Harmony in Practice-Fernando Sor, Etude 6 Op.6

Etude six by Fernando Sor corresponds to Estudio twelve in Segovia’s collection. Harmonically there isn’t anything in this piece that we haven’t already discussed. It is clearly a study in thirds in A major with mainly diatonic harmony other than the occasional use of secondary dominants and some interesting borrowed chords. There is some nice use of chromaticism that occurs as chromatic passing tones between the thirds and as chromatic neighbor notes. As usual Sor uses just enough spice in terms of non-diatonic harmony to keep things interesting. This study is technically one of the most difficult so far because of the constant rapid shifting of the left hand that is required to produce legato thirds on the guitar.

So since we understand the harmony pretty well I thought this might be a good time to introduce some contrapuntal principles. There is one area in particular that serves as an excellent example of a musical passage that is best understood in terms of counterpoint.

Measures thirty-three through forty are best understood as a product of counterpoint and voice-leading rather than as a chord progression or succession. The important thing to notice here is the relationship between the two outer voices as they move through this passage. The upper voice begins on the high A in measure thirty-three and descends step-wise an interval of a minor ninth to the G# in measure forty. At the same time the lower voice begins on C# and descends step-wise an interval of a major seventh to D in measure thirty-eight before ascending chromatically to E in measure forty.  The intervals that are formed between the two voices are sixths that move in parallel through measure thirty-eight. When the lower voice changes direction in measure thirty-nine a tritone is formed (D#-A) which then resolves as it normally does to a third (E-G#) in measure forty. To make it more interesting Sor introduces dissonance by incorporating what are known as “seven-six suspensions”. The numbers under the staff refer to the intervals formed between the two outer voices. Since parallel sixths can be rather bland, Sor introduces a nice dissonance (seventh) on beat one of each measure by suspending the note from the previous measure over the bar line forming a seventh that then resolves to a sixth on beat two. In counterpoint, intervals are said to be either consonant or dissonant. Sixths are always considered consonant or pleasing to the ear where as sevenths are considered dissonant or harsh sounding. So under the rules of counterpoint dissonances can be used as long as they are resolved to consonances. This is also the case in measure thirty-nine in which the ultimate dissonance, the tritone, resolves to a third (consonance) in measure forty. It is this interplay of consonance and dissonance that keeps music moving forward in time.  

Measures forty-nine through sixty-six consist of fundamentally one harmony; the dominant E7 chord. Notice that the E in the upper voice is a pedal point while the thirds in the lower part ascend chromatically from the root and third (E-G#) to the fifth and seventh (B-D) in measure fifty-six. Sor then arpeggiates the E7 chord using chromatic neighbor notes as embellishment in measures fifty-seven through sixty before descending back to the fifth and seventh (B-D) of E7 an octave lower in sixty-four. He introduces some chromaticism and the borrowed (ii) diminished triad for color. Here again if we tried to put chord symbols and a harmonic analysis under each triad or seventh chord as they are formed during this passage it would tell us nothing at all about what is really going on here; a prolongation of one harmony, the dominant. As a reminder; tonic chords with the fifth in the bass (second inversion) that precede dominant (V) harmony are considered dominant chords with a double suspension or appoggiatura.

The two versions of Etude six are included below for your use. This one will take some practice to perfect. Good luck!

Sor Etude 6 Analysis.pdf

Sor Etude 6 Performance.pdf

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