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       M U S I C          T H E O R Y         O N L I N E
                     A Publication of the
                   Society for Music Theory
          Copyright (c) 1995 Society for Music Theory
| Volume 1, Number 3        May, 1995      ISSN:  1067-3040   |
  All queries to: mto-editor@boethius.music.ucsb.edu or to
AUTHOR:  Rothstein, William
TITLE:  The Tristan Chord in Historical Context:  A Response to John Rothgeb
KEYWORDS:  harmony, recitative, intertextuality, Tannhaeuser, Purcell, Bach
REFERENCE:  mto.95.1.1.rothgeb.art
William Rothstein
Oberlin College
Conservatory of Music
Oberlin, OH 44074
ABSTRACT: John Rothgeb's analysis of the "Tristan chord" engages a
large intertextual network, stretching back to the Baroque and
centering on recitative.  Examples of a specific figure of recitative,
usually associated with the asking of a question, are presented and
analyzed.  Examples include passages in Wagner's operas before
ACCOMPANYING FILES:  mto.95.1.3.rothstn1.gif
[1] Most of the discussion of Professor Rothgeb's article so far has
focused, understandably, on enharmonic issues (e.g., can the TC be
legitimately described as a half-diminished seventh chord?).  In the
process, it seems, the originality and cogency of Rothgeb's analysis
of the TC in its *original* context--mm. 1-3 of the *Tristan*
Prelude--has gone largely unremarked. (1) When I first read his essay,
I found Rothgeb's analysis of these measures instantly convincing, and
far superior to the conventional analysis of the TC's G#4 as an
appoggiatura to A4 (the last eighth note of m. 2), or to William
Mitchell's reading of a voice exchange within a composed-out V of A
minor.  The central feature of Rothgeb's analysis (see his Ex. 2) is
his claim that G#4 properly belongs to the V chord of m. 3, but that a
rhythmic shift--specifically, a measure-long anticipation--moves G#4
back to the downbeat of m. 2, thus displacing A4, the note that
"properly" belongs to the French-sixth chord.  This latter chord
Rothgeb (along with many others) understands to be the chord "behind"
the TC.  (2) Unlike earlier authors, however, Rothgeb does not
identify the displaced A4 with the eighth note at the end of m. 2.
That A4, and the A#4 following it, Rothgeb reads as part of a slide
embellishment--i.e., a passing motion--connecting the anticipated G#4
and the B4 of m. 3; the latter note arises from the voice-leading
technique known as reaching-over (Schenker's *Uebergreifen*).
1.  In this response, I will use "TC" to mean exclusively the first
verticality in m. 2 of the *Tristan* Prelude.  Unlike Rothgeb, I
accept the notion that this chord participates in a network of
collections--all of them reducible, in the abstract, to the collection
[3, 5, 8, 11] and its transpositions--extending over the entire opera.
To my mind, it is this network that ultimately constitutes the
"Tristan chord," not the specific manifestation in m. 2.  However, a
thorough understanding of the language of *Tristan* requires that each
occurrence of the chord/collection be analyzed independently for its
harmonic, contrapuntal, and (ideally) timbral context.  It is the
harmonic/contrapuntal analysis of mm. 1-3 that I find most exciting
about Rothgeb's article.
2.  A work cited in Allen Forte's recent response to Rothgeb (MTO 1.2
[1995]), the *Harmonielehre* of Louis and Thuille, accepts the TC as
an independent augmented-sixth chord, adding it (and two others) to
the inventory of augmented-sixth chords.  I thank Daniel Harrison for
bringing this fact to my attention.
