V. Chromaticism

Brian Jarvis

Key Takeaways

• The major triad built on ra $(\downarrow\hat2)$ is a chromatic predominant chord called a (♭II6).
• ♭II is typically found in first inversion (♭II6).
• In voice leading, ra resolves down to ti $(\downarrow\hat2-\hat7)$.

The Neapolitan sixth (♭II6) is a chromatic predominant chord. It is a major triad built on ra $(\downarrow\hat{2})$ and is typically found in first inversion. While the name “Neapolitan” is a reference to the Italian city of Naples (Napoli), the historical connection is quite shallow, as the chord was used in many other European cities in the 18th and 19th centuries.

# Context

The Neapolitan sixth is essentially a chromatic version of a iio6 chord. It functions the same and can be used in the same context, but it has a more dramatic effect because of its chromatic root, ra $(\downarrow\hat{2})$. Like iio6, it is typically used in a cadential context. ♭II6 can be found in major and minor keys but is more common in minor keys. Due to the similarities between ♭II6 and iio6, both are approached harmonically in the same way. Listen to Example 1 below to compare a simple cadential progression with iio6 and then with ♭II6.

Example 1. To change from iio6 to ♭II6, lower $\mathit{\hat{2}}$ (re to ra).

There is a standard voice leading associated with ♭II6. In general, the chromatic tones follow standard altered-tone practice: the altered notes continue to move in the direction in which they were altered. In this case, re $(\hat{2})$ has been lowered to ra $(\downarrow\hat{2})$, so its tendency is to continue downward. Because ♭II6 resolves to a V chord, ultimately ra $(\downarrow\hat{2})$ will resolve down to the closest member of the dominant triad, which is ti $(\uparrow\hat{7})$. Of course, the true dominant chord is often delayed by a $\mathrm{cad.^6_4}$ chord, and so that voice will typically have do $(\hat{1})$ between the two: ra–do–ti $(\downarrow\hat{2}-\hat{1}-\uparrow\hat{7})$. Notice also that the le $(\downarrow\hat{6})$ tends to resolve down to sol $(\hat{5})$. Example 2 illustrates the standard voice leading (see the red and blue notes in particular).

Example 3 shows a relatively straightforward example of a ♭II6 chord occuring in the context of a cadential progression. Note that the harmonic rhythm is a half note long, so think of beats 3 and 4 in measure 6 as part of a single harmony.

Example 3. Frederic Chopin, Nocturne in F minor, Op. 55, no. 1. Neapolitan sixth as part of a cadential progression.

# Associated Progressions

## Common progressions

• ♭II6–V
• ♭II6–viio7/V–V

While ♭II6 often goes directly to V (with or without a $\mathrm{cad.^6_4}$), the applied chord viio7 commonly occurs between ♭II6 and V, creating the progression ♭II6–viio7/V–V (Example 4). The added diminished chord intensifies the push toward the expected dominant.

Example 4. Using viio7 between ♭II6 and V.

## Less Common Uses

As mentioned above, the Neapolitan mostly appears in a small number of stock harmonic progressions. Less often, however, the Neapolitan can be found in root position ♭II, and it may lead to an inverted dominant instead of the root-position version $(\mathrm{V^4_2}$ in particular).

While the Neapolitan is most often used as a single chord within a cadential progression, it—like any other chord—can be prolonged through an extended tonicization or even used as a key area, as in Example 5. ♭II is introduced first as a temporary tonic and elaborated with a pedal point, then the phrase ends with a typical cadential progression with the Neapolitan sixth: ♭II6–viio7/V–V7–i.

Example 5. “Erlkönig” by Franz Schubert (1815; excerpt begins at 3:23) tonicizes the Neapolitan chord and then uses it as part of a cadential progression.

Assignments
1. Neapolitan Sixths (.pdf, .docx). Asks students to spell ♭II6, realize figured bass, write 4-part voice-leading with Roman numerals, and analyze a musical excerpt.