Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sor Op 29, 10 (aka etude 22) in E flat major, a brief analysis of Sor's use of sonata allegro form in said etude

and musical analysis of sonata form in early 19th century guitar literature continues ... 
 
A couple of weeks ago we discussed the charming E flat major etude from Sor's Op. 29.
 
Now we're getting to another etude from the set that can be presented as adhering to some of the basics of sonata form.  This one is more a contestable case for reasons you'll get to see, but I think a case can be made that the sonata principle in terms of form and developmental economics would suggest that this Sor etude fits the principle of a sonata form.
 
A word in advance about this post, it features an extensive musical example (i.e. an entire Sor etude with visual analysis).  You're going to want to minimize/collapse all the far right menus on the blog in order to properly read this post.  The reference point for this score analysis is Boije 477, which you shouldn't have too much trouble digging up.  
 
Having read Stanley Yates' discussion of sonata forms in Sor in the last month or so I would like to suggest, if Yates hasn't spotted this already, that there's another example of sonata allegro form to discuss in the compositions of Sor. 
 
Yates' overview is helpful as an overview but I think that one of the challenges of discussing Sor's larger-scale works would be the ways in which they deviate from some of the scholastic expectations of sonata form from the time period.  Op.22 has an exposition in which theme 2 is abandoned in the recapitulation and none of the themes get any significant development in what would be known as the development section of a sonata form.  Op. 25 recapitulates thematic ideas in reverse order, which began to be a thing in Romantic music but which could throw off an unwary musician or student who hasn't had any training to anticipate that. 
 
Where Yates seems to have seen the early Sor sonatas as a bit under-developed or diffuse in structural thinking compared to the later Grand Sonatas I would say the reverse, the fact that Sor's earlier sonatas have themes which all appear in their respective recapitulations and the energy of the Opp. 14 and 15 make them superior works, both because they are more self-contained and because they simply have more pleasing themes.  What Yates described as Sor's sophistication in handling of sonata forms sounds to me, as someone who's loved Haydn my whole adult life, like a diffuse ramble. 
  
On the other hand, there is a sonata form in the Op. 29 etudes (etude 10) that is an elegant and brilliant demonstration of sonata form.  If anything it's the most concise and compelling use of sonata form in Sor's output, not that anyone's explicitly asking Wenatchee The Hatchet's opinion here about the topic.
 
For the sake of overview, a sonata form has three sections--an exposition, a development and a recapitulation.  The exposition will have musical ideas in two different tonal centers, the development will continue to explore these ideas in various ways, and the recapitulation will re-present the ideas in some fashion within one tonal center, the opening one.  As Charles Rosen has pointed out in his book on sonata forms, the important point to emphasize about sonata form is not the contrast between the themes within the exposition but their contrasting tonal centers.  It's the tonal architecture which creates the structural and harmonic momentum of the form. 
 
We've discussed in the past how there's a sense in which, once we factor in the convention of repeating the exposition, a sonata "could" be construed as a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus pattern.  That would be true, sort of, but the caveat is that the themes or thematic groups have transitions and what can happen in practice is a development may rely less on the formal themes than on transitional materials.  This is particularly notable in solo guitar sonatas, which we'll try to explore in posts later.
 
Or ... we could show that the way a sonata can work out a development can be through tossed off cadential riffs that take on greater harmonic or rhythmic significance in a development section.
 
Something else to bear in mind is that while in the recapitulation you may have theme 1 coming back with a non-modulating transition and a theme 2 there's no rule against ideas being developed in the recapitulation.  There isn't even any strict rule against the introduction of new forms of development within a non-modulating transition.  While we could cast about for Haydn works as an example the Sor Op 29, 10 etude will do.
 
So, let's get to the etude.  It opens with a frisky E flat major marching theme that's pretty short.  In a mere seven measures we get a parallel periodic structure typical for the era.  It's an eight measure theme if you include that closing measure as a point of arrival but, as is common for the beginning of a modulating transition in sonata form the point of arrival is also simultaneously a point of departure. 
 
