A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Day, Alfred

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DAY, Alfred, M.D., the author of an important theory of [1]harmony, was born in London in January 1810. In accordance with the wishes of his father he studied in London and Paris for the medical profession, and, after taking a degree at Heidelberg, practised in London as a homoeopathist. His father's want of sympathy for his musical inclinations in his earlier years having prevented him from attaining a sufficient degree of practical skill in the art, he turned his attention to the study of its principles, and formed the idea of making a consistent and complete theory of harmony, to replace the chaos of isolated rules and exceptions, founded chiefly on irregular observation of the practice of great composers, which till comparatively lately was all that in reality supplied the place of system. He took some years in maturing his theory, and published it finally in 1845, three years only before his death, Feb. 11, 1849.

In this work there was hardly any department in which he did not propose reforms. For instance, in view of the fact that the figures used in thorough bass did not distinguish the nature of the chord they indicated—since the same figures stood for entirely different chords, and the same chords in different positions would be indicated by different figures—he proposed that the same chord should always be indicated by the same figures, and that its inversions should be indicated by capital letters A, B, C, etc., placed under the bass, so that the chord of the seventh in its various positions would be indicated as follows:—

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \clef bass \cadenzaOn g,1-7_"A" b,-7_"B" d-7_"C" f-7_"D" \bar "||" }
instead of
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \clef bass << { \cadenzaOn g,1 b, d f \bar "||" } \new FiguredBass { \figuremode { < _ >1 < 6 5 3 > < 6 4 3 > < 6 4 2 > } } >> }

as under the old system. And whenever a chord had also a secondary root, as the chord of the augmented sixth, it would be indicated by a capital letter with a line drawn through it, and lines also drawn through the figures which indicated the intervals derived from that secondary root.

With respect to the differences of opinion about the minor scale, he insisted with determined consistency that the principles of its construction precluded the possibility of its containing a major sixth or a minor seventh, and that the only true minor scale is that with a minor sixth and major seventh, the same ascending and descending; and his concluding remarks are worth quoting as characteristic:—'This scale may not be so easy to some instruments and to voices as the old minor scale, therefore let all those who like it practise that form of passage, but let them not call it the minor scale. Even as a point of practice I deny the old minor scale to be the better; as practice is for the purpose of overcoming difficulties, and not of evading them.' The principle which throughout characterises his system is to get behind the mere shallow statement of rules and exceptions to the underlying basis from which the exceptions and rules will alike follow. Thus, in dealing with the theory of false relations, he points out that the objectionable nature of contradictory accidentals, such as C♮ and C♯ occurring in the same chord, or in succeeding chords or alternate chords, arises from the obscurity of tonality which thereby results, and which must always result when accidentals imply change of key: but since accidentals under particular circumstances do not imply change of key, contradictory accidentals are not necessarily a false relation; and he gives as an extreme instance, among others, the succession of the chords of the subdominant and supertonic in the key of C, in which F and F♯ follow one another in different parts in successive chords.

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 3/4 \partial 4 << \relative c'' << { c4 | c8 d e4 d | c2 } \\ { g4 f!8 a g4 f! e2 } >> \new Staff { \clef bass { \relative c' << { c4 c c b c2 } \\ { e,4 a8 fis g4 g, c2 } >> } } >> }

Proceeding after the same manner in his discussion of forbidden progressions of parts, he points out that as the objectionable effect of consecutive fifths is caused by the two parts seeming to move simultaneously in two different keys, there are cases in which the progression of the bass on which they are founded would prevent that effect and render them admissible; as, for instance, when the bass moves from Tonic to dominant, as in the Pastoral Symphony of Beethoven,

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 3/4 \partial 8 \key bes \major << \relative a' << { a8 d4 c g \bar "||" } \\ { f8 bes4 a ees } >> \new Staff { \clef bass \key bes \major \relative f { f8 bes,4 f' c } } >> }

The most important part of his theory, and that which most distinguishes it, is its division of styles into Strict or Diatonic, and Free or Chromatic, and the discussion of the fundamental discords which can be used without preparation. His explanation of the 'Chromatic system' was quite new, and his prefatory remarks so well explain his principles that they may be fitly quoted. After pointing out that the laws of diatonic harmony had been so stretched to apply them to modern styles that they seemed 'utterly opposed to practice,' he proceeds—'Diatonic discords require preparation because they are unnatural; chromatic do not because they may be said to be already prepared by nature'—since the harmonics of a root note give the notes which form with it the combinations he calls fundamental discords. 'The harmonics from any given note are a major third, perfect fifth, minor seventh, minor or major ninth, eleventh, and minor or major thirteenth.' And this series gives the complete category of the fundamental chords of Day's chromatic system. Moreover, with the view of simplifying the tonal development of music, and giving a larger scope to the basis of a single key—and thereby avoiding the consideration of innumerable short transitions—he gives a number of chromatic chords as belonging essentially to every key, though their signatures may not be sufficient to supply them, and with the same object builds his fundamental discords on the basis of the supertonic and tonic as well as on the dominant. In respect of this he says—'The reason why the tonic, dominant, and supertonic are chosen for roots, is because the harmonics in nature rise in the same manner; first the harmonics of any given note, then those of its fifth or dominant, then those of the fifth of that dominant, being the second or supertonic of the original note. The reason why the harmonics of the next fifth are not used, is because that note itself is not a note of the diatonic scale, being a little too sharp, as the fifth of the supertonic, and can only be used as part of a chromatic chord.' The advantages of this system of taking a number of chromatic chords under the head of one key will be obvious to any one who wishes for a complete theory to analyse the progressions of keys in modern music as well as their harmonic structure. For instance, even in the early 'Sonata Pathetique' of Beethoven, under a less comprehensive system, it would be held that in the first bar there was a transition from the original key of C minor to G; whereas under this system the first modulation would be held to take place in the 4th bar, to E♭, which is far more logical and systematic.

