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Here is Mozart's K545. The melody goes from A to G at the change of harmony twice and the accompaniment does the same. Is this bad voice leading? Or rather: Why is this NOT faulty voice leading? Is it that voice leading between the "inner voices" (not bass) of the accompaniment and melody are voice led seperately? Or is it that the accompaniment changes from two to 3 voices that compensates for this?

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    Who says the A of the chord goes to G? Why not to B? Commented Jun 18 at 19:29
  • I would just assume that it would be the bass to be doubled not the 3rd, but you're right. Can you think of any reason why Mozart might have used a 3 note chord there are and 2 on the tonic G chord?
    – armani
    Commented Jun 18 at 19:50
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    Well, simply that it's piano music, and does not actually maintain separate lines throughout. The G chord, with just root and third, is the bare minimum needed to show the quality of the chord. The D7 could get away with nothing but a D and a C, but my guess is he wanted to give the dominant, with its harmonic tension and actual dissonance, more emphasis and then relax on the resolution. Commented Jun 19 at 1:13

5 Answers 5

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The parallel motion between the melody and an inner voice in Mozart's K545 is not faulty voice leading for several reasons.

  1. Voice Leading Context: The parallel motion is between the melody and an inner voice, not the bass. Voice leading rules are stricter for bass motion due to its structural role.
  2. Texture and Harmonic Function: The texture here is homophonic with a clear harmonic rhythm. Parallel intervals within inner voices are more acceptable in homophonic textures, especially when they create smooth voice leading.
  3. Mozart's Style: Mozart often employed such techniques to create fluid and seamless melodic lines. The changes from two to three voices in the accompaniment add variety and richness, making the parallels less noticeable.

In essence, while strict parallel motion rules apply to certain contexts (e.g., chorale writing), homophonic textures in classical piano works have more flexibility.

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  • I don't know why your post received a downvote but it is great! Thank you!
    – armani
    Commented Jun 19 at 8:41
  • In my Harmony & Voice leading textbooks when writing accompaniments (not chorale style) one of the instructions is: "apparent parallel perfect intervals between the inner voice of the accompaniment and the melody line are permissable" I guess this is what they mean. It is what you say in point number 1.
    – armani
    Commented Jun 19 at 8:43
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    @armani: I guess this answer got downvoted because it looks very much like the kind of thing GPT or other generative AI produces — it’s superficially well-written and contains reasonable points, but on closer thought it’s incoherent and doesn’t address the question more deeply than word association. (What does “employed such techniques to create fluid and seamless melodic lines” mean here? The “in essence” summary is mostly repeating point 2 and adding a new point, not summarising 1–3.)
    – PLL
    Commented Jun 19 at 9:31
  • Well, "Superficially well-written" is exactly what an AI GPT would say :) Anyhow, I found the post very helpful.
    – armani
    Commented Jun 19 at 10:20
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    The basic fault in this answer is that it assumes this style of music has 'voices'. It doesn't really.
    – Laurence
    Commented Jun 19 at 11:59
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This is not strictly polyphonic music. This piece switches between voice over Alberti bass, Voice against Voice, Voice against two note harmony and Voice against three note harmony quite a bit. And Voice leading is a bit of a moot point when you do not have clearly defined voices. And while this can be seen as a hidden parallel motion in some sense it does not really matter, as that fifth on the secondary dominant is only there to beef up the chord. It it not really perceived as a distinct voice.

Still of course caring about voice leading still does make sense here, but not to the extent where this would be a fault.

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  • Thank you. Mozarts Sonatas are featuerd extensively (perhaps more than any other composer) in many of my textbooks to show voice leading so I figured that voice leading must be an important feature in his style. Alberti bass patterns are polyphonic melodies which totally respect correct voice leading. The melody as far as I can see always respects voice leading and counterpoint rules with the bass. I understand what you mean about beefing up the chord though. Maybe in his Sonatas Mozart only really cares about voice leading 1. within the alberti bass and 2. top melody against bass?
    – armani
    Commented Jun 19 at 8:38
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This is (as you say) melody + accompaniment, not a choral texture with 4 equal voices. Voice leading is not really much of an issue in this style. Maybe between melody and bass line. But don't look too hard for 'voices' in block chords.

See my answer in this thread:

How does the treatment of tendency tones vary outside the scope of 4 part chorales and harmony exercises?

