The snowdrop as imperfect cadence

Today I noticed that some snowdrops were in bloom in the garden. I think they function as an imperfect cadence in heralding the close of winter and the start of spring.


Let me explain the musical metaphor. A perfect cadence is the conventional device used to bring a tonal work of music to its conclusion. In the key of C major, the end of a song might thus be signalled by the tune moving from the chord of G7 (the so-called Dominant 7th) to C (the tonic chord). The dominant chord is built around the 5th note of the scale, which in C major is G (hence the Dominant 7th = G7).

Now, sometimes the composer plays with us a little – makes us think that we are coming to the climax but then holds us back. He or she can do this by moving from the Dominant 7th to the submediant chord based upon the 6th note of the scale, which in C major yields an A minor chord. The minor chord, in such a progression, feels almost anti-climactic. We thought we were going to the highly satisfactory resolution of the C major chord, with all its strength and power, and instead we get titillated by the almost feminine (not a very PC thing to say, I know) A minor chord. The song will usually wander about a bit, perhaps visiting the subdominant chord (built on the 4th note of the scale, which would be F major in the key of C) before getting back to the Dominant and finally onto the Tonic chord for its perfect cadence.

So, the snowdrop is a bit like an imperfect cadence. The pretty flowers make me feel as though spring is here, but in fact it is still some way off. We have to get through January and February! Flanders and Swan wrote a wonderful song about the English weather. I can’t remember all the lyrics but it starts…

January brings the snow,
Makes your feet and fingers glow.
February’s ice and sleet,
Freeze the toes right off your feet!

On that note, I shall potter off and find a nice warm pair of socks to wear. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

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