[2] Rothgeb's Ex. 2 isn't as clear as it might be about the rhythmic
process that, in his analysis, gives rise to the TC.  My Ex. 1
paraphrases his Ex. 2 in such a way that rhythmic issues are brought
to the fore.  Ex. 1a is essentially the same as his Ex. 2a, except
that chords are identified by their harmonic functions (T=tonic,
P=pre-dominant, D=dominant), and the reaching-over-cum-voice-exchange
is shown.  Example 2b shows a rhythmic shift in the soprano,
anticipating G#4 (the resolution of A4) and shifting B4 back to the
downbeat of m. 2.  (I will return to this form of the progression
later.)  Example 1c compounds the rhythmic shift by giving G#4 the
*entire* value of the augmented-sixth chord; the resulting vertical
sonority is, of course, the TC.  Example 1d fills out the soprano's
minor-third leap with passing tones, yielding Rothgeb's slide.  Given
the added passing tones, the alto's E4 would cause parallel
fifths--the earlier "hidden fifths" having become open fifths--so D4
has been substituted; this is a common voice-leading contraction (a
leading tone descends directly to a passing seventh, a chromatic
semitone lower, instead of resolving upward as usual and then passing
downward by whole step).  Finally, Example 1e shifts the second
passing tone in the slide, A#4, to the downbeat of m. 2.  It will be
noticed that Ex. 1e is virtually a durational reduction of Wagner's
mm. 1-4; the principal difference is that m. 1 is represented in the
example by a complete tonic triad.
[3] I have followed Rothgeb's harmonic analysis thus far, but I don't
really hear m. 1 as a tonic harmony in A minor.  F4 sounds to me like
a consonant chord tone, not an appoggiatura.  Along with Deryck Cooke,
I hear the ascending sixth A3-F4, in upbeat-to-downbeat-rhythm, as an
arpeggiation from the fifth to the third of a D-minor triad, which
proves to be IV of A minor (3); the other two ascending sixths, in
mm. 5 and 8, are similarly arpeggiations from the fifth of a triad up
to its third.  I have added Example 1f to represent this hearing of
m. 1.  The bracketed sixth in the example represents the cellos'
ascending sixth.  The bass and soprano notes in parentheses are, to my
ear, implied by the larger context; notice the chromaticized voice
exchange between bass and alto.  I hear G#4 as coming from the implied
A4 (so does Rothgeb, but he hears the elided A4 in terms of I, not
IV).  The entire progression thus represents a motion from
pre-dominant (IV) to dominant (V), with an augmented-sixth chord (an
altered pre-dominant) in between.  The alto's E4 is a passing tone,
analogous to the eighth-note A4 in the soprano.  It is a simple matter
to substitute the first chord in Example 1f, IV, for the tonic triad
in Examples 1a-1e; the progression from level to level remains
essentially the same.
3.  See Deryck Cooke, "The Creative Imagination as Harmony," in Robert
Bailey, ed., *Wagner: Prelude and Transfiguration from Tristan and
Isolde* (New York: Norton, 1985), pp. 169-76.  This essay is excerpted
from Cooke's *The Language of Music* (Oxford, 1959).
[4] I now return to Example 1b, which, I here claim, forms part of the
pre-history of the TC.  Devotees of vocal music will quickly recognize
the latter part of this example--everything, that is, but the opening
tonic chord--as a common figure in recitative.  With its half cadence
and its rising melodic gesture, this figure was typically used by
composers to set lines of text ending with a question mark.  This
"question" figure was taken over by Wagner in his early operas; it
plays an especially important role in *Tannhaueser*.  The same figure
is transformed into the so-called Fate motive in the *Ring*.  I was
aware of the "question"/*Tannhaeuser*/*Ring* connection before I read
Rothgeb's article, but his analysis of the TC adds *Tristan* to the
intertextual network.
[5] The earliest example of the "question" figure that I am aware
of--but almost certainly not the earliest that exists--is the very
opposite of a question: it is Belinda's announcement of Aeneas's first
entrance in Purcell's *Dido and Aeneas* (see Ex. 2).  Belinda's words
are "how godlike is the form he bears."  The example is in C major,
although the succeeding passage is in G.  The figure involves a bass
motion from ^6 to ^5--here in major instead of the usual minor--with
the downward melodic resolution, C5-B4, anticipated in the same way as
in Example 1b.  D5, at the end of the passage, comes from E5, the
third of the tonic triad, which was itself reached by arpeggiation in
the first two measures of the recitative.  Thus the melodic structure
is based on a pair of unfolded thirds: E5-C4 (mm. 2-3) is answered by
B4-D5 (mm. 3-4).