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  • hi, do you have any voice leading textbooks at hand? I have several and Mozarts sonatas are all over the place!
    – armani
    Commented Jun 19 at 8:40
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    'Voices' are not a particularly useful concept in this style of music.
    – Laurence
    Commented Jun 19 at 12:00
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Earlier in. K 545, I think starting at m. 5, there is a passage of simple scales in the RH. A pianist once told me those scale steps are not the melody. The point of the scales is really figuration to create rhythm. The "melody" in passages like that will come from a harmonic reduction of the figuration texture. In that particular passage starting at m. 5 that reduction is just a descending scale, in thirds, in whole notes.

Compare that figuration texture with passages like the opening four measures or the melody opening the exposition section in G major at m. 14. Those two passages are "proper" melodies. You can harmonically reduce them, but you would also pay close attention to their note by note motions in regard to voice leading/relative motion.

Getting back to the passage you posted (mm.26-28.) You first need to decide whether to treat it as a figuration texture or a proper melody. There is no right or wrong way to make that determination. But you can use some kind of common sense test. Can you sing or whistle it? Probably not, so it's best to consider it figuration.

Harmonically reduce it before considering voice leading. You can do this several ways:

  • Take the first significant harmonic pitch of each measure,
  • disregard passing notes and compress all the broken chord stuff into a big block chord reducing octave while maintaining highest/lowest notes of the block,
  • take the last significant harmonic pitch at the end of each measure.

Some combination of those three usually come into play making a reduction.

Also, use your ears to make broad assessments of harmony of phrases. You should hear that the example you posted is clearly cadential harmony. It's a rhythmic figuration, using brilliant fast arpeggios in sixteenth notes, of simple tonic/dominant cadential harmony, just before the final measure of the section.

The reduction is something like this:

| G G G F# | G G G #F | G
| G - - D  | G - - D  | G

If you want four part harmony, to better explain the LH chords, rather that the two part bass and treble reduction, the change over the bar line is:

enter image description here

  • leading tone ascends to tonic
  • seventh of D7, FA descends to tonic's third MI
  • tenor A and bass D move to double the tonic chord root G

The melody goes from A to G at the change of harmony twice and the accompaniment does the same.

Depends how you reduce it. The historical topic to look into is diminution. Basically that is splitting long notes into smaller ornamental notes. The final two sixteenths of the bar, F# A, can be viewed as a diminution splitting of a hypothetical F# eighth note. Regarding the F# as the main harmonic tone makes a lot of sense given it is the "missing" tone from D7 with D A C in the LH.

Is it that voice leading between the "inner voices" (not bass) of the accompaniment and melody are voice led seperately?

Distinguish ornamental notes from harmonic notes. The ornamental figuration is rhythmic. It provides a burst of sixteenth note activity. That rhythm could have been realized in repeating notes, but that would be harder to play and not matching the figuration of the rest of the music. The sixteenth notes logically pass through the tones of the chord, because this is homophonic (not polyphonic) music, but that isn't a reason to elevate the importance of those fleeting pitches beyond F# G in the RH to essential harmonic tones.

Or is it that the accompaniment changes from two to 3 voices that compensates for this?

Some of this can be regarded similarly to instrumental doubling where the LH and RH can be thought of as two instruments. This will account for many, many supposed pitch "doublings" and "voices" that seem to get added or drop out of the texture.

One final thought. This harmonic reduction business can be confusing some times. The RH part, sixteenth notes and all is the melodic line. You would analyze it melodically for contour etc. But that is melody. When you ask about voice leading and harmony analysis we need to shift away from melodic details to see the harmony. It doesn't mean there isn't a melody in those sixteenth notes. We just don't look at all that melodic activity to assess the harmonic picture.

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  • I would argue like you (r.h. chords and arpeggios, the melody is hidden in the eighth- notes: g-b-c-f# g, and like Laurence: piano music doesn't have to follow the rules of a strict c.p.l Commented Jun 23 at 13:33
  • @armani This answer (or mine 😏) should be the accepted answer. Commented Jun 24 at 1:11
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Succinctly, the last sixteenth note A in the right hand is just a filler, due to Mozart's quintessentially Classical-period piano sonata style. So I agree with @MichaelCurtis's harmonic reduction argument. The note that matters for the perceived cadence should be the preceding sixteenth note F#, thus avoiding the doubling of A->G resolution in the LH.

We then have:

F#  ->  G
C   ->  B

A   ->  G
D   ->  G

which should be fine since it avoids parallel voice leading in the V7 -> I cadence. Play that cadence in the piano. Notice how the top 2 voices feel very satisfying (top leading tone goes up to tonic, and the C, the most important note in the dominant 7th chord D7, goes down to B, the most important note of the G chord).

That cadence is following a "textbook" method. See this theory textbook section 27.3 Voice Leading the V7 to I Progression, the first method of "strict" resolution:

Snapshot from 27.3 Voice Leading the V7 to I Progression

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