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What is this figure in Chopin called?


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Chopin favors a certain way of resolving an inverse suspension (Wikipedia says these are called retardations?) for which I seek the correct name, if a specific name exists---for the combination of  tension-note and method of resolution. This is for use in a project of literary fiction.

There's an example filling measure 22 (and several others) of Prelude 13 in F# major, and others at least in certain Nocturnes including (off-hand) Opus 28 #2.

The measure-22 example looks like this, with B# resolving to C#. It's in 6/4 and all the notes here are 16ths. A '.' extends by a 16th and a ':' by an 8th. The undercurrent is also 8ths.

B#.:::.C# E# D# C#.:::::

Neither this example nor the figure itself appears in JP Dunn's treatise on ornamention in Chopin, perhaps because it's always notated in explicit rhythm without embellishment.

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  • 7 months later...

Good question. I asked my mentor Marshall Tuttle and he said the following (slightly edited for clarity):

The resolution to the cited excerpt occurs on the first C♯. The subsequent notes: E♯-D♯-C♯ all occur after the resolution. There is no particular name for this figure. C♯-E♯-D♯-C♯ is just a simple melodic figure.  
The use of this figure in this position is striking because of the rhythm. Chopin resolves the suspension early and the ornament fills in the time we are expecting to wait for the resolution so that the second C♯ occurs when the resolution was expected. It is no longer a resolution, however, as the tension was dissipated by the earlier resolution. This is what gives the phrase such an elegant effect. "Here is your resolution where you expect it, but it no longer means anything."
The idea of resolving a melodic expectation early stretches back to Bach, who likes to exit sequences by arriving early on the next expected note in order to allow the remainder of the rhythmic unit to be utilized in the preparation for his next harmonic gesture.
The term "retardation" is invented by people unfamiliar with actual music who claim "suspensions can only resolve downwards." Their rules force them to call this very common practice something else. Bach does it all the time, so their invention-for-the-purpose-of-confirming-a-bad-rule is empty. I always advised my students "no retards."
I am unaware of any technical terms associated with this pattern of Chopin's. In any event, they would contain much less information than what I have explained above.

And for your benefit, a brief exchange between me and him following this initial response:

But the "early" resolution is so fleeting (i.e., it goes to the next note so quickly) that it hardly feels like a resolution. Sure, if you were to slow it down and do the radio test and stop it right after that first C♯, it would sound resolved, but when one is actually hearing the music, it's far too ephemeral to cognize all that, no?
Cognition is a learned response. It is likely too fast for most people to hear consciously, especially since they have been trained by Pavlov to hear the resolution in a certain rhythmic position in relation to the preparation. Rhythm, however, has nothing to do with pitch structure. If you heard the scale continuing upwards rapidly you would not feel a lack of resolution (that would be like Bach's style). The trick with Chopin is that he turns around and gives you the resolution pitch again where you expect it after already having resolved it. This is quite clever on his part and creates a very special effect.
So can suspensions only resolve downwards? What's the difference between a suspension and an appoggiatura?
Suspensions resolve downward (mostly) in the renaissance. Fux decided music had gone to hell and refused to acknowledge that they can resolve upwards. Some people think that reading books is more important than reading scores, so they vainly pontificate.  In reality they are in the wrong business. Of course, suspensions can resolve upwards, they do all the time.
Abraham Lincoln once said: "If you call a dog's tail a leg, how many legs does it have?" The answer is, of course, 4. You can call the tail a leg from now till doomsday, but you still can't walk on it. It is the same with suspensions. The fact is that the resolve upwards all the time. Someone who has an issue with that is in the wrong business, like I said. If you call suspension that resolves upwards a retardation, I suggest it is a matter of projection.
Suspensions are prepared (the dissonant note sounds consonant before the beat). Appoggiaturas are not prepared. (The dissonant note only appears at the moment of dissonance and is not heard as a consonant note prior to its appearance).
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