Boris’s Bells, By Way of Schubert and Others

How to Cite

DeVoto, M. (2007). Boris’s Bells, By Way of Schubert and Others. Current Musicology, (83).


We define “bell chords” as different dominant-seventh chords whose roots are separated by multiples of interval 3, the minor third.The Boris bell chords are an early milestone in the history of nonfunctional harmony; yet the two harmonies, considered individually, are of course absolutely functional in classical contexts. This essay traces some of the historical antecedents of the bell chords as well as their developing descendants. The expectation of tonic harmony to follow a dominant-seventh sonority is a principal component of forehearing; we assume, in our ordinary and long-tested experience of tonal music, that the tonic function will follow the dominant-seventh function and be fortified by it. So familiar is this everyday phenomenon that it hardly needs to be stated; we need mention it here only to assert the contrary case, namely, that the dominant-seventh function followed by something else introduces the element of the unexpected.