I was playing through Consolation No. 3 by Liszt yesterday, and I had a theory question about something.

In the second measure of this picture, the harmony is an E major triad. This section is in A minor, so that would be the V chord. In the top melody line, there is a G natural being played. This makes the descending line sound smoother rather than having a G# go to an F natural.

Would you consider the G natural a nonchord tone in this case? I’m wondering if there are arguments for and against classifying it as a nonchord tone. I’d love to hear some thoughts.

Thanks in advance!

(2:14 in the piece is where the nonchord tone is)enter image description here


There is certainly no G natural in the chord of E major, so yes, you would regard it as a nonchord tone. When there is a clash like in the above example, it is called a 'false relation'. It is simply a chromatic contradiction between two voices.

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  • Thanks for the answer. I never encountered the "false relation" concept in my theory books before. It's a cool concept! – Lennon_Ashton Aug 26 '19 at 3:46
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    To hear a lot of false relations in a small space, try the works of Thomas Tallis (if you like 16th century music) or Ralph Vaughan Williams (if you like 20th century music). – Kilian Foth Aug 26 '19 at 6:47
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    After reading the German translation of the wiki article I can say I knew this term as Querstand. Now I have to admit I‘ve never seen this case in a situation of simultaneity. – Albrecht Hügli Aug 26 '19 at 11:09

Mind that G (and F) belong to the melodic scale downward of Am and G# is the lead tone of E7 - the V7 of Am. We also have DF in the next chord. This explains the clash of G and G#.

Edit: I didn’t know the term false relation (Jomiddnz) I‘ve looked up this site and now I see ex.2 is the case I mentioned:


“ Here the false relation occurs because the top voice is descending in a minor key, and therefore takes the notes of the melodic minor scale descending (the diatonic sixth degree). The bass voice ascends and therefore makes use of the ascending melodic minor scale (the raised sixth degree).“

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It's also worthwhile to point out that G# is part of the harmonic A minor scale, and G natural is part of the natural A minor scale. (In effect, minor keys borrow the dominant 7th chord from their enharmonic major key so as to have a leading tone on the seventh scale degree. Hence the term "harmonic" minor; the notes that are used in harmony.) So, Liszt is using both the natural and harmonic scale notes at the same time.

There's a further ambiguity here that's interesting. If you just took the top notes of the two measures and played them by themselves, you'd probably swear that they were in C major, the relative major of A minor. I'm quite sure that that is intentional, and one of the reasons that he uses G natural in the melody instead of G# in the passage. It's sort of like the melody is in C, and the harmony is in A minor.

One gets the feeling that he doesn't want to wander too far into a minor mode context, which is rather borne out by the fact that the similar later passage (around 2:46) is harmonized with a (very) standard I64-V7-I progression in the home key of Db.

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