are functional. And we can see where they came from. Just
because we can see different things beyond Rameau's experience doesn't
mean that we can't see it through his eyes, or any one else's eyes.
Conceptualization is one of the important skills required of the
musician. I am sure you, just as I and most musicians, have these
skills. I can only speak from my own experience. I can see rather
clearly how they though about theory in its various stages. It is,
after all, well documented in the music itself. If you learn the
music, you can learn to think like the composer. At least, I can. Well
with the composers that I am studying that is and at least to certain
Can I completely think like any one specific composer? At least some.
But only from a musical sense and with lots of study and analysis.
But this is what studying music theory is. It is learning to think
like the composers of each period. I may have mentioned this story
before, but Bill Evans was known for going to the practice room and
playing through the fake books #1 and #2 (orginal) and working through
the tunes in the styles of what he was studying. We were taught that
way. That is how we learned theory. One of the tests as to weather you
know something is if you can use it and if you can put it into
application and to put it into different contexts and to discover
which contexts have been changed or chosen or modified and how and why
and how ever you think it is important to go into any specific point.
But yes, you can go back to what was in the head of the composer.
Post by paramucho
Indeed, the vocabulary of ideas we now associate with chord function
took a century to emerge. For example, functional analysis, as we
understand it, couldn't really get off the ground until theories of
form had evolved. In that period Rameau's ideas were reshaped and
So are you saying that as Rameau learned more he came to my way of
Post by paramucho
Another consolidator was required to pull this new stuff together.
According to Lester, in his chapter on Rameau in THE CAMBRIDGE HISTORY
OF WESTERN MUSIC THEORY, p774, "a full-blown theory of harmonic
functions did not flower until the work of Hugo Riemann late in the
nineteenth century." Riemann was still refining his model in the early
1900s. It's Riemann who made the idea of "function" famous. British
writers such as Prout and Tovey build on Riemann, as does Schenker for
So, the actual history of functional analysis is not all that old,
indeed, it's probably still in a post-Riemann flowering period.
Riemann is not well known in the english-speaking countries, but he's
the common denominator in Germany, Russia and other european countries
(although heavily reformulated, just as Rameau is). And, what might
interest you is that he is a chord-based analyst who rejects figured
bass. When Schenker comes along he rejects Riemann and embraces
Ian, I don't know what to say. You are going on and on about
notational issues and have somehow missed the implications of what ou
have said. If FUNCTIONAL ANALYSIS was not understood until the 1900s,
what do you think that LvB, Mozart, Bach, and all the rest, Brahms,
hell EVERYONE of the CPP was writing and all of these composers just
had no idea of what they were doing. They were just going along
writing variations of this always striving to find a new way to
disguise the functional progressions so as to create surprise and
other reactions but they had no idea of what they were doing.
And far from true as well. Maybe you are confusing the NOTATION with
the THEORY. Maybe Roman Numeral Notation was not solidified until
1900 but your statements suggest that it was being worked on earlier
than that. But irregardless, Chord function was no mystery to the
composers. It may have taken theorists until then to decide upon which
system of analysis should be universal, but the theory was around as
long as the music. Maybe written down, maybe passed on word of mouth,
but it was there.
Figured bass is a notational system. Use it how you want, it is still
a notational system just as Roman Numeral Notation is not theory
either, it is also a notational system. And so is a Tone Row Matrix.
And so is Alpha Chord notation with and without /bass notation and/or
inversion notation thrown in with chord modifiers. They are all
notational systems and may be used in theory but they are in no way
what theory is about. They are about theory, theory is not about the