Cadences In Music Definition Essay

What Is a Cadence?

Theoretical and Analytical Perspectives on Cadences in the Classical Repertoire

Markus Neuwirth, Pieter Bergé (eds)

Publication Year: 2015

The variety and complexity of cadence. The concept of closure is crucial to understanding music from the “classical” style. This volume focuses on the primary means of achieving closure in tonal music: the cadence. Written by leading North American and European scholars, the nine essays assembled in this volume seek to account for the great variety and complexity inherent in the cadence by approaching it from different (sub)disciplinary angles, including music-analytical, theoretical, historical, psychological (experimental), as well as linguistic. Each of these essays challenges, in one way or another, our common notion of cadence. Controversial viewpoints between the essays are highlighted by numerous cross-references. Given the ubiquity of cadences in tonal music in general, this volume is aimed not only at a broad portion of the academic community, scholars and students alike, but also at music performers.

Published by: Leuven University Press

Introduction: What Is a Cadence?

Markus Neuwirth, Pieter Bergé

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pp. 7-16

Harmony and Cadence in Gjerdingen’s “Prinner”

William E. Caplin

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pp. 17-58

Beyond ‘Harmony’: The Cadence in the Partitura Tradition

Felix Diergarten

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pp. 59-84

The Half Cadence and Related Analytic Fictions

Poundie Burstein

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pp. 85-116

Fuggir la Cadenza, or The Art of Avoiding Cadential Closure

Markus Neuwirth

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pp. 117-156

The Mystery of the Cadential Six-Four

Danuta Mirka

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pp. 157-184

The Mozartean Half Cadence

Nathan John Martin, Julie Pedneault-Deslauriers

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pp. 185-214

“Hauptruhepuncte des Geistes”: Punctuation Schemas and the Late-Eighteenth-Century Sonata

Vasili Byros

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pp. 215-252

The Perception of Cadential Closure

David Sears

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pp. 253-286

Towards a Syntax of the Classical Cadence

Martin Rohrmeier, Markus Neuwirth

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pp. 287-338

E-ISBN-13: 9789461661739
Print-ISBN-13: 9789462700154

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2015

OCLC Number: 908073129
MUSE Marc Record: Download for What Is a Cadence?


A cadence is a chord progression of at least 2 chords that ends a phrase or section of a piece of music. The easiest way to understand cadences in music is to think of the punctuation you find at pauses and breaks in spoken speech. Take the following spoken rhyme:

Notice how there are different pauses at the end of each line. The 2nd and 4th line have a period (full stop) at the end – this is because the rhyme could end there and still make sense – it is a definite pausing point.
The 3rd line has a comma at the end of it because this shows that the rhyme is going to continue. The rhyme pauses, but is clearly going to continue because it wouldn’t make sense if it stopped at the end of the 3rd line.
These pauses are weak/strong depending on how much of a sense of completion is created. In a similar way, music is divided up into phrases/sections. When you listen to the end of a phrase in music it either sounds like it is finished or unfinished. Whether it sounds finished or unfinished depends on which cadence is used.

Types of Cadences

There are 4 main types of cadence you will come across – 2 of them sound finished, whilst the other 2 sound unfinished:

Finished Cadences

Both of the finished cadences sound finished because they end on chord I. For example, in C major a finished cadence would end on the chord C. In G major, it would finish on a G chord, etc…

Authentic Cadence/Perfect Cadence
This goes from chord V to chord I (this is written V-I). It is the cadence that sounds the “most finished”.
Here is an example of a finished cadence in C major. Notice how the chords at the end of the phrase go from V (G) – I (C) and it sounds finished.

      Play Perfect Cadence Example

Plagal Cadence
A Plagal Cadence goes from chord IV to chord I (IV-I). It is sometimes called the “Amen Cadence” because the word “Amen” is set to it at the end of many traditional hymns.
Have a look at and listen to this example in C major:

      Play Plagal Cadence Example

Both of these cadences sound finished because they end on chord I, but they each have their own characteristic sound. Now let’s have a look at the unfinished cadences:

Unfinished Cadences

Unfinished cadences sound unfinished because they don’t end on chord I. When you hear an unfinished cadence at the end of a phrase it sounds like the music should not stop there – it sounds like it should continue onto the next section.

Half Cadence/Imperfect Cadence
A half cadence/imperfect cadence ends on chord V. It can start on chord I, II or IV.
Have a listen to this example in G major. Notice how the last 2 chords are I (G) followed by V (D).

      Play Imperfect Cadence Example

The music clearly sounds like it should continue.

Interrupted Cadence (Deceptive Cadence)
An interrupted cadence ends on an unexpected chord – the music literally does sound like it has been “interrupted”. The most common chord progression you will come across is from chord V to chord VI (V-VI). So, in this example in A major below, the last 2 chords are V (E) and VI (F sharp minor). Listen to how frustrating it sounds that the music doesn’t continue:

      Play Interrupted Cadence Example

Again, the music sounds like it is unfinished – it sounds like it has just paused and should now continue onto a new section.

Summary of Cadences

Here is a summary of the 4 cadences – Perfect, Imperfect, Plagal, Interrupted – hope it helps!!


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