Saturday, August 6, 2022

An Aug 6 for Aug 6 in an August 6tet

Once again, Aug 6 has snuck up on me and I didn't get you anything. Well, at least not anything new or original, but I'll see if I can reignite the blog with a couple of observations. First of all, it happened to dawn on me that today is August 6 not long after dawn while on a long morning walk. And quite by coincidence, I had already listened to perhaps my favorite-ever Augmented 6th (Aug 6) chord while walking as I'd been revisiting a recording from last summer of the first movement of Brahms' Sextet No. 1 in B-flat. I even re-listened to the marvelous Aug 6 moment a couple of times while unaware that today is Aug 6.

Actually, let's back up and remember that I first "discovered" Augmented Sixth Day exactly ten years ago today when I saw that a student's harmonic analysis entered into an Excel spreadsheet had the abbreviation "Aug 6" automatically converted by Excel's internal logic to "8/6/12." The fact that this discovery happened on August 6 still blows my mind. This also reminds me of a clever bit of memery I saw just this past week online:

Yes, Excel will interpret anything it can get its hands on as a date, and this can actually be quite annoying at times, but it's worth it to know about Augmented Sixth Day.

Since I'm short on time here, I'll just quote from this post from last October about Aug 6th Chords in Mendelssohn, Brahms, and Haydn. Have a great Augmented Sixth Chord Day!


from the post Augmented Reality, 10/16/21, beginning after a discussion of an Augmented Sixth chord in an early Mendelssohn string symphony:

...So it was that a few weeks after starting my re-exploration of Mendelssohn's augmented-sixth-based modulation in this Andante, I heard my 14-year-old cellist son play the extraordinary first movement of Brahms' first sextet at chamber music camp. (To be honest, this music was a bit over the heads of these campers musically and instrumentally, but they did a great job with the challenge, and managed to present it with confidence and a convincing overall shape.) It's music I've heard often enough, but didn't know super well, yet as the Recapitulation approached, I remembered that something special was going to happen. (Side Note: this kind of musical memory-based recognition/anticipation is one of the most satisfying things about listening to familiar music; this is surely one reason people who love classical music enjoy returning to old favorites.)

As the dramatic texture unfolded and suddenly the opening theme returned in a harmonically arresting way, it occurred to me that this sounded a lot like what happens in Mendelssohn's Andante. The two musical passages (Mendelssohn and Brahms) are different in so many ways, but that makes the analogical connection all the more meaningful. (I've been writing about my love for and fascination with analogical thinking since the blog began.) Hopefully I'll get around to writing about the Brahms sextet more in a future post as there is SO much to say, but for now just listen to the way the music moves from G-flat Major to the home key of B-flat Major. These are not closely related keys (they only share three common pitches), but Brahms uses a German Sixth chord as a sneaky way to get from one key to the next. The video below should begin at 6:35, where the cresc. is marked in the score.

The most important thing to listen for is that, in m.233, the first violin (highest instrument) goes from E-natural to F (up a half-step) at the same moment the 2nd cello (lowest instrument) goes from G-flat to F (down a half-step). G-flat and E-natural are an augmented sixth apart - not an interval that shows up if sticking to one key - and the resolution of those distant notes outward to an octave is the fundamental thing about how augmented sixth chords work. (There's something else unusual going on in this case which I'll get to in a later post.) 

Back here in 2022, I'll leave you with this glorious recording, and of course I recommend listening to the whole sextet, but the BIG MOMENT starts at around the 10:38 mark.

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