Opening Dominant Pedal: Fanfare Introduction



“A figure which is repeated over and over again arouses a strong expectation of change both because continuation is inhibited and because the figure is not allowed to reach completion. […] We believe that he [the composer] will bring about a change.” (Meyer, 1956: 135, my italics) In the case the figure is repeated in the beginning of a piece, the listener believes that this is an introduction for the theme that is yet to come. Repeating of the same pitch in the opening of a piece works as a sound term.


Writings in Music Psychology suggest that when the listener hears a single pitch, this pitch is probably understood as the tonic.[1] In case the succeeding pitches do not confirm this assumption, a new interpretation is made. Once we have heard the tone collection and the melodic/harmonic patterns, the key is established. In the case of Grande Valse Brillante however, another actor is working even before the succeeding pitches (or the accompaniment) sound. This actor is the rhythm. It initiates grouping, that results in the feeling of acceleration. The similarity of the first two bars groups the content of each in the listener’s perception. In the third and the fourth bar, the rhythm changes and the new grouping takes place on the basis of new similarity (two beats per group). The faster rate of progression of musical units arouse the expectation of consequent event - either yet faster, or closing (new begin?). In the former case, the music could accelerate until the moment that it collapses, thus, there is an end anyhow.


A very important actor in the perception of such opening is the knowledge (or the expectation) that the musical piece will be a tonal piece, in a western idiom. Such an opening can only be the introduction, and as such it introduces something else than itself. Implicitly, the listener expects a change. First to come to mind is that the pedal-pitch will change at the moment the piece ‘actually’ starts, which implies that it is not the tonic. That it should be exactly the dominant is not implied, although the dominant could be seen as ‘the other’ of the tonic. Probably though, this kind of introduction is already strongly engraved in listener’s memory as a model, which explains the default assumption that it is the dominant: statistically speaking, the chance is big that it is. This model can be associated with fanfare announcements, hence the name fanfare model.


In many instances of this pedal-model, the theme lounges from the opening, pedal-pitch (and thus not from the tonic). The tonic appears in the bass. In Grande Valse Brillante, both the melody and the bass after the introduction begin on the dominant. The harmonic (perhaps also the melodic-) expectation is not fulfilled, nevertheless, some resolution does take place. Some change does happen: the first bass tone change the texture and marks the beginning of the piece. The ‘springboard’ created by the rhythmic reiteration of (what is assumed to be) the dominant in the melodic layer is a two-fold sound term: the listener expects the sign of the ‘actual’ beginning, and she expects the tonic chord (default expectation incited by the dominant). When the theme begins, the most of the expectation-tension feels resolved, even in the case the tonic chord is denied. This suggests that it is not the harmonic tension in the essence of fanfare pedal. Nevertheless, the harmonic power of the dominant intensifies the effect that accelerated repetition has.


The following example from Rossini’s William Tell (Overture), shows ‘the birth’ of a fanfare pedal (in this case it actually is a fanfare introduction). What will afterwards be understood as a pedal, begins with solo trumpet, rhythmically repeating B, then arpeggiating the E-major triad. The whole phrase is, as an answer on the tonic pitch, imitated in canon by horns. Following horn-group starts the imitation again on B. Dominated by the rhythmically repeated B, the harmonic color changes from the tonic to the dominant chord (m.236). Arpeggio-motifs give way to rhythmical repetition of B-major chord, followed by a long uninterrupted chord.


Although there was more than a single pitch, the listener knows that this is ‘just’ an announcement; the listener expects a beginning of a section or a phrase that does not include this introduction. Understanding the opening pitch as fanfare pedal, projects the weight onto the reiteration of B. Through such interaction between the melodic and harmonic events, and the pedal-model (in the listener’s musical memory), the pitch B stays apart from the harmonic progression, and strongly promotes the dominant as its own harmonic identity. The intensification is, in this case, realized by two processes: increasing of the density of the texture, and increasing of the rhythmic activity.


Being a sort of pedal, fanfare model requires some kind of conflict of which the resolution is expected. As I have already suggested, a harmonic conflict comes to existence when the listener assumes (on the basis of the experience) that the single pitch is the dominant. The tension is raised by the postponing of its resolution to the tonic. The major tension is probably caused by the intensification of the repetition. This could be realized by different means, such as rhythmic, dynamic or textural. Such increasing of tension is very effective, as it cumulates the energy which will be released when the theme starts. In this way, it directs the listener forward, and engages her in an active expectation of what is going to come. However, even if such intensification is not conveyed in performed tones, pure repetition has still potential to work as a sound term. This potential will be realized in cases there is belief in coming change. This belief is probably a first-level default (due to statistical reasons) in contexts based on tonal-functional harmonic language. In other styles, a non-intensified, repeated tone could soon be felt as a foundation, rather than ‘the other’ that has to ‘resolve’.



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[1] See, for example, Huron (2006: 65-67)

Rossini, William Tell (Overture)

Chopin, Grande Valse Brillante op.18