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Retrograde: How Important Is It To Avoid?

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So, when I first started theory I was told that retrograde (movement from a dominant function chord to a pre-dominant function chord) was strictly forbidden in common practice harmony. However, while working through Hindemith's "Traditional Harmony" I found that several of Hindemith's prescribed progressions in the exercises have retrograde progressions. So, is retrograde strictly forbidden? Are there exceptions? Am I just stupid? 



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hard to say without an example, but you can follow a V with II or IV in the context of a sequence, for instance. certainly if something like you described *were* to happen, the V would not be analysed as having a dominant function. Another possibility is modulation, in which case it also wouldn't be considered dominant. finally, a chord might just be part of a prolongation of a predominant harmony.

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Hmmm… could you be thinking of something to do with resolving the leading tone properly, since the V contains the leading tone and the IV contains the tonic?  If I'm understanding you correctly, you can really follow any triad with any other triad.  Some progressions are more common than others, and some are particularly useful in certain situations, but there is nothing that is not allowed in common practice.  There are firmer rules about which chord factors are doubled in a particular chord to make your voice leading as smooth as possible, and which inversions and spacings you have in your chords for the same reason.  So that the individual lines are all as smooth and lyrical and intuitive as possible for someone listening or sight-reading a part.  So that your fingers can stretch easily to play them if it's a keyboard piece.  And so that the piece feels firmly rooted in a particular key, and really feels resolved when you resolve at the end, rather than wandering all over the place.  


That's my best guess without being able to read the rule you were talking about.  Something to do with proper resolution of the leading tone.  ):  Helpful?  

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  • 2 months later...

It's not forbidden by any means, though it is certainly not as common as some other progressions. Use your ear if anything. If it sounds interesting and "right" to you in a particular context than go for it. I usually only have three rules I consistently stick to when it comes to harmony; no parallel fifths, no parallel octaves, no doubling a leading/chromatic tones. Everything else is fair game and a product of good voice leading, creativity, and invention. Bach chorales are great to look at because many times they utilize movements between voices and chords that are unexpected and interesting. I also recommend looking at the Well-Tempered Clavier, some of the preludes are harmonic treasures; Prelude No. 21 in Bb Major has a section that might as well be Gospel music, it's wonderful. Good luck.

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It's not 'strictly forbidden' per se, but such progressions are used either for special effect, in sequences or in a way that was not often used by the composers (Beethoven, Bach etc.) whose works most theorists base their studies on.


Here are a few musical examples of IV (or related harmony) coming in after V; observe how they function:


Coming in after a 'back-relating' dominant as part of a larger scale progression (I-ii6-V7):



As part of a diatonic sequence in ascending fifths:



As an expansionary harmony of the dominant (although these examples are remnants of the Phrygian mode):




(This one leads the music away from it)


Coming in after a dominant (again, remnants of the Mixolydian mode):


(Here the dominant is tonicised, and could be read as back-relating; ii participates in an imperfect [half] cadence in the tonic)



(A later example that audibly demonstrates the 'rewinding' effect of such progressions)


As part of some very expressive interrupted cadences:


(Neapolitan sixth)



(German tenth)



(A highly unusual effect; certainly not commonplace for its time despite the modal tendencies of this piece)


Hope this helps!


N.B.: V-#IV7 is common; I'm assuming you're excluding this progression.


Could you provide measure numbers? I have no idea what passages you are referencing.

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Not to be rude or anything, but are you actually saying you can't hear these things, or are you just too lazy to find the specific passages in the score yourself?



Edited by p7rv
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Hmm. Why study functional harmony if you don't use it when you listen to music, I wonder. I might put up the relevant excerpts of the score when I have the time.


The examples I listened to do not have any dominants followed by predominants, it's all sequences and modulations. That's why I was asking you to be more specific (with measure numbers), because it's impossible to tell what you are referring to with only a timestamp, Even one example would be good enough.

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In the mozart example are you talking about, do you mean going to ii6 after the half-cadence? I'd say that doesn't count because it's a new phrase (so it's not really a progression V-ii6-V97, rather a new section). Lots of bach chorales have parallel fifths if you count the next note after a fermata, but it shouldn't count because it's really a new section

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