Michael Baker

Some Instances of Dominantized Tonics in Romantic German Song

Tonicization is a familiar concept to most musicians, formed by the presence of applied (ʻsecondary dominantʼ) chords. A common type of tonicization involves altering the overall tonic harmony to sound like the V7/IV. However, in several examples of Romantic German song, an altered tonic harmony occurs immediately at the beginning of the composition, obscuring the decisive tonality of the piece. Furthermore, composers frequently end important sections of songs in such a manner, with the ʻdominantized tonicʼ standing in place of the expected tonic harmony. The apparent tonicization of IV is only of passing interest when compared to the destabilizing chromatic alteration of the overall tonic harmony at important structural moments in the song.

The ʻdominantizationʼ of the global tonic can depict any number of musical-poetic sentiments, especially when occurring at the immediate outset of a song, and can relate to a broader sense of tonal and harmonic mis-direction for the overall structure of the song as a whole. This paper examines the treatment of dominantized tonics in songs by Felix Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann, Robert Franz, among others, focusing on four important compositional uses for the songs in question: 1) beginning an entire song immediately on the dominantized tonic, 2) setting the first entrance of the vocal melody with the dominantized tonic following a piano introduction, 3) ending the vocal melody on the dominantized tonic prior to the final bar of the song, and 4) ending an entire song on an altered tonic sonority, usually accompanied by a dominantized tonic. Using a Schenkerian approach, I will show how dominantized tonics at important structural moments relate to a sense of mis-direction in the musical structure of the song as a whole, frequently leading to an idiosyncratic middleground transformation of the ‘Urlinie’ and fundamental structure.