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On Rotational Form

Steven Vande Moortelle (University of Toronto), Chair

“Rituals of Circularity”: On the Conceptual Underpinnings of Rotational Form

Michael J. Puri (University of Virginia)

Michael J. Puri is Associate Professor of Music at the University of Virginia. His research into French and German music of the long nineteenth century has been published in a variety of professional venues, ranging from the Journal of the American Musicological Society to Cambridge Opera Journal to Music Theory Online. He was the 2013–14 Delta Delta Delta Fellow at the National Humanities Center, and is currently a 2020–21 Mellon Research Fellow at the Institute of the Humanities & Global Cultures at UVa. He received the Alfred Einstein Award from the AMS in 2008, and was the Review Editor of JAMS in 2017–19. He is the author of Ravel the Decadent: Memory, Sublimation, and Desire, published by Oxford University Press, and is currently completing another monograph that explores hitherto unrecognized relationships between Ravel and German music.


As defined by James Hepokoski in 1993, a rotation is an ordered series of musical elements through which a work or movement passes two or more times. Since its coinage the term has been widely discussed and applied in the analysis of Western music, but its conceptual underpinnings have not yet been explored.

I seek to shed light on these underpinnings by proposing that rotational theory springs from a conception of musical form as ritual. The layout of rotational form coincides with a conventional understanding of ritual structure, whereby the referential statement corresponds to the ritual’s initial performance, and subsequent rotations to its repetition. Moreover, rotational theory’s most distinctive features—including seriality, modeling, invariance, rule-governance, and spatiality (cf. the metaphors of circularity, “zones,” “action-spaces,” and “thresholds”)—are those that theorists of ritual identify as typical of the phenomenon. Indeed, Hepokoski himself refers at one point to musical rotations as “rituals of circularity”—language that should not be taken lightly.

My argument divides into three sections. The first defines the rotation, traces its development as a concept within Hepokoski’s publications, and summarizes its critique. The second argues for the importance of Northrop Frye and Mircea Eliade’s writings on myth and ritual for rotational theory. The third identifies three topics—performativity, framing, and habitus—that Hepokoski’s work shares with recent theories of ritual. Building upon this work, I conclude by proposing a theory of musical formativity: the propensity for music, as a structure of ritualized (virtual) habitation, to form cultural subjects.

Formal Process as Reanimation of the Past in Enrique Granados’s “Epílogo: Serenate del Espectro”

Audrey Jane Slote (University of Chicago)

Audrey Jane Slote is a second-year student in the PhD program in music theory and history at the University of Chicago, where she is a Neubauer Family Distinguished Doctoral Fellow. She holds a Master of Arts in music theory and a Master of Music in cello performance from the University of Minnesota, and a Bachelor of Music in cello performance from St. Olaf College. Her work engages techniques of musical analysis in service of broad philosophical questions, with an attunement to issues of musical temporality, narratives of cultural identity, and music as an object of political resistance.


Goyescas, the programmatic suite for solo piano by Enrique Granados, encompasses a love story between maja and majo, stock characters from Castilian folklore. Snippets of fanciful text explaining the story punctuate the score. In the final movement, “Epílogo: Serenate del Espectro,” the majo, who has died, returns in ghostly form to serenade his lover. The music’s structural underpinnings vivify this narrative turn. In its formal and motivic design, “Epílogo” renders the past audible in the musical present by multiple currents of transformation.

My analysis traces three transformative processes in “Epílogo:” quasi-rotational form and its structural deformation, motivic relationships across different narrative spaces, and the clarification of motivic identity. I first explore how a substantial formal rupture enacts a crossing-over into reminiscence. I then trace how earlier motives foreshadow the reemergence of the musical past. Finally, I identify how certain motives come to be associated with everyday objects, a process of “disenchantment” that retroactively highlights the objects’ bewitchment. My reading draws upon concepts of teleological genesis and rotational form (Hepokoski 1993), voice (Abbate 1991), and temporal fusion (Kaplan 1996).

“Epílogo” encapsulates Goyescas’ contribution to a turn-of-the-century cultural project in which Spanish artists aimed to determine a quintessential national ethos and to represent it through their work. With this project, I aim to contribute to scholarship focused on Spanish art music in the early twentieth century, a repertoire that is less well-represented than others in current music-theoretical discourse.

The Sonata-Fugue Hybrid in Haydn’s Early Symphonies

Carl Burdick (University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music)


Among Joseph Haydn’s earliest symphonies are thirteen sonata-form movements that incorporate fugal techniques, including two finales that integrate sonata and fugue. I document three strategies Haydn devises in service of the sonata-fugue hybrid. The dialogue surrounding these strategies represents a formative stage for his most characteristic techniques.

The tension between fugue and sonata concerns expectations for formal continuity and the closing effect of cadences. Sonata form is in two parts delineated by cadential closure. On the other hand, fugue is continuous and should avoid conveying rest during its course. Formal expectations for fugue are otherwise flexible and enable it to adhere to the rotational process of sonata form. The sonata-fugue hybrid finales of Haydn’s Symphonies no. 3 and 40 adopt fugal continuity by mitigating cadential closure, but also engage sonata form’s characteristic rotational patterns.

These divergences fall outside the norms postulated by Hepokoski and Darcy (2006). Indeed, scholars have criticized their portrayal of sonata form for marginalizing Haydn’s music (Ludwig 2012, 2014; Miyake 2009). But the techniques Haydn employs in these hybrid movements are consistent with his contemporaneous works. These include strategies for starting the exposition and recapitulation. Additionally, the use of fugal techniques contributes to both monothematic and continuous expositional strategies and to recapitulatory revisions.

By integrating fugue into the sonata process, Haydn began to develop sonata-form procedures drawing on fugal techniques. Though some of these strategies fell into disuse, others became hallmarks of Haydn’s sonata style and deserve a more prominent role in our narrative of sonata form.