Getting From Here To There – Go Fourth…

In the last post, we examined the verse of Jerome Kern’s All The Things You Arewhich, while not especially memorable from a melodic standpoint when compared to what follows (Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics here do set up the refrain quite beautifully, however), firmly establishes the short rising fourth interval motif upon which the rest of the song is built.

It is doubtful that Kern was consciously thinking about this when he wrote the piece, but again, it definitely reflects his classical roots (these things tend to become instinctive with skilled composers who have such formal training).

Interestingly, the key of the verse is an entire step higher than the refrain. Modulating from G major to F minor in a convincing manner is not particularly difficult using either the common tone (CTo) diminished method, or dropping the third and fifth a half step and adding the seventh to create a Gm7(b5), which resolves to C7 quite handily. (In reality, this is just a variation of the CTo   method). However, in this modulation, Kern does something  quite complex, using a series of altered chords, descending chromatically.

And notice the intervals of the top notes:

This time however, the pattern of upward fourths descend by step three times. The fourth time is a repetition of the third, however – albeit over a different harmonic structure. Given this last one is based on Gb and the refrain continues in F minor, this is a bit surprising. Kern might have chosen to do this, which would have made the pattern more consistent:

I’m not certain why Kern made the choice he did.  One reason may be that Gb9 shares a common tone with Fm, this pitch being Ab . Significantly,this is the first note of the refrain which starts in the next measure.

Gb is also a functioning substitute for the C7 that would typically have been the V7 of the new key of F minor. It does this in two ways:

1. The Gb here is a “tritone substitution” for the dominant seventh (in this case, C7). This is done fairly often in modern jazz. An experienced jazz pianist, guitarist or arranger might simply play or write an altered Gb7 chord with a C in the bass (this must be handled deftly, often omitting the actual root tone of Gb, or the results can be less than pleasing) before going to F or F minor. There is however a much older reason that this works, going back to the Common Practice Period:

2. The Gb chord in this case is what is known as a “Neopolitan Sixth,” or N6 chord (corresponding to the harmonic structure one-half step above the tonic, called the supertonic). This has been used as a substitution for the V7 since the Baroque Period. Some theory jocks will take me to task by pointing out that traditionally, the N6 functions as a “secondary dominant,” preparing the way for the actual V7; however, in music composed since Beethoven’s time, it is not uncommon for an N6 to resolve directly to the tonic. (BTW, Schenker referred to this as a “Phrygian II” – because the tonality is reminiscent of  the phrygian mode(corresponding to an E natural minor scale with F natural instead of F#).  It’s something you hear a great deal of in the folk music of Spain and Greece and Jewish klezmer music  as well as the Middle Eastern musical traditions from which they are derived.

Again, I’m certain none of this was consciously in Kern’s mind when he composed this piece – he simply wrote down what sounded good in his ear. However, had he not had the “rules” ingrained into his head from an early stage,  it is certain that he would not have come up with such a magnificent and moving composition (and Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrical poetry would have been poorer for it – but that’s another subject).

As we move into our analysis of the refrain, we will discover that Mr. Kern gets a whole lot more mileage out of that rising fourth interval – which will be covered in the next post.

In the meantime, here’s something to think about: traditionally in Western music, the interval of the fourth has been considered “dissonant.” Even today, though this interval makes for pleasing harmony, our ears still tend to hear something unresolved about it. Can you tell why?

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About KJ at Guide Tone Lines

KJ McElrath earned his Masters degree in Music Theory and Composition from Central Washington University. Composer of several works for big band, wind ensemble and orchestra, which can be heard at I perform a cabaret act with Athena McElrath as McElrath Cabaret, which you can find at
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3 Responses to Getting From Here To There – Go Fourth…

  1. Pingback: Going Fourth, Part 2 | Guide Tone Lines

  2. Pingback: Part 3: Not Not-Quite-As-Amazing (But Still Useful) Augmented Chord | Guide Tone Lines

  3. Chris Finch says:

    Hi, loving the articles. I was wondering where you get the oringinal score of Jermone Kern from? Or that of any of the standards composers? Did you transcribe or is there somewhere to find them? I ask because all I can find are fake books which have voice leading/harmony which I’m not sure are the original composer’s intention.