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2.20: Postponed Closure

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    You’re seated in a restaurant and order for your favorite food. This can be likened to a half-cadence. Your request is fulfilled promptly: The dish arrives at the table. This is akin to a full cadence.

    However, sometimes the kitchen makes a mistake: You ordered the vegetarian entrée and were brought a lamb chop. You send the food back and wait for your correct meal to arrive.

    Similarly, in tonal music, tonic fulfillment does not always occur.

    When the following theme from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 is first taken up the strings, it leads directly to a full cadence. However, when the winds take the lead, the cadence is disrupted.

    The opening theme of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Andante favori leads to full cadence.

    Later in the piece, Beethoven modifies the return of the theme: It is broken into segments, some of which are re-harmonized. Leading into the anticipated tonic cadence, Beethoven stretches out the harmonic rhythm. And then, just when the tonic should occur, there is a harmonic surprise that postpones closure.

    Late in the Scherzo of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, the music returns to its home key, where the music could have come to an end. Instead, Mahler postpones closure in spectacular fashion.

    Postponed closure is used to dramatic effect in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. At the opening of this scene, revelers are celebrating at a masquerade ball.

    Suddenly the Phantom enters. In technical terms, his entrance disrupts the cadence, postponing closure.

    In his book “Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique” (Harper Collins, 2008), Dr. Michael Gazzaniga writes: “Humans have evolved two abilities that are necessary for prolonged reciprocal social exchange: the ability to inhibit actions over time (that is, delayed gratification) and punishment of cheaters in reciprocal exchange. These currently are on the short list of uniquely human capacities.”

    If tonic fulfillment represents one of the strongest forms of musical satisfaction, then postponed closure can be interpreted as a form of delayed gratification. Delayed gratification is frequently cited as a cornerstone of human intelligence. Sometimes postponed closure may surprise us; at other times, we may be prepared. Whichever is the case, when we experience such postponement, music may be touching on upon a fundamental aspect of the human cognition.

    The most common form of postponed closure is the deceptive cadence . In a deceptive cadence, a dominant request is answered not by the tonic chord but by another chord from within the key that contains the tonic pitch. Thus, a deceptive cadence only partially fulfills the dominant request: It gives us the tonic note but not the complete tonic chord. In the case of a deceptive cadence, you're like a teenager making a late night call. However, instead of your friend picking up, a parent answers. The person at the other end of the line is related to the person you were trying to reach--but speaking with the Dad is not what you had in mind!

    When the tonic Major is expected, the deceptive cadence is often to a minor chord and vice versa.

    In this excerpt from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata in A-Major, opus 101, the first time this scalar run is played, it leads to the tonic.

    The second time, though, it leads to a deceptive cadence, with a minor chord substituting for the anticipated tonic Major.

    Here is a deceptive cadence in minor from Joseph Haydn’s The Seasons. This time, a Major chord takes the place of the minor tonic.

    Here is another deceptive cadence from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in d-minor.

    The melody of Stravinsky’s“Serenade” from the Pulcinella Suite could have lead directly to a full cadence.

    Here is the melody as written, with the oboe’s haunting line extended by two deceptive cadences.

    Being able to distinguish a fulfilled cadence from a withheld arrival greatly enriches your experience of classical music. By interfering with tonic gratification, postponed closure creates some of music’s most emotionally salient moments.

    This page titled 2.20: Postponed Closure is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Anthony Brandt & Robert McClure (OpenStax CNX) .

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