Saturday, June 18, 2016

some extra reading for the weekend, academic writings that discuss Sor's approach to sonata form (finally! there are treatises you can find on this stuff)

This one ...

A Performance Guide to the Multi-Movement Guitar Sonatas of Fernando Sor and Mauro Giuliani
Rattanai Bampenyou

This one discusses Sor and Giulani, their formal sonatas and performance notes about playing those sonatas.  While I would have suggested (as I have here at Wenatchee The Hatchet) including the etudes in E flat and C major as examples of sonata form in Sor's work, this treatise was a fine overview of the "official" deployment of sonata in Sor's work. 

Particularly interesting to me is reference to academic treatments of sonata and 18th century approaches to music by William E Caplin James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy that got mentioned in Bampenyou's treatment.  I've seen reference to Caplin's writing on sonata form over at Kyle Gann's blog and plan to check out Caplin's work.  The Hepokoski/Darcy work is referenced as presenting a range of potential sonata forms, and THAT sounds fascinating.  Charles Rosen wrote decades ago that there wasn't a fixed sonata form but it seems Hepokoski and Darcy got around to building a general taxonomy of types of sonata forms that has probably been overdue for a generation.

Bampenyou's treatment suggests that as 21st century musicology and musical analysis can manage to shake off the 19th century oversimplifications about sonata and fugue, and we work to get a sense that sonata and fugue were not so much fixed forms as flexible thought processes, it may be possible for guitarists to do more scholarly work in exploring the ways guitarist composers approached sonata form.  I've already blogged years ago that you can't take the strict "textbook" sonata concept promulgated in 19th century and earlier 20th century lesson plans and make sense of what Diabelli did in his Op. 29 sonatas where, for instance, he never brings back his first theme material in the recapitulation of his first movement for the F major sonata. Rather than seeing this as a "failure" to write a "good" sonata form, it's nice to see scholarship has come around to being able to recognize that this would fit within the range of compositional choices available to composers. 

So we could maybe even gamble on saying that when Chopin didn't bring back primary theme material in his B flat minor piano sonata it was less a deviation from the range of "norms" than it was a less "probable" choice within the range of what was expected of a "good" sonata form in 19th century terms.  But that may suggest, to me at least, that Chopin had a firm enough of a grasp of what his options were that he didn't feel obliged to follow what were arguably 19th century misconceptions about what sonata form "ought" to do.

Perhaps one of the reasons that the 19th century theorists misunderstood the sonata form or "first movement" form is that by the 19th century a number of interpretive/performance decisions had been made that led to a kind of conceptual compression.  In earlier sonatas you'd play the exposition twice and that repetition was structural and not simply ornamental.  The development and recapitulation might get repeated, too, but many of these repeats were not observed in a lot of performances (and recordings).  These repeats could be skipped because, basically, there's a conceptual compression that can take place.  Once we have the idea that we know what a sonata is supposed to sound like we don't "need" to repeat the exposition to know we've heard an exposition.  We don't "need" to observe the repeats even if they are clearly written into the score. 

Eventually compositional practice in continuing to work with sonata form could emulate the performance practice but it's possible that by the 19th century the practical compression of the formal elements of sonata movements led to a point where the nature of what was going on in terms of 18th century practices led to a misreading by 19th century theorists.  That over time many composers chose primary and secondary themes with contrasting qualities could lead 19th century theorists to conceive of sonata form as a clash between themes and their characters rather than a discourse built on contrasts in tonality--any long-term study of the music of Haydn would reveal that thematic contrast is not really a requirement in his sonata forms.  He wasn't the only composer who played with monothematicism as a guiding process in sonata forms but he's easily the most famous. 

Leonard B. Meyer wrote in the last century that in the drive to explore music as innovation scholars overlooked the component of choice, of what choices are made and within what contexts.  Meyer stated that the Romantic era theorists imagined sonata form as a "plan" rather than a "script".  I'd write more about that but I'd need to go dig up actual quotable references before I feel like doing that.  So, instead ... we'll get to the other academic paper ...

Fernando Sor's Evolution as a Performer and Composer as Reflected in the Revisions of the Grande Sonate, Op. 22
Lars Rosvoll

And, yeah, that's exactly as treatise-y as the title suggests.  :)  I read both these treatises a while back and really enjoyed them.  I've got books to keep on my readerly radar about sonata form that I'll at some point get to. 

Now if comparable academic treatments of sonata forms as explored by Diabelli, Carulli, Matiegka or ... maybe even Molitor got written that'd be a nice step forward for academic study of the guitar literature.  You could easily write a treatment of Matiegka's appropriation of Haydn's works in his output.  I've been thinking about writing such a thing for a while, actually, because I might have more Haydn music than any composer except perhaps Bach ... no ... actually that's probably not true.  I have a LOT of Haydn in my listening stock. 

So, anyway, there's some cool stuff to read on Sor's guitar sonatas if you're into that kind of thing, which I obviously am.

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