Karst de Jong/Thomas Noll

Fundamental Bass and Real Bass in Dialogue: Tonal Aspects of the Structural Modes

We intend to contribute to the theoretical and analytical discussion on a wider concept of tonality by studying its manifestations on a particular level of description: the fundamental bass, or to be more precise, the interpretation of the fundamental bass in terms of structural modes.

As an introduction we recapitulate some insights from earlier stages of our joint work, as presented for example at the EuroMAC VI 2007 in Freiburg and later at the MCM 2011 in Paris. Our approach relates tonality to the fundamental bass. On the one hand, fundament progressions are not directly given with the score, but are produced as results of analytical interpretation. On the other hand, further theoretical work and analytical activity is necessary in order to interpret them as manifestations of tonality.We anchor our approach in the broader Ramist tradition, namely to consider the fundamental bass as an autonomous level of analysis. We depart, however, from Rameau's original idea, that the determination of the fundamental bass, both in vertical and horizontal dimensions, would be governed by the structure of the consonant triads. Instead we provide arguments in favor of an alternative contiguity principle, which is governed by the modes of the musical tetractys, the so-called structural modes: P4 - M2 - P4 (first mode), M2 - P4 - P4 (second mode), P4 - P4 - M2 (third mode). These modes consist of three scale degrees (not seven!). Our decision to call the three scale degrees in each of these modes tonicsubdominant and dominant highlights a conceptual bridge between scale theory and functional harmony. Although our approach is reminiscent of Carl Dahlhaus' attempt to mediate between the Sechterian and the Riemannian approaches to harmony, it nevertheless differs from recent concepts of scale degree function (such as investigated by Daniel Harrison or Ian Quinn). The dialogue between the Fundamental Bass and the Real Bass - as proposed in the title - is meant to be an analytical dialogue between our approach to the fundamental bass and elements from the Thoroughbass and Partimento Traditions. Furthermore we connect to ideas from William Caplin’s (2008) article ‘Schoenberg’s “Second Melody”, or, “Meyered-ed” in the Bass’. In many regards this dialogue highlights a pair of complementarity perspectives on the two sides of the same coin. At some points we see also challenging aspects of conflict, which we tend to relate to the two paths of hierarchically refining the bass arpeggiation I - V - I, namely the triadic, on the one hand, and the tetractic, on the other.