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19th-century chord progressions

Like the octave rule, many of the most commonly used chord progressions have their origins in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Recent research provides insight into 'schemata', or a set of frequently used 'musical phrases', also used within the 'partimento' tradition. Each of these schemata also has a specific function such as closing a musical sentence, creating an ascending or descending movement, etc.

Some of the following examples are explained by Robert Gjerdingen in his book Music in the Galant Style.

For more interesting examples and research visit also by Ewald Demeyere.

Some schemata survive for a long time in an original version, as becomes clear in this version of a Romanesca by Czerny (The Art of Preluding, Op. 300 (1833).

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Although a number of these schemata remain in use in the 19th century, the developments of the grand piano open up other possibilities, resulting in modified versions of the schemata.

Scale harmonization by Friedrich Wilhelm Kalkbrenner taken fromTraité d'Harmonie du Pianiste (1849).


Scale harmonization in chromatic countermovement written down by Niccolo Paganini for the young Clara Wieck (1829).


A cadenza through all the keys by Franz Liszt (Technische Studien, book 1).

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Liszt's version of the scale harmonization through all keys (Technische Studien, book 8).

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Chopin's prelude nr. 20 in c minor is an interesting example of a harmonized prelude. It contains several frequently used chord passages such as cadenzas and large parts of the descending chromatic scale harmonization.

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The scale harmonization or octave rule remains one of the most important 'tonal maps', as in the example of Joseph Zimmermann, but during the 19th century there is a development towards a certain freedom to find new and more personal approaches in constructing chord progressions. The diminished chord therefore becomes very important due to its universal character, it offers many possibilities to realize unexpected harmonic turns and modulations.

Fragment of one of Liszt's many exercises on diminished chords (Technische Studien, book 8).

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Fragment of Chopin's exercises on diminished chords as a sketch for a piano method.


Two preludes for beginners by Clara Schumann (1819-1896) are interesting examples in which diminished chords among other harmonic techniques are used, such as chord connections in thirds, the use of secondary dominants, etc.



The sketches below provide insight into Liszt's method of developing ideas for preluding.

More interesting chord progressions can be found in following publications.

Emanuele Imbimbo (1765-1839)

Gamme ou Echelle Musicale (ca.1810)

Carl Czerny (1791-1857)

The Art of Preluding, Op. 300 (1833)

Friedrich Wilhelm Kalkbrenner (1775-1849)

Traité d'Harmonie du Pianiste (1849)

Henry Lemoine (1786-1854)

Traité d'Harmonie (1833)

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