# B - F - A chord in the key of C major

It was published in 1891 so I guess the harmony is based on common practice era music. There is one exercise (in C major) that I can play but I just don't really know how to understand it theoretically.

1 bar: I, V6, IV6, I6/4, 2 bar: IV6, then a chord with B-F-A, then ending on I

These are two of the 4 bars (and the left hand plays only a C octave). I do not understand the B-F-A. All I know is that if you move B and F one half step you will end on C and E.

How should one view the B-F-A chord? Cause we are thinking in chord, right? And what I learn in school was that when taling about inversions you must look at both the left hand and the rght hand. So if there is a C octave in the left hand then all I (or C) chords will be said to be in first inversion?

• No, Schytte probably wouldn't have considered (or really used) a B-F-A agglomeration as a chord: he would have considered one or more of the notes as non-harmonic (i.e., an auxiliary or appoggiatura or accented passing tone). Can you print-screen the passage, or give us more info as to where it can be found (which publication, which page)?
– user16935
Dec 27, 2015 at 22:21

There are two ways of viewing this passage, both, I think, equally valid.

1. On a small-scale level, where every note is harmonized against some type chord, this would technically be a B half-diminished (without the D), as Victor points out (over a pedal C).

2. If you take a step back to a higher level, and look at the functions throughout the measure, you have what Patrx2 describes: an F/C resolving to C (a plagal cadence). In this view, the B is just a passing tone to get from A to C. You can test this by playing the passage twice: as written, and then replacing the B with a C (making it fully a plagal cadence). The second sounds sufficiently similar to the written version that there is no critical loss of function.

I would tend to favor the second view, but the main difference between them is whether you consider the B as harmonic or non-harmonic, which is largely a semantic issue that raises the question of how granular harmony is. You could even combine the two views, and see a B half-diminished chord that is a non-fuctional "passing chord" on the way from F to C. At this point, you can start to see harmonies as existing in a hierarchy of importance, and you've taken your first step on the road to all sorts of cool harmonic analysis.

In the key of C major (B - F - A) could be used to imply a B half-diminished 7 chord (B - D - F - A). Although not the most common, it isn't unusual to see a missing 3rd in a half-dim; omitted notes help avoid voice leading problems.

Specific to this example:

You could argue two basic things:

1) The (B-F-A) notes are neighbor tones, being used to decorate the end of the exercise.

2) The (B-F-A) notes are a chord, being used harmonically.

*) It's both!

Given that there are only chords in the exercise, and that the harmonic rhythm is a quarter note (e.g. one chord per quarter note), there's a stronger argument for it being a chord rather than a stack of non-chord tones. This argument is further supported by the tempo of the exercise, lento. That leaves the C bass note acting as a non-chord tone.

• Ah. I overlooked the first inversion on F. Sight unseen, the passage probably holds IV for the entire measure, and the B is the lower auxiliary of the C that is common to both IV6 and I. 19th century voice leading practices weren't purely chordal: they did include the notion of non-harmonic notes. I think we need to see the passage.
– user16935
Dec 28, 2015 at 0:31
• @BobRodes, sure. It's a rootless dominant ninth. It was, however, not gapped all that often (the sound of the interlocking diminished and perfect fifth is characteristic), and, in this case, we would have the 7th in the bass, possibly with the root in the descant. If F/A remains fixed throughout the bar, and there's a C-B-C movement in the descant with B on a weak beat, then it may well make more sense to describe B as an auxiliary note. That's why I want to see the passage.
– user16935
Dec 28, 2015 at 14:09
• I'm not sure about a typo here, though, @jjmusicnotes. The function here looks deliberately ambiguous and inconclusive, as perhaps it should be - this isn't really a full phrase at this point. The 2 bars in their entirety are really just establishing and elaborating the tonic. Notice the importance of the melodic motion: the descant descends to E, then uses a fairly standard centering motion around G (F-A-G), while the tenor steps from C to G and back up to C, and the alto drops from E to C, holds C, then articulates 4-3 over the bass. (more)
– user16935
Dec 28, 2015 at 23:22
• I'm thus inclined to see this as a somewhat ambiguous mixed function chord, where various voices are suggesting different functions. The top two voices are articulating a fairly common shift of the IV chord so as to centre on C/E, whereas the tenor B both acts as a passing note and suggests dominant function. The "gapped chord" thus suggests both plagal and (imperfect) authentic motion, while the earlier chords are articulating I, V and IV in the most melodic way possible. (more)
– user16935
Dec 28, 2015 at 23:23
• However, given two bars that start and end at the tonic, and state the tonic in the middle at the lowest point, all over a strong tonic pedal, I'm also inclined to see this as two bar of straight tonic harmony with melodic elaboration in all the upper voices.
– user16935
Dec 28, 2015 at 23:23