Mart Humal

The Rising Cycle-Of-Fifths Progression: Its Structural and Formal Implications

The relationships between structural principles of counterpoint and harmony can be imagined as those of subordination and inclusion. Counterpoint represents a lower level of musical structure. Harmony, as a higher level, contains both contrapuntal and non-contrapuntal elements (the former – as voice leading, the latter – as tonal relations).
Whereas the descending cycle-of-fifth progression is one of the most common chord progressions in the tonal music, the rising one (except for such simplest cases as I–V and IV–I) is quite rare. In the progression I–V–ii–vi, the second fifth, as a dominant followed by a subdominant, is somewhat problematic. In such cases, one speaks usually about the back-relating dominant. However, one can disregard the continuation V–ii in terms of harmony but not in terms of voice-leading.

The contrapuntal structure and formal implications of a rising cycle-of-fifth progression depend on the number of rising fifths. When the second fifth (V–ii) is followed by one more ascending fifth (ii–vi), it gives rise to an exact sequence. On the other hand, when it is followed by one or two descending fifths (ii–V, or, as usually ii–V–I), there is no exact sequence.
In my paper, these two cases will be discussed in more detail, analysing the contrapuntal structure of a number of progressions on the base of a five-part voice-leading matrix, rather than the two-part Schenkerian Ursatz, as the high-level structure of tonal counterpoint.