2.10 Retardations

  Wofgang Amadeus Mozart

Harmonic expectations, 1: Too few notes to define a triad. In the last measure of the above beginner's minuet, Mozart wrote a B which strongly clashes with the C in the left hand. With such sparse writing how can this dissonance be analyzed in terms of nonharmonic tones? Despite the lack of obvious chords, dominant and tonic harmonies are implied immediately before and during the dissonant seventh (see the Roman numerals below the staffs). This interval's low note--a tonic C--its position at the first beat of the last measure, and the notes which immediately precede it in the bass--scale degree 5--all imply the expected V - I harmonies which conclude the fundamental harmonic progression.

In this context:
  • the E and C in the top staff of the next-to-the-last measure are accented passing tones (PT),
  • the final note of this measure, B, is a chord tone, and
  • the first note of the last measure, also B, is a nonharmonic tone. This nonharmonic tone is called a retardation (RE).
In general a retardation is an accented nonharmonic tone which is prepared by the same note and then resolves by rising to a chord tone by step. See the graphic on the right. Retardations are "upside-down" suspensions because the resolution goes up instead of down. As in the example above retardations often rise from the leading tone to tonic at the end of a phrase.
In the video to the left a retardation expands the final tonic of a fundamental harmonic progression . It delays last note of the soprano line, scale degrees 1 - 7 - 1.

Harmonic expectations, 2: Many nonharmonic tones obscure the triad.

In the above excerpt (meas. 3- 4 of the second movement of Mozart's Piano Sonata K. 283) all three notes in the right hand on beat 3 of the last measure are retardations. This designation may seem odd since three of the four notes on that beat form a vii° chord and only one of them (the C of the left hand) belongs to the I chord indicated by the Roman numeral. Reasons for this choice of Roman numeral and labeling of the right hand notes are similar to those given at the top of the page: the final tonic chord is expected to be on a strong beat, in this case beat 3 instead of beat 4. Also the bass note on beat 3 is scale degree 1, confirming the expectation of a tonic chord--the bass is more likely than the other voices to have the root of the chord. These expectations combine to imply a tonic chord with three accented nonharmonic tones rather than a vii° chord with C as a nonharmonic tone.

Listen to more retardations on the nonharmonic tones Contextual Listening page.

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