A Structural Examination of Tonality, Vocabulary, Texture,
Sonorities, and Time Organization in Western Art Music



Chapter 33. Neapolitan Triad

Chapter 32. Borrowed Chords
Chapter 34. Augmented 6th Chords


The NEAPOLITAN triad has an interesting construction and history. In simple terms, it is a major triad built on the lowered ^2 (Ra):

It bears a resemblance to the borrowed chords of the previous chapter because of the lowered ^6 (Le), and in fact could be said to be borrowed from the parallel Phrygian mode, which is characterized with a lowered ^2. Since it is a unique sonority, with only a tenuous relationship to the original key, it is labeled with the letter "N" rather than a Roman numeral.

The word "Neapolitan" is an adjective referring to the Italian city of Naples (and is not spelled "Neopolitan'). While this chord did not necessarily originate there, it was featured prominently in Neapolitan music of the early 18th century; it appears earlier in music of other countries. It became a fixture in all the music of Europe by the late 18th century.


The Neapolitan triad (it rarely occurs with a 7th) usually appears in the first inversion (N6), which places ^4 in the bass. This places the two "active" scales degrees, lowered ^2 (Ra) and lowered ^6 (Le) in upper voices, which like borrowed chords must resolve down by step. It is traditional to double the bass.

Although it is expected for the Neapolitan to be in first inversion, it is possible to find it in root position and in second inversion. When either of these positions is used, it is necessary to examine why the unusual position is used and to provide an explanation.

  1. Root position: there are numerous reasons why the Neapolitan might occur this way, depending on the context. Generally, it will be due to an over-riding chromatic line, a sequential action, or an extended tonicization.

  2. Second inversion: like any triad in this position, it must be passing, pedal, or arpeggiated.

    Learn more about the Neapolitan 6 chord


The Neapolitan functions generally as a connective area, moving from tonic areas to dominant areas, which is logical considering that it bears a strong resemblance to the supertonic in first inversion.

The Neapolitan tends to work more effectively in minor keys than in major (since the lowered ^6 is already present in minor), but can be found in either.

It can be used to prolong the connection, in conjunction with the supertonic and subdominant harmonies.


As stated above, the lowered ^2 and lowered ^6 need to move down by step to a chord tone. Since the tendency of the Neapolitan is to move towards the dominant, it is easy for ^6 to move down to ^5, and it is tempting to take the lowered ^2 (Ra) to regular ^2 (Re), defying musical gravity. This temptation must be avoided.

Lowered ^2 moves down to ^1 as a chord tone, which is not part of dominant. There are two solutions for this:

  1. Lowered ^2 moves to ^7 (leading tone), which then moves to ^1, delaying the resolution. This creates the unusual interval of a d3, which often indicates the presence of a N6.

  2. Lowered ^2 moves to ^1 as part of a "dominant-delaying" harmony such as cadential 6/4 or a tonicization of the dominant:


The Neapolitan has traditional characteristics, but there are some rare abnormalities that can be found:

Don't try these at home; let the experts handle these exceptions.


As in the previous chapter, it is important to have a strategy for providing Roman numeral analysis. Using the same steps as before, analyze the example in the box below:

  1. The sonority is C - E - G
  2. The quality is major
  3. The scale degrees are Ra - Fa - Le
  4. The lowered ^2 indicates the Neapolitan, as does the major quality
  5. The chord comes from a tonic and moves to dominant
  6. It is a Neapolitan triad, in first inversion

Do the same thing again with the following example:

  1. The sonority is Db - F - Ab
  2. The quality is major
  3. The scale degrees are Le - Do - Me
  4. The lowered ^6 and lowered ^3 indicate a borrowed chord
  5. The chord comes from dominant and moves to dominant
  6. It is a borrowed submediant, in first inversion




Provide a Roman numeral and Schenkerian analysis for the following pieces in Music for Analysis:

  1. Mozart: Concerto in A Major, K.488 [#257, CD track #58]
  2. Schubert: Der Muller und der Bach [#258] Listen to a performance
  3. Bach: Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh' darein [#259, CD track #59]
  4. Beethoven: Quartet, op.18, no.3, III [#266]


Add a soprano, alto, and tenor to this figured bass, and a Roman numeral and structural analysis. When that is done, do three more things:

  1. Put the bass, tenor, and alto parts in the bass clef, in close position
  2. Figure these three parts in an eighth note arpeggiated bass; this figuration will stop with a block chord on the final tonic
  3. Add multiple embellishments to the soprano part, using the indicated rhythm

To prepare this writing assignment properly, use the notation guidelines appendix, located at Basic Principles of Music Notation, Semester III.

Links to chapters in this unit:
Chapter 32. Borrowed Chords
Chapter 34. Augmented 6th Chords

Link to previous unit: LARGER PERSPECTIVES

Link to next unit: CHROMATIC PROCEDURES III: Advanced Vocabulary

Copyright 2008-2009 by Phillip Magnuson.

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