This is an exercise taken out of Walter Piston’s Harmony (4th ed). Let me know how you would change my progression.

Piston chapter 7, exercise 1.g, from Liszt

Excerpt of Faust Symphony (arr. for Piano solo) by A. Stradal

  • How should we control your harmony when we don’t know what notes the l.h. plays and what piece this is? Feb 16, 2020 at 20:49
  • @AlbrechtHügli Piston is looking for an interpretation of the melody, another words it's internal harmony
    – Andrew
    Feb 16, 2020 at 21:03

3 Answers 3


As I've already mentioned this passage need more information about the harmonic accompaniment - otherwise the melody behind this chromatic passage is ambiguous and it can be reduced to different chords and so this reduction may lead to different solutions.

For this reason I have downvoted the question.

I had to find myself the title and the source of Liszt's Faust Symphony.

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Now with this sheet music (arr. for Piano solo) we can analyse the chord progression.

  1. Bdim7 with Eb = 4th suspension = VII°(dim7sus4) 2nd inversion
  2. Bdim7 over Cm (VII°7 suspended over the tonic (i6 = 1st inversion of Cm)
  3. Dm7b5 (ii7b5) Fm6 (1st inversion of ii7b5)
  4. Bdim7 over Cm (with omitted 3rd, we could also say: VIIdim7 suspension or C = pedal note

This is the internal harmony. But if you are looking for the internal melody:

  1. The most important tone is D, the skeleton would be (do)-ti-si (Eb,D,B)
  2. ti--la--
  3. re--mi-ti
  4. re--do--

The accidentals of this piano reduction are identical with the 1st. violin part, but in my concern the chromatic progression would be clearer if all descending chromatic appoggiaturas and passing tones would have been notated by the equivalent flat notes.


It's a slight stretch, but treating the B♮ in the opening measure as a particularly emphasized non-chord tone, we can see a simple tonic–predominant–dominant–tonic pattern of i, iiø7, V7, i. Depending on where this exercise is in Piston's book, this very well could have been his intent.

Looking at the accompaniment, however, we should note that the first measure is likely not intended to be heard as a viio7, but rather a very clear "Tristan" chord: the F–A♭–B–E♭ is a clear reference to the opening sonority of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, and it's orchestrated in the same register. (The only difference is that Wagner spelled the two flats as sharps.)

I don't know the Liszt piece, but I would be shocked to hear that it was written before Tristan. And by the way, the two composers were great friends: Wagner married Liszt's daughter, making Wagner Liszt's son-in-law!

  • "[Tristan] was composed between 1857 and 1859" (Wikipedia). "[Faust] was premiered in Weimar on 5 September 1857" (Wikipedia)
    – Aaron
    Feb 25, 2023 at 3:25


The internal harmony of the phrase is viio --> i ; iio --> i.


Note: All page references are in Walter Piston, Harmony, Fifth edition, rev. Mark DeVoto (W. W. Norton & Co., 1987).

Piston presents this exercise as open-ended, without there being a right or wrong answer, per se, but rather as an exercise in learning to make a cogent analysis. So the answer given in the OP is fine as long as it's backed up by fair reasoning.

Here is an alternative analysis.

Subphrase boundaries and cadences

Analysis of a melody should begin with the determination of its phrase and subphrase boundaries, including cadence and subcadence. (111)

The phrase boundary is given, so it's left to determine any subphrases. I propose two, with the boundary being between the C4 and Ab4 in m. 2.

Subphrase structure

By dividing the phrase in this way, the subphrases (A and B in the image above) have parallel cadences: two descending half steps with the same dotted-quarter, eighth note, eighth note rhythm.


Analyze the following melodies from the standpoint of shape ... (113; exercise instructions)

Both subphrases also have a similar contour: (1) downward motion, followed by (2) a leap upward, (3) descent to a low point, (4) another upward leap (by minor third), and finally (5) the ending described above.

Subphrase inner structure

Motivic structure

Analyze the following melodies from the standpoint of ... motive structure ... (113; exercise instructions)

At this point, an analytical/interpretive liberty is helpful.1 Suppose in m. 3, the Eb5 and D5 are lowered by an octave. Note the consequent shift in where sub-subphrase B.2 occurs.

Adjusted inner structure

By doing so, we see that in both subphrases (A) and (B) subparts (1) – (3) each begin and end with that subphrase's highest and lowest pitches. Moreover, in both subphrases, the endpoint pitches of subparts (1) – (3) compose diminished intervals: a diminished fourth in subphrase (A) and a diminished fifth in subphrase (B).

Analytical reduction

Here another analytical leap is helpful — one that is implied by Piston, but never explicitly stated: melodic leaps may imply compound melody. His definition of "compound line" (103) and examples of analytical reduction (104 – 109; Examples 7-22 through 7–28) signal this. Below is an initial analytical reduction based on this idea. Adjacent repeated notes have been merged into single entities.

Analytical reduction #1

Analytical reduction #2

A few observations on the above reduction:

  • Treating the lowest pitches as individual voices shows that each moves (resolves? hint, hint) up by half step.
  • In the upper voice, note how certain pitches are returned to after some interim pitches: the D4s in subphrase (A), the Ab4s and D4s in subphrase (B).2

By focusing on (what I interpret as) the main pitches, a reduction along the following lines emerges.

Analytical reduction #2


The second analytical reduction makes clear a very simple and clean interpretation of the inner harmony of the melodic line: a diminished chord resolving to a tonic chord. In subphrase (A) we have viio resolving to i, and in subphrase (B) we have either iio resolving to i or viio/III resolving to III.

Analytical reduction #3 with RNA

Final steps

Secondary dominants have not yet been introduced by Piston at the point in the book where this exercise occurs, so let's eliminate the possibility of viio/III resolving to III.

This leaves the very first sonority, the Eb4 – B3 diminished fourth. There are a few possibilities to explain this:

  • A III+ chord. However, Piston has already stated that this is a "rare" chord (46), and it has not been explained analytically up to this point in the book.
  • A i chord with a non-harmonic tone. This is plausible, especially given this being the opening of a phrase. However, I believe there's a more elegant solution that is equally plausible with, perhaps, a bit of sleight-of-hand.
  • A viio chord with a non-harmonic tone. This makes the two subphrases harmonically parallel — diminished chord to i chord. The sleight-of-hand used to reinforce the interpretation is to consider that the full (analytical/interpretive) arrival of each diminished chord doesn't happen until after an ambiguous introductory moment: the initial Eb4 in subphrase (A) and the initial Ab4 in subphrase (B).

By supposing those initial subphrase pitches are outside the scope of the melody's inner harmonic structure, we arrive at my preferred interpretation: viio --> i followed by iio --> i.

1. This analytical leap is not a technique discussed by Piston (at least, up to this point in the book).

2. There is some hand-waving here. For example, the C#4s in subphrase (A) are ignored. I'm justifying this by their not being part of C minor; however, this technique of identifying "extraneous" tones is not discussed in detail until Chapter 8.

The G4s in subphrase (B) are also repeated. This is another conveniency, because it eliminates consideration of the V7 chord, which has not yet been introduced by Piston.

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