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Thread: Earliest uses of Neopolitan 6 chords

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    Senior Member clavichorder's Avatar
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    Default Earliest uses of Neopolitan 6 chords

    I thought I would start my peppering of this fantastic new subforum with question number one of music theory things that have been at the back of my mind.

    The Neapolitan 6(N6) is a very readily discernible chord once you are aware of what you are hearing, typically but not always a 1st inversion of a flatted 2 chord, that resolves to 2nd inversion dominant and then to the tonic. In baroque music it tends to be feel especially prominent when it is occasionally heard, but that did not stop its use into the late romantic.

    Once I learned what they were, I started feeling excited about noticing them; typically I had already pinpointed them as colorful points in the pieces they appear in. Although I am sure the likes of Purcell and maybe Lully and Biber were no stranger to them, at the moment, the earliest example that comes to mind is in the fast movement of Georg Muffat's G minor concerto grosso, with a running bass. It's use there is especially striking. And this is as early as 1700 or so.

    Am I even thinking early enough?

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    Senior Member Piwikiwi's Avatar
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    Didn't its use originate from contrapuntal movement instead of functional harmony? I vaguely remember reading about it in a book about 18 century counterpoint.

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    Senior Member clavichorder's Avatar
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    I was curious also about examples of early neapolitan chords. I'm just curious at seeing how early composers worked them into their counterpoint(since I know they didn't think as later composers did, in more harmonic ways). Surely Bach has many examples, and I'm even more interested in composers prior to him and his generation.

    I would link the Muffat I cited above, but there really isn't a good youtube link for it.

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    Senior Member Richannes Wrahms's Avatar
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    I would guess, if you are really interested in it, a place to search for it would be in music that uses Phrygian modes (all modal scales with a flattened second, like the 'Flamenco mode') and specially in Neapolitan folk music from where the Neapolitan School probably took it from. This is just my intuition speaking.

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    Senior Member TalkingHead's Avatar
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    I believe one of the earliest instances of the N6 is in the 'Arioso' in Carissimi's Jephta, circa 1648.

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    Senior Member TalkingHead's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by clavichorder View Post
    [...] The Neapolitan 6(N6) is a very readily discernible chord once you are aware of what you are hearing, typically but not always a 1st inversion of a flatted 2 chord, that resolves to 2nd inversion dominant and then to the tonic. [...]
    Normal resolutions of the N6 are firstly (as Clavichorder points out) onto the tonic 6/4 then the dominant, or straight to the dominant (with or without 7th). Exceptions to what the harmony treatises tell us are legion, of course.
    In the classical era, Haydn and Beethoven are very fond of inserting VII7/V between the N6 and the dominant (N6-[VII7 of V]-V), which gives one of those characteristic gestures of the period. In the lied Die Krähe (Winterreise, Op. 89), Schubert uses the flattened second degree in root position, and inserts chord VI6 before resolving down to the dominant in first inversion (bars 40-41).
    Perhaps one of the most well-known "N6 moments" occurs in Beethoven's Moonlight sonata, bars 50-51.

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