Borrowed Chords and Altered Predominants (week 8)

The last type of chromaticism we will cover this quarter is modal borrowing, often referred to individually as borrowed chords. This phenomenon arrises when a composer borrows chords from the parallel major or minor for heightened emotional effect. (Parallel major and minor keys are those that share the same name: C major and c minor.) So instead of a regular T-P-D-T progression, we might see T-p-D-T instead. (Or t-P-D-t in minor.) In major keys, be on the look-out for lowered pitches. Once you hear/find a chord that is chromatic, then mentally switch to the parallel minor to describe it.

The following example from Purcell’s “Knotting Song” shows a borrowed minor p with 6 and 5 (in F major) in measure 3 of this excerpt:


As another brief example, consider this excerpt from Schubert’s Winterreise:


The harmonic progression is extended considerably by right-hand figures in the piano, but the principle bass pitches are C natural, B natural, E natural (after the fermata in the third system). C natural is not in the key of E major, but if we consider that chord borrowed from e minor the progression can be labeled tV – D – T, showing C’s relationship to the parallel minor tonic instead of to the principle major tonic. Chord labels with 2 letters will always tell you which chord and mode they are relating to with the first letter, and what quality the chord is with the second.

Common borrowed chords in major are t, p, tV, tR, pR. In minor, the most common borrowed chord is P, but the non-diatonic, but not-really-borrowed-either pV does show up some too.

Altered predominants are precisely what they sound like. Predominants often have chromatic additions. The 2 most common additions are b6 to p, and #6 to pR. (While these occur more easily in minor, they can also then be borrowed back to the parallel major!) When a chromatic note is indicated with a superscript, we simply use #s and bs in front of the number.

fancy cadence

The above example shows a pR with added raised 6 in addition to 5 (measure 3). These chords are aurally recognizable by le (low 6) in the bass and fi (#4) elsewhere in the chord. There are 3 variations of this: pR#6 (le-do-fi -only 3 notes), pR#6/5 (le-do-me-fi), and pR#6/4 (le-do-re-fi).* All of these chords resolve to Dominant.

Another common altered predominant is p with flat 6 replacing (or adding to) 5.** This means the chord is fa-le-ra instead of fa-le-do. This chord also resolves to Dominant. The opening of Schubert’s “Die Liebe hat gelogen” shows this chord on beat 3 of bar 1:


Additionally, there is a le-do-re-fi (pR#6/4) on beat 2 of measure 2.

Borrowed chords and altered predominants became increasingly popular in the Romantic Era (19th century, roughly). By using these chords as pivots when modulating between keys, composers could explore quite distant keys. If you would like to look for more of these types of chords I recommend Schubert and Schumann. Originally, the assignment for this week was analysis of Beethoven Op 31#3 mvt 1, but instead we will switch gears and focus on final projects.

*You may have heard these called augmented 6th chords (Italian, German, and French respectively) – but the nationalities are based on biased, incorrect, and out-dated stereotypes.

**Neapolitan 6th, see previous comment.

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