V. Chromaticism

Harmonic Elision

Brian Jarvis

Key Takeaways

  • Harmonic elision is the suppression of an expected chord (distinct from chord substitution)
  • Leading-tone elision
    • Expected triad replaced with dominant seventh chord with same root or functionally equivalent o7 chord
    • Leading tone (or applied leading tone) becomes the lowered version of itself instead of resolving up by minor 2nd
    • Maintain the same bass note unless the bass had the leading tone (or applied leading tone)
  • Raised-root elision
    • Root of the expected chord is raised to become a leading tone (or applied leading tone)
    • New chord can typically be [latex]\mathrm{V}[/latex], [latex]\mathrm{V^7}[/latex], or [latex]\mathrm{vii^{o7}}[/latex]
    • Bass should be as close to the expected bass note as possible

Chapter Playlist

Harmonic elision occurs when a harmonic progression seems to suppress or remove an expected chord for one that is similar but functionally distinct from the chord it replaced. It often feels like the combination of two simultaneous harmonic events. This is different from chord substitution because chord substitution replaces an expected chord with something similar but it doesn’t feel like two events have been combined into one, it just seems like a single event that is different than expected. Though, some use the term chord substitution in a broader sense that would also include harmonic elision as described here. This chapter covers two types of elision, leading-tone elision and raised-root elision


Leading-Tone Elision with a Dominant Seventh chord

A leading-tone elision occurs when a chord has a leading tone (or an applied leading tone) and that note doesn’t resolve as expected (up by minor 2nd) and instead becomes the lowered version of itself (e.g., B becomes B♭ or C♯ becomes C♮). This can happen when a dominant functioning chord resolves not to the expected triad, but to a dominant seventh with the exact same root as the expected triad as in the example below. Note that the suppressed chord can be clearly identified given what we expect to happen in this harmonic context.

Example 1. A harmonic elision where the expected chord is suppressed and replaced with a dominant seventh with the same root.

Leading-Tone Elision with a °7 chord

Leading-tone elision can also occur when an expected triad is replaced by a fully diminished seventh chord that is functionally equivalent to the dominant seventh chord that could have replaced it (if there is an equivalent version). These equivalent chords have the same bass note (see the example below). The following example shows each inversion of a [latex]\mathrm{V^7}[/latex] chord and the functionally equivalent [latex]\mathrm{vii^{o7}}[/latex] chord that can be used instead.

Example 2. Functionally equivalent [latex]\mathit{V^7}[/latex] and [latex]\mathit{vii^{o7}}[/latex] chords.

Example 3 contains an example of this type of leading-tone elision. Notice that Examples 1 and 3 are nearly identical except that Example 3 is using the functionally equivalent fully diminished seventh chord instead [latex]\mathrm{(vii^{o7}}[/latex] instead of [latex]\mathrm{V^6_5}).[/latex]

Example 3. A harmonic elision where the expected chord is suppressed and replaced with a fully diminished seventh chord that has an equivalent function to the dominant seventh in Example 1.

Voice Leading with Leading-Tone Elision

The voice leading doesn’t change much when dealing with elision, only that the leading tone becomes the lowered version of itself instead of resolving up by minor 2nd to the root of the next chord as it normally would. See the voice-leading comparison in Example 4.

Example 4. Voice-leading comparison between a regular resolution and an elided one.

When the leading tone is in the bass

An important thing to remember is that if the leading tone is in the bass and the chord of resolution is elided with a leading-tone elision, then that means the bass will change because it had the leading tone. This is expected to happen with [latex]\mathrm{V^6}[/latex], [latex]\mathrm{V^6_5}[/latex], and [latex]\mathrm{vii^{o7}}[/latex] because they all have the leading tone in the bass. This also applies to these Roman numerals when they are applied chords. In the other situations the bass note will stay the same, but when the leading tone is in the bass the inversion of the upcoming chord will also change. Common progressions for this occurrence are [latex]\mathrm{V^6_5-V^4_2/IV}[/latex] and [latex]\mathrm{V^6_5/V-V^4_2}[/latex] as in example 5 below.

Example 5. Change of expected bass when the leading tone is in the bass and a leading-tone elision occurs.

