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Sonata Problems

Carissa Reddick (University of Northern Colorado), Chair

Two Langerian Sonata-Form Problems, with Solutions by Beach and Medtner

Christopher Brody (University of Louisville)

Abstract

As nineteenth- and twentieth-century composers adapted the late-eighteenth-century sonata model, they were at pains to solve two related “problems,” or points of aesthetic unsatisfactoriness that (their music suggests) they discerned in earlier works. The first-movement problem is the sense that the main structural–narrative interest is frequently dissipated too early—around the beginning of the recapitulation. The multimovement problem is the sense that, since first movements are usually the longest, weightiest, most complicated, and most goal-directed movements in a three- or four-movement work, the entire multimovement structure begins with its most interesting material and leaves less to look forward to later. Concepts from Susanne Langer’s Feeling and Form clarify what is at stake: while eighteenth-century works often emphasize comic rhythms (circular, ritualistic, impersonal, exteriorized), later music steadily shifts toward tragic rhythms (teleological, individualized, personal) in both first-movement and multimovement form.

In this paper I sketch four distinctive and compelling solutions to these two problems in two works each by Amy Beach and Nikolai Medtner. Beach’s Violin Sonata (1896) addresses the first-movement problem in a Brahmsian way (movement 1) and again in an innovative Type 1–Type 2 hybrid form (movement 4). Medtner’s Sonata in G minor, op. 22 (1909–1910) engages the same problem with a “failed development” that keeps the structural ball in the air until the movement’s coda. Finally, Medtner’s Night Wind Sonata (1911) imaginatively confronts the multimovement problem by building two sonata structures within a frame that catastrophically undoes the resolution provisionally achieved within each.

Formal Problems as Opportune Inconveniences in Haydn’s Late Piano Trios

Jan Miyake (Oberlin College & Conservatory)

Abstract

In the last decade, our discipline has described how Haydn’s music is underserved by current theories of form (Burstein 2016; Duncan 2011; Fillion 2012; Korstvedt 2013; Ludwig 2012; Neuwirth 2011, 2013; Riley 2015). After analyzing final movements of the symphonies, keyboard sonatas, and keyboard trios, a group of trios stood out for the similarity of their formal ambiguities. About half (18) of the final keyboard trio movements are described best as a type of sonata form and the other half (18) by either an ABACA or ABA form. Two of this latter group, however, also display striking aspects of sonata form, and the construction of the lone sonata rondo from the former group is atypical enough to make its categorization quite Procrustean. Trios no. 32 (Hob. XV:18), no. 41 (Hob. XV:31), and no. 42 (Hob. XV:30) each offer opportunities to consider how the compositional processes of sonata form pervade Haydn’s music, making a formal designation of these movements somewhat inconvenient. Theorists created the tools that led to this situation, but rather than seeing it as problematic, perhaps works that are inconvenient to categorize provide an opportunity for new ideas. This paper describes how Haydn’s penchant for sonata-form processes impacts these last-movement forms and offers initial thoughts on a new way to organize Haydn’s approach to form.

Dvořák and Subordinate Theme Closure: “Positive” Analytical Results for a “Negative” Approach to Romantic Form

Peter H. Smith (University of Notre Dame)

Abstract

Scholars have shown increasing interest in applying the methodologies of Caplin and Hepokoski and Darcy to nineteenth-century form. These efforts often proceed under the assumption that classical norms continued to influence romantic practice, even in the face of nineteenth-century innovations. Vande Moortele terms this approach “negative” in the sense that it interprets what does occur in romantic form in relation to classical constructs. He contrasts this methodology with an as-of-yet-unrealized “positive” theory that would derive its concepts directly from nineteenth-century music.

A multi-part strategy interrogates the positive methodology championed by Vande Moortele and such like-minded theorists as Horton and Wingfield. Examination of Horton’s recent analysis of the first movement of Brahms’s First Symphony reveals the presence of classical norms casting a “negative” light—although a beneficial one—on his presumably “positive” methodology. A corpus study of S theme cadence in Dvořák’s mature chamber music follows, responding both to Horton’s concern for tonal delay in his Brahms analysis, and to his and Vande Moortele’s calls for expanding the range of composers included in these endeavors. Attention to a less-studied composer betrays the persistent gravitational pull of classical conventions, in contrast to the argument that a romantic-centered corpus would diminish that pull. Finally, analysis of Dvořák’s op. 87, I, and op. 61, I and IV, illustrates limitations of corpus study as contrasted with close reading. The close readings underscore the need to engage both circumpolar norms and progressive developments, even in music written late in the nineteenth century.