This came up when a user on Musescore by the name of Tortualex gave me suggestions for my C minor piano sonata after I told him that I wanted to be innovative with it like how Beethoven was more than 2 centuries before. Here is what he said with the part relevant to this particular question highlighted in bold and some word corrections:

In my sonata in E minor I used 3 themes one in E minor, another in the relative major transposed to minor (g minor) and I used that theme as a connection to another theme in G major.

What if you make something like that? A 3 themed sonata. For the first theme C minor, to make things interesting you can make the second theme in phrygian, a minor scale with minor second, that would mike things darker, and for the real "second theme" that is going to be in the dominant major instead of the relative major.

You will have a lot of thematic material to make a sonata of 7 minutes of more, for the recapitulation you can break the rules even more, making the second theme in the dominant in major to use it as a secondary dominant to c minor, later you can make a second development, and then you make a real recapitulation. That sonata would be super interesting. I don't know if someone has made something like that before but I think that not.

It would be like a romantic-impresionism sonata like.

With phrygian I mean the dominant in minor without the major second. As you can see, he is suggesting that I use the major dominant as a secondary dominant to tonic when I get to the first recapitulation that leads into a second development. Um, that's confusing. I have seen things the other way around, secondary dominants used as primary dominants(so like ii going directly to I with no V in between), but I have never seen the V used as a secondary dominant. Even when V leads to vii°7, that isn't V as a secondary dominant but rather vii°7 as an extension of V.

I can think of only 2 possibilities where V would be a secondary dominant. But both of these require the music to be more modal where the primary dominant is. And overall, they don't feel like the V is a secondary dominant.

1. Locrian Mode as dominant

This would be going from C minor(of which the dominant is G major) to D Locrian. It is hard to make Locrian feel like the tonic but that is not what I would be doing here. Instead I would be using it as a dominant which is very natural given that a diminished triad is built right into the sound of Locrian. Here are the 7th chords that exist in each of the modes and you'll see Locrian at the very bottom of the chart:

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So in other words I would be doing something like this:

G -> D half diminished -> Cm

But this doesn't feel like G is a secondary dominant at all, just that D half diminished is a dominant extension.

2. Key Reversal between second and third themes

This again doesn't really seem like a secondary dominant is being used here unless you consider the B to be a downward leading tone to Bb as it goes from G major to G phrygian. Then, I would consider the G major to be a secondary dominant. But it is very hard to hear the B as a downward leading tone because going from the major dominant to the minor dominant adds dissonance, it doesn't subtract it. That and if you extend it to 7th chords, the tritone is lost completely in the minor 7th and so it feels like it has tonic function, like you could just stay in G phrygian forever. It doesn't want to resolve to C minor.

I think this key reversal between themes is more what Tortualex meant when he suggested that in the first recapitulation, I use G major as a secondary dominant. Still, this is what I would end up with in the sections that aren't first and second development sections if I go with this expanded sonata form and do this key reversal:


  1. C minor
  2. G phrygian
  3. G major

First Recapitulation

  1. C minor
  2. G major
  3. G phrygian

True Recapitulation

  1. C minor
  2. C minor
  3. C minor

No real secondary dominants there. So how am I supposed to get the primary dominant to feel like a secondary dominant to that same tonic that it is the primary dominant of?

  • I think you'd better ask Tortualex for clarification: I have an additional two interpretations of his/her statement, one of which involves a G major-F minor transition, the other of which involves a D major-C minor transition. – Dekkadeci Jun 15 '19 at 13:04
  • Also, I'd call that implied "first recapitulation" that Tortualex brings up a false recapitulation; it often doesn't involve the home key at all, though. – Dekkadeci Jun 15 '19 at 13:19

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