[6] Many examples of the "question" figure, and of figures closely
related to it, occur in the cantatas of J. S. Bach.  (Curiously, I
have found no examples in Bach's Passions.)  In each case, the bass
progression is ^6-^5, usually in minor; often, but not always, the
figure concludes a bass progression descending by step from I to V.
The harmonic progression, naturally, is from pre-dominant to dominant,
with IV6-V the usual choice.  The melody, at the half cadence,
features either an ascending leap or an ascending passing motion from
^#7 to ^2.  Those examples that include melodic passing tones,
naturally, recall the *Tristan* progression most closely.
[7] Example 3, from Bach's Cantata No. 82 ("Ich habe genug"), is
especially striking in connection with *Tristan*.  (4) The
middleground harmonic progression, beginning in m. 2, is I-IV-V in C
minor.  At the fourth quarter of m. 4 the bass moves from the root of
IV, F2, to its third, A-flat2; at the same time, two tones of the V
triad--B-natural and D--are anticipated (the continuo figure is
6/4/2+).  The vocal line connects B3 and D4 with a passing tone, C4;
in most editions (notably that of the Bach-Gesellschaft), D4 is
embellished with an appoggiatura from below, so that the passing C4 is
heard twice, once before and once after the bar line.  (Example 3,
from the Neue Bach-Ausgabe, does not show this appoggiatura, but a
singer would probably add it--also an upper appoggiatura on the word
"Erde.")  If the lower appoggiatura were made chromatic--C#4 instead
of C4--we would hear a progression very much like Wagner's, lacking
only the augmented sixth in the 6/4/2+ chord and the seventh in the V.
4.  Readers who own the Dover volume "Bach: Eleven Great Cantatas"
(New York, 1976) can find other examples of the "question" figure on
p. 61 (m. 4 and mm.  8-9 of the tenor recitative "Wie hast du dich,
mein Gott" from Cantata No. 21) and p. 157 (mm. 7-8 of the tenor
recitative "Der Heiland ist gekommen" from Cantata No. 61).
[8] Example 4 is a voice-leading interpretation of Ex. 3.  The passage
is complicated, as one comes to expect of Bach.  Level A, a foreground
graph, omits the registral play of the vocal line, which descends into
its lower octave to illustrate the "cool earth" ("kuehler Erde") into
which the singer longs to be buried.  Level B, a middleground layer,
shows more clearly that the passage as a whole is governed by a series
of parallel tenths between the bass and the vocal line; the bass
leads. (5) The last two tenths of the series are displaced by
anticipations and by an unfolding in the bass (shown at level A).
C3--C4 in the graph--is anticipated at the end of m. 3, although it is
sustained by the keyboardist through the first three beats of m. 4.
B3 is anticipated on the fourth beat of m. 4, as indicated above.
While F2 in m. 4 is the root of the IV harmony, the controlling bass
tone within the larger progression is A-flat2, reached only at the
fourth beat of the measure--precisely the moment when B3 is
anticipated.  Thus the tenth A-flat2/C4 is never explicitly
represented at the musical surface (remember that the last sixteenth
note of m. 4 is passing).  The anticipation of B3 leaves time for the
reaching-over of D4, a note that connects back to E-flat4 in m. 2.
5. On the concept of leading and following linear progressions see
Schenker, *Free Composition (Der freie Satz)*, trans. and ed. by Ernst
Oster (New York: Schirmer Books, 1979), pp. 78-80.
[9] I do not know whether Wagner took the "question" figure from Bach,
some of whose music he knew very well, or from later composers.
Wherever he got it, he used it in *Der fliegende Hollaender* (I
haven't looked for it earlier than that), and especially in
*Tannhaeuser*. (6) In both operas, the pre-dominant chord used is
generally an augmented-sixth chord of some kind; the minor third from
^#7 to ^2 is expressed as a leap, not a slide.  If the local key is
major, ^6 in the bass is typically flatted, as it must be if an
augmented-sixth chord is to be used.
6.  In *Der fliegende Hollaender*, see Erik's question "Welch' hohe
Pflicht?" in his dialogue with Senta.
[10] The figure appears frequently in Act 3, Scene 3 of *Tannhaeuser*.