The detailed examination of the series of chords which have been summarised above is very elaborate. In most cases his views of the resolutions, even of well-known chords, are more varied and comprehensive than is usual with works on harmony, and point to the great patience and care bestowed on the elaboration of the theory. The most salient points of this part of the work are the reduction of well-known chords and their recognised and possible resolutions under the author's system of fundamental discords. The chord of the diminished seventh (a) he points out to be the first inversion of that of the minor ninth (b);
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 2/1 \relative b' { <b d f aes>1^"(a)" <g b d f aes!>^"(b)" \bar "||" } }
and though this inversion, in which the root is omitted, is decidedly more common than the original chord (b), yet the latter is to be found complete—as is also the major ninth, without omission of the root—in the works of the great masters; and that on tonic and supertonic as well as dominant roots.
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 4/4 \relative g' <g b d f a>1 \bar "||" }
The chord of the dominant eleventh, when complete (as c), is hardly likely to be found unabridged;
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 4/4 \relative g <g b d f a c>1^"(c)" \bar "||" }
and it is even doubtful whether any examples of its first position exist, even with some notes omitted, which can be pointed to with certainty as an essential chord. But in this scheme the chord is important as giving in its fourth inversion the chord known as the added sixth (d), in which case the fifth of the original chord is at the top and the root and third are omitted, and the free treatment which has generally characterised this formerly isolated chord fully agrees with the rest of the principles of the system.
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 4/4 \relative f' <f a c d>1^"(d)" \bar "||" }
This chord of the eleventh, unlike the others in the series, can only be used on the dominant, because if used on either the tonic or supertonic it would resolve out of the key. The last chord of the series is that of the major or minor thirteenth on either of the before-mentioned roots; of which the whole chord on the dominant of C (for example) would stand as (e).
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 2/1 \relative g { <g b d f a c e>1^\markup { \halign #-3 (e) } <g b d f a c ees> \bar "||" } }
It is not suggested that all these notes occur at once, but that the discordant ones have their own proper resolutions, which they will follow in whatever positions they may be combined; their resolutions being liable to modification by the omission of any notes with which they form dissonances. The commonest and smoothest form of the chord is
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 2/1 \relative g { <g f' b e>1_\markup { \halign #-4 or } <g f' b ees> \bar "||" } }
which will be readily recognised; and there are various resolutions given of the interval which makes the thirteenth with the root in this combination. One of the resolutions of the minor thirteenth deserves special consideration, namely, that in which it rises a semitone while the rest of the chord moves to tonic harmony. This makes the chord appear to be the same as that which was and is commonly known as that of the sharp fifth, as (f).
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 2/1 \relative g { <g f' b dis>1^\markup { \halign #-3 (f) } <c e c' e> } }
To the whole doctrine of a sharpened fifth Dr. Day strongly opposed himself, and maintained that the two chords marked (g) and (h) in the example were identical; and brought to bear
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 2/1 \relative g { <g f' b ees>1^"(g)" <c e c' e> \bar "||" << { <g f' b> <c ees> } \\ { \slurUp ees'2(^"(h)" d) c1 } >> \bar "||" } }
both mathematics and practical experiment to prove it. The combinations and resolutions which result from his views of the nature of this chord are some of them very curious and original, and would probably be impossible if the chord were not a minor thirteenth but a sharp fifth. Still, the case against the sharp fifth cannot be said to be thoroughly substantiated, and the singular results of his views in this special case are not to be found in great numbers in the works of composers.

The chord of the augmented sixth he derives from the primary harmonics arising from a primary root, and the secondary harmonics arising from a secondary root. Thus in the following chord in the key of C, the lower note A♭ he

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \relative a' <aes c ees fis>1 \bar "||" }
explains to be the minor ninth of the dominant root, and the remaining three notes to be the seventh, ninth, and third of the supertonic or secondary root; both these notes being already recognised as capable of being taken as roots in any key. The progressions of the component notes of the chord are the same as they would be in their positions in the respective fundamental discords of tonic and supertonic of which they form a part. His views of the capacity of the interval of the augmented sixth for being inverted as a diminished third are opposed to the practice of the greatest composers, who though they use the inversion rarely use it with great effect. He says: "This interval should not be inverted, because the upper note being a secondary harmonic and capable of belonging only to the secondary root, should not be beneath the lower, which can only belong to the primary root.' As in his views with respect to the sharp fifth and the minor thirteenth, the question cannot be said to be definitely settled. Thus the musical feeling of people of cultivated taste may still count for something, and it seems probable that if the inversion were vicious Bach and Beethoven would not have used it. This is not the place to point out in what respects Dr. Day's hypothesis is vulnerable; theorists of very high standing repudiate the chords of the eleventh and thirteenth, and even cast doubts on the essential nature of the ninths; but whatever may be said of its hypothetical and as yet incompletely substantiated views it must be confessed that no other theory yet proposed can rival it in consistency and comprehensiveness. The strong adhesion given to it by one of our most distinguished living musicians, the Professor of Music at Cambridge, should be sufficient to recommend it; and the study of it, even if it lead to dissent on some points, can hardly fail to be profitable.
  1. Treatise on Harmony, by Alfred Day. Royal 8vo. Novello & Co. [App. p.609 "Harrison & Co., Pall Mall."]