In C major, notes are G-D-F-A- (G is in the bass). How would one notate this chord? The G is not a pedal tone nor a passing tone. The first time this occurs there is a C pedal tone that is left over from the section before, the second time this chord occurs there is no pedal tone. I'm looking specifically at the last section of Appalachian Spring, measure 621.

My only guess is that is a D minor chord with an added 4th...?

  • GDFA could be a dominant 9th, except there's no 3rd. Dm11? With the G underneath, it's not likely. With C as the pedaltone, it's Dm7 with an added 4th, sometimes known as Dm11. Thus - comment, no answer!
    – Tim
    Jun 26 '21 at 16:04

This is the score in question:

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And this is my attempt to translate it to clefs I'm familiar with:

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It should be noted that the whole structure is kind of harmonic ornamentation of the C chord (which precedes this section). Assigning a chord symbol to every vertical structure might be a bit of an overkill. But let's try anyway.

For a chord containing strictly the notes G-D-F-A there are in general three possibilities:

  • Dm/G (read: D-minor chord with G in bass)
  • G7sus2 (read: G7 chord: G-B-D-F with third, B, replaced by second A)
  • Dmadd11 (D-minor with added G)

The fourth possibility is suggested by Tim: Dm11. It means a D-minor chord with added 11 (F), which also may contain flat 7 (C). And guess what, horns are holding that C! so it's not bad choice either

My choice would be Dm/G or Dm7/G (thus including C), because it's the most compact symbol, and indicates the bass note.

  • 1
    To me the open fifth in the bass suggests a G chord, both to my eyes on the score and to my ears. So I think there’s a case for G7sus2 Jun 27 '21 at 2:46
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    The middle line of the alto/viola clef is middle C; the cello and viola parts are an octave apart aside from the low G.
    – Esther
    Oct 23 '21 at 13:23
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    @Esther Thanks! So I wrote one of the voices an octave too low? But I think it doesn't affect the harmony analysis? Oct 23 '21 at 13:29
  • yeah, your analysis is fine
    – Esther
    Oct 23 '21 at 13:30

As mentioned by user1079505, sometimes labelling every vertical assembly of notes isn't useful. The overall structure seems to be a C-minor seventh, C-Eb-G-Bb, chord decorated by an incomplete G9. The dissonant notes seem to proceed stepwise (for the most part) between inversions of the C-minor seventh.


You could make an argument for G9 or Dm/G.

The main argument for Dm/G is that's, literally what's happening, you have triads moving in parallel over a bass line. The main argument against would be that the bass isn't exactly independent in a voice-leading sense, it mostly follows the chord roots in parallel octaves, and moves to this one breakaway in similar motion to form a perfect fifth against the same voice; perhaps the bass just "blends in" too nicely to confidently label it a non-chord tone like that.

The main argument for G9 is that's what it sounds like, it sounds like (to me, and at least one other commenter, anyway) V->I motion; the main argument against would be the lack of leading tone (perhaps, contextually, implying a minor third?)

  • Not G9. That has a non-negotiable B. Oct 24 '21 at 15:16
  • @LaurencePayne when you say "non-negotiable", do you mean "must be literally played", or are you pointing out that we cannot take a B as implied here? e.g., would you accept Gm9 as a valid interpretation, or is your gripe with the lack of any voiced third at all above the G?
    – Esther
    Oct 26 '21 at 5:45
  • Omitting a note is one thing (though it's questionable whether a chord that doesn't include F and B should be labelled 'G9' at all.) The test is whether adding the 'omitted' note would mess things up. Try adding a B to the chord in question. Point taken? Oct 26 '21 at 11:46

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