Raised-Root Elision

Raised-root elision occurs when the root of the expected chord arrives in its raised version (e.g., B♭ becomes B♮ or C becomes C♯) to become the leading tone in an applied chord. For example, if the root of the expected chord was a C but that chord was suppressed and a chord with C♯ as a leading tone appeared instead, then a raised-root elision has occurred. The chord wouldn’t have to be a C♯ chord necessarily, just a chord that uses C♯ as a leading tone. The chords that uses C♯ as a leading tone are A, A7, C♯o, C♯o7 and C♯ø7 (though the half-diminished option is not very common). The overall harmonic result is that progression is pushed higher up the scale. In the example, below the expected progression (based upon norms in this style) would be [latex]\mathrm{I^6-V^4_3-I}[/latex]. Instead, the final [latex]\mathrm{I}[/latex] chord is elided with a raised-root elision, because [latex]\mathrm{V^6_5/ii}[/latex] (A7/C♯) takes its place. That chord then resolves to [latex]\mathrm{ii}[/latex], so while the expected progression was heading toward [latex]\mathrm{I}[/latex], the end result of the raised-root elision is that the progression resolved to [latex]\mathrm{ii}[/latex], one step higher in the scale.

Example 6. Raised root elision.

The [latex]\mathrm{cad.^6_4}[/latex] version

Progressions with [latex]\mathrm{cad.^6_4}[/latex] can contain raised-root elision that is a little different because the expected root does appear with the arrival of the [latex]\mathrm{cad.^6_4}[/latex] but it transforms into its raised version when the [latex]^6_4[/latex] resolves to the [latex]\begin{smallmatrix}(7)\\5\\3\end{smallmatrix}[/latex]. Example 7 illustrates this situation.

Example 7. Raised root elision involving [latex]\mathit{cad.^6_4}[/latex].

Finding Harmonic Elision

Harmonic elision is actually fairly easy to spot because your Roman numeral analysis is likely to expose the issue because of incongruities in the sequence of symbols. For example, if you see the Roman numeral [latex]\mathrm{V^6_5}[/latex], what do you expect follow it? [latex]\mathrm{I}[/latex], right? Well, if there was a leading-tone elision, you could see [latex]\mathrm{V^6_5}[/latex] followed directly by [latex]\mathrm{V^4_2/IV}[/latex], which should raise a flag in your mind that something is not as expected. However, after looking at the progression you can come to the conclusion that harmonic elision has taken place and then know that you analyzed the chord correctly, its just that the chord you expected has been elided. It’s the same situation with raised-root elision. If you see the chord [latex]\mathrm{V^6_5/V}[/latex], what do you expect to see next? [latex]\mathrm{V}[/latex], right? Well if you saw [latex]\mathrm{V^6_5/V}[/latex] followed directly by [latex]\mathrm{V^6_5/vi}[/latex] you’ll know that something needs further investigation. After carefully consideration, you can come to the conclusion that the [latex]\mathrm{V}[/latex] chord has been elided as its root has been raised to become a leading tone (of [latex]\mathrm{vi}[/latex], in this case).

Notation: When an elision occurs, it’s good practice write the expected Roman numeral in your analysis but then cross it out and place the symbol for the chord that actually occurred. Example 8 below shows an example of this style of notation.

Musical Example

The first phrase of Richard Strauss’s song “Zueignung” (example 8) includes three harmonic elisions. The first occurs on beat 4 of measure 6. It is expected that the G major chord on beat 3 will be followed by a C major chord, but instead, the C major chord has been suppressed, and in its place a chord with a C♯ is used instead. This is a raised-root elision because the expected root was C and a chord with C♯ occurred instead and the C♯ is functioning as an applied leading tone. The second harmonic elision occurs in m. 8 where a quasi [latex]\mathrm{cad.^6_4}[/latex] (it actually doesn’t have the expected 4–3 part of that chord, but it’s quite similar) never resolves to its [latex]^5_3[/latex] version. Instead, the expected root G, is suppressed and a G♯ appears in its place (as an applied leading tone to vi) making this another instance of a raised-root elision. The phrase finishes with yet another harmonic elision. Measure 10 repeats the quasi [latex]\mathrm{cad.^6_4}[/latex] chord again but this time it does resolve to a chord with C as the root, but this time the dominant’s leading tone resolves down instead, making the C chord a dominant seventh instead of the expected major triad making this chord [latex]\mathrm{V^7/IV}[/latex] instead of a root-position tonic triad. This is an example of a leading-tone elision.

Example 8. Richard Strauss, “Zueignung“, Op. 10, no. 1, mm. 1–10 – Multiple harmonic elisions in a single phrase.

  1. Harmonic Elision (.pdf, .docx.) Asks students to spell chords, realize figured bass, write 4-part voice leading with Roman numerals, and analyze a musical excerpt.

Media Attributions

  • strauss_op_10_zueignung_score


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OPEN MUSIC THEORY by Brian Jarvis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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