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In most cases the penultimate note of the counterpoint will be the leading tone, which must be raised in minor to establish a sense of tonality. But why is the leading tone in the Phrygian mode (E-E) the one exception? Even though it is a minor mode the seventh step of the scale is NEVER raised. Why?

Transferred from: Few Questions on Counterpoint in the Tradition of Johan Fux

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In the other minor modes, i.e., Dorian and Aeolian, the leading note may or may not be raised. This creates a melodic interval with the supertonic .In Phrygian,raising the leading note gives an odd sounding interval with the supertonic. I'm only guessing. –  Tim May 31 '13 at 7:23
@Tim - Again, please refer to my posted answer. –  jjmusicnotes May 31 '13 at 8:13
@Tim: exactly, an augmented second (that's from google translate). That is practically the same as a minor third, and you wouldn't want thirds in your scale. Especially not in the 15th century. –  11684 Jun 2 '13 at 14:47
In Phrygian E, the raised leading note becomes D#.The supertonic (2nd note) is F. D# - F will be an ordinary 2nd, not a good sound to resolve to E. Did I miss your point? –  Tim Jun 2 '13 at 19:16
@Tim - This is incorrect. D#-F is actually a diminished third but will sound as a major second. –  jjmusicnotes Jun 2 '13 at 20:42

3 Answers 3

The easiest answer to a question is the simplest one requiring the fewest assumptions. In this case I think there is a useful general principle: consecutive semitones are generally avoided because the tone in the middle sounds like a chromatic passing tone. If you are in E Phrygian and you move from D# to E, and then to F, then the E in the middle sounds like a chromatic passing tone and not like a scale step. That is not a good thing to do to a final! More here: Pressing, J. (1978). Towards an understanding of scales in Jazz. Jazzforschung, 9, 25–35. Also here: The Consecutive-Semitone Constraint on Scalar Structure: A Link between Impressionism and Jazz, by Dmitri Tymoczko

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I have a theory,

In the phrygian mode you have a flat second, and you always end the Cantus firmus by going II I.

If you were to sharpen the 7th then you would have a major 2nd interval, a dissonance which is against the rules of counterpoint, but a natural 7th creates an interval of a minor 3rd.

I'm sure early on in the book he talks about how the ending should resolve based on major/minor intervals, rather than the degree of the scale.

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

This is an astute question, and I will preface my response by saying that it is speculatory at best as I do not know of any scholarly research done that is available to me to provide a qualitative, academic answer.

That said, I believe this website offers thoughtful reasoning as to this occurrence.

Transferred from: Few Questions on Counterpoint in the Tradition of Johan Fux

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JJ - could you add a summary of that website to this answer? Otherwise it is pretty much just a link. –  Dr Mayhem Jul 12 '13 at 13:32
In a sense, the flat-2 is the leading tone in Phrygian. It just happens to lead downward to the tonic instead of upward. –  Matthew James Briggs Jun 14 '14 at 7:32

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