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Thread: Need help understanding the neapolitan chord

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    Default Need help understanding the neapolitan chord

    After trying to learn lots of harmony, the neapolitan chord is still confusing to me and I don't know how is one supposed to think about it? They way I see it it's not an altered chord, since you can't alter the fundamental itself. And it's not a scale degree. Is it a mixed chord or a superposition of two chords? The beginning of Mozart's Fantasia No. 4 in C Minor makes alot of sense for me, but need help explaining it.
    Last edited by Gargamel; Aug-07-2020 at 13:36.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gargamel View Post
    After trying to learn lots of harmony, the neapolitan chord is still confusing to me and I don't know how is one supposed to think about it? They way I see it it's not an altered chord, since you can't alter the fundamental itself. And it's not a scale degree. Is it a mixed chord or a superposition of two chords? The beginning of Mozart's Fantasia No. 4 in C Minor makes alot of sense for me, but need help explaining it.
    The neapolitan chord is a major triad which, whether appearing in major or minor keys, has its root on the flattened 2nd scale degree. The "alteration" is the using of that altered scale degree as root. It has the same function as the II chord.

    I don't think of it as a "chromatic" chord though, because I believe its origin to be historical, coming from the fact that in the Phrygian scale (the white notes on the piano beginning on E), the second scale degree is only a minor second higher than the tonic note (e.g. F above E). Mode V of the Christian church modes has the same structure as this Phrygian scale. Whether or not this historical account is true, certainly from the Renaissance this distinctive inflection which puts a major triad on the second scale degree is common. Most often the chord is used in first inversion.

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    Senior Member Vasks's Avatar
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    I think of it as a special IV chord because the 4th scale degree is in the bass and is doubled.
    "Music in any generation is not what the public thinks of it but what the musicians make of it"....Virgil Thomson

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    The use of the flatted second scale degree, with the major triad built on it, is common in the popular songs of the region of Naples, Italy (hence the name "Neapolitan"), whether the basic scale used is major or minor (these songs are frequently in major/minor, often having a verse in the minor and shifting to major for a refrain). If memory serves, the chord is generally used in cadences and usually resolves to the tonic. The flatted second scale degree is also heard in the flamenco music of Spain.

    In common practice it's generally heard in first inversion and its function is nearest to that of ii, for which it may substitute.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Aug-07-2020 at 18:50.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger Knox View Post
    The neapolitan chord is a major triad which, whether appearing in major or minor keys, has its root on the flattened 2nd scale degree. The "alteration" is the using of that altered scale degree as root. It has the same function as the II chord.
    Your explanation feels right, but abtuse. Every video in youtube talks about what it's used for, but doesn't explain how it "is made".

    I feel the neapolitan chord simply an issue of diminished chord on I. So to harmonically understand the neapolitan chord, one only needs to look at the diminished I chord, correct?
    Last edited by Gargamel; Aug-08-2020 at 14:37.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gargamel View Post
    Your explanation feels right, but abtuse. Every video in youtube talks about what it's used for, but doesn't explain how it "is made".

    I feel the neapolitan chord simply an issue of diminished chord on I. So to harmonically understand the neapolitan chord, one only needs to look at the diminished I chord, correct?
    Not correct. As the guys above have all said, it is simply a major chord whose root is the flattened supertonic of the key you are in and that's how you 'make' 'em.
    Last edited by mikeh375; Aug-08-2020 at 14:52.
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    Quote Originally Posted by mikeh375 View Post
    Not correct. As has been mentioned, it is simply a major chord whose root is the flattened supertonic of the key you are in.
    In C major, playing a diminished C triad acts as a VII would, and hence the neapolitan degree acts as a I would.

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    Senior Member mikeh375's Avatar
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    ...well yes, you can use the c dim triad to modulate to dflat as it can act as an incomplete dominant to the flattened supertonic, but that's a different thing altogether. The Neopolitan chord in its traditional use resolves into the home key. It does not become a prime functional chord that negates the home key as your example would tend to do. Its use is mostly cadential in common practice harmony.
    Last edited by mikeh375; Aug-08-2020 at 15:13.
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    I must have gotten this idea from Mozart's Fantasia No. 4 in C Minor which I mentioned earlier. Right from the start, the piece goes into diminished C, and from there to neapolitan, without key change.

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    Senior Member hammeredklavier's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gargamel View Post
    I must have gotten this idea from Mozart's Fantasia No. 4 in C Minor which I mentioned earlier. Right from the start, the piece goes into diminished C, and from there to neapolitan, without key change.
    You mean bar 7 of this (A♭ , D♭ , F):

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    You have to understand the Neapolitan chord in terms of root movement. Key of C, bII is Db major, going to V (G), to I (C). The Db to G is a tritone relation, related to diminished sevenths. The Db could also have been in a ii -V. So you need to understand this tritone relation, and how these possibilities are generated out of a diminished seventh chord with different roots under it, making it a dominant b9.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Aug-08-2020 at 18:11.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikeh375 View Post
    Not correct. As the guys above have all said, it is simply a major chord whose root is the flattened supertonic of the key you are in and that's how you 'make' 'em.
    That's misleading. A neopolitan chord is not JUST a major chord on bII.

    Gargamel feels that some principle is not being explained sufficiently when he says
    Every video in youtube talks about what it's used for, but doesn't explain how it "is made".

    I feel the neapolitan chord simply an issue of diminished chord on I. So to harmonically understand the neapolitan chord, one only needs to look at the diminished I chord, correct?


    He is seeing some sort of diminished seventh connection, which nobody has explained yet.

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    I think Vasks is right that it's a special chord, the clue being that the more traditional designation is N6, meaning that it's normal for the 3rd of the chord to be in the bass and doubled. And there's a good reason why the third is doubled: It's because the other tones have strong tendencies downward. To double either of them would necessitate one voice going against its natural tendency, resulting in awkward voice-leading. It's also special in that it nearly always occurs in a specific context, preceding the dominant (or the I6/4-dominant pair), which is what one would expect of an altered IV chord (Vasks) or an altered ii (Mike).

    My explanation for the N6 chord's fame and special status is that it's a particularly sweet and exotic pre-dominant, a sound cherished for its special flavor

    The chord has nothing whatever to do with diminished chords.

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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    That's misleading. A neopolitan chord is not JUST a major chord on bII.

    Gargamel feels that some principle is not being explained sufficiently when he says


    He is seeing some sort of diminished seventh connection, which nobody has explained yet.
    Yes it is just that. There is diminished confusion here.
    What the OP is seeing are the first three notes of the Fantasia that are an incomplete dim7th triad. The F sharp is merely an accented chromatic ornamental note leading to G which completes the outline of C minor. The second bar uses diminished and aug 6th harmony leading to the dominant. There are many modulations to different and sometimes remote keys in the opening 20 odd bars, befitting a Fantasia. At no point is the N6 in C invoked here and the D flat music in b5,6+7 is the result of modulation, or rather a straight shift from a momentary F major. It in turn moves to other areas via another diminished7th and is not approached as a typical N6 would be and does not resolve as one would neither.

    It might be too much of a stretch at this time to start talking about diminished triads, their alternative roots, enharmonic spelling and enharmonic modulation (even though the Mozart does modulate enharmonically in places, notably bar 15-16), don't ya think, unless Gargamel is familiar with such procedures.
    Care to tell me what else a Neopolitan 6th is?
    Last edited by mikeh375; Aug-08-2020 at 21:08.
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