Composing the modern subject: four string quartets by Dmitri Shostakovich

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  • Music Theory Spectrum 04/2004; 26(1):23-56. DOI:10.1525/mts.2004.26.1.23
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    ABSTRACT: Notes 57.1 (2000) 101-103 Classical Form: A Theory of Formal Functions for the Instrumental Music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. By William E. Caplin. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. [xii, 307 p. ISBN 0-19-510480-3. $75.] "When we listen to a Mozart piano sonata or a Haydn symphony, how do we know where we are from one moment to the next?" This question, posed on the dust jacket of this book, is answered in the intervening pages in two words: formal function. Formal function, introduced in the first of the book's four parts, concerns the role of a group of measures relative to the larger organization of a piece of music. The word "role" is suggestive if we take it to mean something like the character an actor plays. As a character has traits, so a group of measures has attributes. An ordinary antecedent phrase has relatively few attributes: it is composed of two groups of contrasting two-measure units and is marked at its end by a weak cadence. On the other hand, even an ordinary sonata-form exposition has far more attributes. As drama spins out when characters interact, each affecting the others in untold ways, so does music unfold when phrases join in making themes, themes in making sections, and sections in making movements. The second and third parts of the book hinge on the distinction between opposing kinds of musical organization, "tight-knit" and "loose." Here is Caplin's summary of the two: Tight-knit themes are the subject of part 2. Among these are the period, small ternary, and small binary. (Caplin considers rounded binary essentially the same as small ternary [pp. 72-73].) Caplin's treatment of ternary form is a good example of his concern for formal function. While using the convenient, if colorless, labels A-B-A9 of traditional theory, he further calls these sections "exposition," "contrasting middle," and "recapitulation"--the more telling names of the roles they play. Another tight-knit theme is the sentence, introduced by Arnold Schoenberg in Fundamentals of Musical Composition (ed. Gerald Strang [London: Faber & Faber, 1967]). Like the period, the sentence is an eight-measure unit composed of two four-measure phrases. Where the two differ is in how the phrases are built, that is, in the formal functions they express. There is also a chapter on compound themes (such as the sixteen-measure period or sentence) and themes that are hybrids of the period and sentence. Part 3 concerns looser formal regions: subordinate theme, transition, development, recapitulation, and coda. Chapter 8 has a particularly helpful discussion of cadential function in subordinate themes (pp. 101-9). Chapter 10 distinguishes the "core," or heart, of a development from its "pre-core," the lighter, more tuneful music that sometimes comes before it (pp. 141- 57); here Caplin also treats developments without a core, a perplexing notion at first, but one that is explained thoroughly and, to my mind, convincingly. In a satisfying way, everything in part 4 is supported by the foundation laid in the two preceding parts. The subject now is large forms, and individual chapters are assigned to the sonata, rondo, and concerto; a chapter each is also assigned to the minuet and trio and the slow-movement forms, including the large ternary and the sonata without a development. With ease, Caplin shows, for example, how the subordinate theme of a sonata and a couplet (episode) of a rondo, alike in expressing subordinate-theme function, differ nonetheless in detail. And that detail, laid out in part 4, stands in bold relief against their considerable similarities. A good companion to Caplin's book is Leonard G. Ratner's Classic Music: Expression, Form, and Style (New York: Schirmer Books, 1980...
    Notes 01/2000; 57(1):101-103. DOI:10.1353/not.2000.0014
  • Modern Language Quarterly 09/1983; 44(3):327-330. DOI:10.1215/00267929-44-3-327
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