While it is not always used to express a literal question, the
figure's searching quality captures nicely the restless unfulfillment
of Tannhaeuser's quest.  Interestingly, almost all appearances of the
figure in this scene are in either A minor or C major, precisely the
two keys used at the beginning of *Tristan*.  Ex. 5 shows two of the
figure's occurrences.  The first, in A minor, sets a question from
Wolfram to Tannhaeuser: "Zogst du denn nicht nach Rom? (Didn't you go
to Rome?)"  The second, in C minor/major, is of special interest
because--in the vocal score, at least--it briefly introduces a
transposition of the TC, on the last eighth note of the first measure
(in fact, C4 is sustained by half the violas, so the chord is
literally a French sixth).  B-natural is, of course, an anticipation.
Tannhaeuser is telling here of the mortifications he visited upon
himself on his way to Rome (the text at this point is "vergoss mein
Blut ich zu des Hoechsten Preis").
[11] The final link in the chain is the *Ring*.  By the time he
composed *Tristan*, Wagner had completed *Das Rheingold* and *Die
Walkuere*, and had composed the first two acts of *Siegfried*.  In
*Die Walkuere*, the "question" figure appears most notably as the Fate
motive; it also ends the "Todesklage" motive.  The two motives are
closely linked in Act 2, Scene 4, the "Todesverkuendigung."  Whereas
all earlier examples of the "question" figure have involved a melodic
leap from ^#7 to ^2--the third and fifth, respectively, of the V
triad--the basic form of the Fate motive involves a leap from ^2 to
^4, the fifth and seventh of V7. (7) This variant of the figure is
made possible by the nineteenth century's acceptance of V7 as a
legitimate goal for a half cadence.  In Wagner's syntax, of course,
such a V7 does not require conventional resolution, although the
listener should (I think) still feel a yearning for such resolution.
7.  Several occurrences of the Fate motive in *Die Walkuere* explore
still other tonal relationships.  See, for example, Bruennhilde's
question to Siegmund, "So wenig achtest du ewige Wonne?", in the
[12] Ex. 6 shows two consecutive occurrences of the Fate motive in the
"Todesverkuendigung."  As in the Purcell example (Ex. 2), the text
contains an exclamation, not a question: Siegmund asserts that he will
not follow Bruennhilde to Valhalla ("zu ihnen folg' ich dir nicht!").
The passage as a whole is in F# minor, but the first statement of the
motive sounds like A minor.  The progression moves from a French-sixth
chord to V; the anticipated leading tone, G#, forms the TC at its
"home" transposition level.  The following statement, in F# minor,
represents the original form of the Fate motive, with a progression
from an incomplete diminished-seventh chord, 6/4/2+ (cf. the Bach
passage in Ex. 3), to V7.  Wagner's spelling here suggests that the
apparent D-minor triad is not the "real" chord in the motive's first
measure, but that A is an accented passing tone *resolving* to G#. (8)
(Hearing A in this way also makes the outer-voice parallel fifths
easier to accept.)  Notice that, in the final measures of *Die
Walkuere*, Wagner changes his spelling from E# to F-natural,
emphasizing the Phrygian progression from F-natural to E and thus the
*plagal*--as opposed to pre-dominant--function of the Fate motive at
the end of the opera.
8.  At the beginning of this scene, where the Fate motive appears at
the same transposition level, A is a suspension.  Its tendency to
resolve *downward* is intensified there by the fact that its
preparation is a dissonant seventh (V7 of E minor).
[13] I have tried, in this response, to support John Rothgeb's
analysis of the TC indirectly, by drawing a thread back through
history.  The conceptual evolution of the TC shown in Ex. 1 mirrors,
to a remarkable degree, the historical evolution of the "question"
figure, much of which took place within Wagner's oeuvre.  Wagner's
seeming preoccupation with this figure supports the notion that, in
the opening measures of *Tristan* (if nowhere else), ontogeny
recapitulates phylogeny.  The gradual dissolution of tonal syntax that
*Tristan* did so much to further made continued evolution of this sort
extremely problematic.  In terms of tonal syntax--harmony and voice
leading--*Tristan* represents a station very near the end of the line.
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