Conventionally a sonata form starts in a tonic key (in this case E flat) and moves to a dominant key (in this case B flat major).  A modulating transition can happen in a variety of ways but if we want to be textbook then we can use Sor's example, and what Sor does is he introduces the leading tone of the dominant key, A natural, pretty early in this modulating transition.  It appears as a chromatic ornament to a firmly E flat major riff.  We could say these days it's got an anticipation of blues in it but it wouldn't be construed as blues here.  The next tone that gets strategically introduced along the way would be the leading tone of the dominant scale degree to the target key.  So in this case Sor works in a E natural, the leading tone to F, and F major is the dominant of B flat. You'll be able to see he gets to this quickly enough.  For sake of quick visual reference I've highlighted the A naturals in blue and the E naturals in green. 
 
What's interesting about this little sonata is how unified it is in thematic materials.  The opening motto is more or less the seed from which the entire plant grows.  The semi-bluesy riff at the start of the introduction gets two phrases and then the second half of the transition inverts the riff in the first half of the two-measure phrases, while retaining the contour of the ornamental second half.  This would be in system four and in system four we get the high B flat pedal point under which Sor chromatically planes dyads so that by arriving at E flat, which would have been the tonic chord in the first theme, has been presented as the subdominant harmony in the new context. 
 
Since Sor took this new harmony to be too new to just land on, he repeats the entire sequence.  Given the degree of chromatic complexity in both harmony and melody for this little exposition leaning so heavily on repeating phrases would be unusual for sonata forms but for the key of E flat major on a single guitar this was a very wise move.  Of course we're not going to contest the wisdom of Sor in composing for solo guitar here!  :)
 
So the music continues and half-way through system six we arrive firmly in the key of B flat major and Sor introduces his second theme.  We can describe this as a rather freer and more laconic inversion of the opening motto. The tempo hasn't changed and the theme is still chugging along in eighth notes but Sor has done a wonderful job delineating the arrival of the new thematic region with a slower harmonic rhythm.  He basically decorated a tonic pedal point with the new melodic idea.  He keeps the texture and harmony simple here but he gently ramps up the non-harmonic dissonance in how he adds a lower harmonizing voice to the new tune.  After he wraps up the second theme with a firm, final cadence in B flat major we get to the end and we start from the top.  This is a classic repeating exposition for a sonata allegro form.  It's brevity and efficiency should not throw us off as to what we're hearing and what we're looking at in the score. 
 
Now whereas in the Grand Sonatas Op. 22 and Op. 25 Sor's development sections seem to scarcely be there for any other reason than building momentum to get back to the recapitulation the Op. 29, 10 etude jumps into a development that, however short, develops the ideas introduced in the exposition.  We see the opening motto subjected to intervallic change and introduced at the start of the development in a minor key, F minor.  This idea is sequenced once and turns into a little riff-bashing moment in which the cadential turn riff at the end of the first theme is made an ostinato under which Sor has dyads chromatically creeping up from B flat in a way that flirts with E flat major but won't commit to it for six measures. 
 
Of course because this is a sonata the first theme arrives triumphantly in E flat as we would expect it to.  There are a handful of changes here, though. Instead of the perfect parallel period we had in the exposition Sor changes the cadential wrap-up for theme 1 so that it ends on an unresolved half-cadence.  This half-cadence leads to a new idea for the piece, riffing on the cadential turn pattern.  It's a very static V-I alternation that ensures we're never leaving the tonic key now that we've arrived at it in the recapitulation.  What keeps this new material from being alienating in such a short piece is the economy with which Sor has been alternating between the marching motto on the one hand and his use of the cadential turn riff on the other.  If none of this makes sense to you yet, fear not, dear reader.  There's a visual analysis being presented at the bottom you can consult that should clear all this up. 
 
This is a wonderful little sonata form and Sor was clearly shrewd enough a guitarist to recognize that even this short a piece in E flat major would have many a guitarist scared off or begging for mercy.  Still, if any guitarist would attempt to make a case that the classical guitar lacks the resources to handle a sonata form, Sor has amply demonstrated otherwise.  If Sor composed a sonata allegro form in E flat major as part of his Op. 29 etudes then there should be no doubt the guitar, whatever its limitations, is capable of handling complex forms in remote keys in the right hands. 
 
And since the internet age what it is, well, we'll have to leave it to you, dear readers, to go find a video of a performance of this little gem.  Consider this more of a primer.  I probably haven't exhausted all the things that could be said about this piece, but I hope I've made a successful case for this work being included in a discussion of Sor's use of sonata form.  The score with analysis notes is visible after the break


 

No comments: