Manchester, 14th-18th July 2004


Jean-Paul C. Montagnier (Université Nancy-2, France)

Heavenly dissonances: the cadential 6/4 chord in French grands motets and Rameau's theory of the accord par supposition

The cadential 6/4 chord is a common harmonic component of French grands motets composed between ca. 1661 and 1687. In Michel-Richard de Lalande's hands, the suspensive nature of the fourth and the sixth was enhanced by the addition of a seventh. By ca. 1722, when Jean-Philippe Rameau's Traité de l'harmonie became available, the composers of the Chapelle Royale--Nicolas Bernier, André Campra and Charles-Hubert Gervais, then Henry Madin and Antoine Blanchard--undertook to work out the cadence points of their choral movements by piling up thirds upon thirds perhaps because of their misunderstanding of Rameau's concept of the accord par supposition. This paper reviews and assesses for the first time these peculiar 6/4 chords--in which the tonic triad and the dominant-ninth chord are combined so as to form a thirteenth--in the light of Rameau's theory and the dispute which opposed him to Michel Pignolet de Montéclair in 1730. These odd cadential harmonies, which testify of the impact the Burgundian's ideas had on the compositional process of his contemporaries, began to disappear by 1748, but were still discussed by theorists, such as Jean-Laurent de Béthizy and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in the 1760s. Finally, this paper proves that these odd harmonies must be performed as such and must on no account be “corrected” in modern editions: it is not a question of bon goût, but of respect for the integrity of the composers' works, no matter how these sound to our ears.

Last updated on 11 May 2004