Thursday, December 15, 2016

Mauro Giuliani, Op. 150 Gran Sonata Eroica--another incomplete recapitulation in one of the more epic-scale sonata forms

It would be tough to find a sonata form for solo guitar bigger and grander than Giuliani's Op. 150.  They do exist but not everyone would necessarily find them as grand or charming as Giuliani's Gran Sonata Eroica.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vh9RI0aLidQ

You can give it a listen first if you don't already know this piece and/or you can read the analysis after the break.



and, as usual, you might want to collapse a whole bunch of menu stuff on the side to facilitate score-reading.



The exposition opens with the first group (i.e. Theme 1 and transition) in A major.  Theme 1 is a fourteen measure module with an eight-measure and a six-measure phrase structure.  The eight-measure opening is cast in two four-measure phrases, the first ending on a half cadence, the second ending on what would be a secondary dominant (V7 of V) but that omits the third of the chord. The full realization of this secondary dominant is withheld until the third phrase, where the B dominant seven shifts by way of a G sharp diminished chord into a first inversion tonic.  It's at this point that the half cadence that resolves the theme is finally prepared and delivered at measure 14. The brevity of this opening theme in relationship to both the exposition and the sonata as a whole is going to be something to keep in mind when we get to the recapitulation section.

It's at this point that a loose-limbed modulating transition begins (marked out in green on page 1).  Group II (i.e. the second part of the exposition in the key of E major) starts at the bottom of page 2 and is delineated by orange text.



Group 2, Theme 1 (aka Theme 2) is, despite the restless pedal tone activity throughout, a paradoxically relaxed theme.  In fact the resemblance of this theme to the laconic oscillating theme in the second strain of Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" is hard to shake.  This is a theme in a guitar sonata from the first part of the 19th century that, nonetheless, has the feel of a ragtime strain.  We've got the chromatic embellishments of a melody that broadly outlines triadic patterns on a tonic and dominant alternation pattern and that gets repeated within the theme.  Group 2, Theme 1 takes up page 3 and page 4 can be taken as a transition from Theme 2 to what we can call Group 2, Theme 2 or Theme 3 (page 5).  If you want to hear just how readily Giuliani's Theme 2 can be transformed into a ragtime strain ... go here and listen starting at 2:30ish.  To hear a performance of how Giuliani's Theme 2 sounds as originally written, listen to this performance at about 1:48ish.  It doesn't take that much modification to get from Giuliani to a Joplin rag. 

Group 2, Theme 2 opens in E major with a simple five-note motto--G# F# A G# F# (3:03) at the top of page 5. The four measure phrase winds its way through to a half cadence and the next phrase features an embellished from of that aforementioned motto, whose continuity with the initial form can be established by Giuliani's retention of the quarter-note descending line in the lower voice. This theme, in terms of recognizable gestures, is pretty short and it quickly leads to passage work that evokes the rustling scales of the transition from Theme 2 to Theme 3 (aka Group 2 themes 1 and 2).  Formulaic cadential patterns and scale work in this era of music tends to signal driving things to a structural closure point.




At the risk of putting things too briefly, the thing we can observe about the themes as they appear in the exposition is that they are all essentially binary forms. Theme 1 can be construed as a a' b. Theme 2 can be read as ab a'b'.  Theme 3 can be read as a parallel period that is eight measures long.  All of these themes, in terms of the substance of their material, are actually pretty short--and as I've noted earlier there's an interesting similarity between the substance of these themes and the kinds of melodic and harmonic language typical of ragtime a century later in American popular music.  What's different, obviously, is there's no ragged rhythms in Giuliani, not even in Theme 2 where the melodic and harmonic turns could otherwise be superimposed on the second strain of Scott Joplin's The Entertainer.

Let's look (just look) at the development pages



Now since I'm trying to keep things relatively short here I'm not going to discuss much about the development.  It will merely suffice to point out that the development draws upon modifications of Theme 1  and the modulating transition.  That so much material in the development is drawn from what I call Group I is germane to the recapitulation because ...




The recapitulation never brings back Theme 1 or the transitional material.  Instead Giuliani drops us directly into Group 2 material, starting with Group 2, Theme 1 aka Theme 2.  It is here in the recapitulation we can most readily hear and see the strong resemblance between Giuliani's theme and musical elements we'll hear a century later in ragtime.  There's that languid chromatically embellished outlining of the triad across tonic before we hear the same idea brought back in the next phrase an octave higher as though this were the octave shifting inthe second strain of The Entertainer.  In fact if it weren't for that interrupting extension of the half cadence at the end of the first phrase we'd be looking at a sixteen measure theme that would really be thoroughly at home in a ragtime. 

So without belaboring the details we get ourselves a transition into Group 2, Theme 2 aka Theme 3.  This theme is modified slightly but retains its basic shape and leads into the closing material we'd heard in the exposition.  There's also a coda thrown in at the end and it's appearance is indicated by the purple word "Coda".

The thing we want to discuss a bit here at this point is that Giuliani only brought back the materials of Group 2.  Theme 1 never comes back and there are a few observations to be made as to why I think that was done.  First, let's not forget that Theme 1 is a mere fourteen measures long and involves a lot of cadential evasion on a really simple idea.  Second, there's a full repeat of this exposition before Giuliani goes on to his development section AND thirdly the bulk of the development observably draws upon ideas from Theme 1 and the modulating transition.  In other words, taking all these things together it's not a surprise Giuliani concluded he had developed his Group 1 material so extensively within the exposition or within the development there was simply no need to bore audiences with yet another restatement of material they would have heard two or three times already.

What is more, it's possible to assert (or, at any rate, I assert this) that Group 2, Theme 1 is the best set of ideas in the sonata and the attentional core of the work as a whole.  Giuliani shrewdly builds up to a climax that features the best hooks and the best theme in the exposition.  Considering how extensive his closing formula passages are for his Group 2 themes that's still another reason to not bother bringing back Theme 1 material. 

We know Giuliani composed more traditionally "textbook" sonata forms in Op. 15 and Op. 16, to say nothing of his chamber music, so it's interesting that for his largest sonata form for solo guitar he chose to create a giant movement that features what we'd call an incomplete recapitulation.  Depending on which scholars you read (specifically Hepokoski & Darcy) you might get told that you can't have a recapitulation without a return of the First Theme.  Not everyone agrees on that.  Charles Rosen declared that so long as everything from the exposition that was originally presented in the dominant key gets brought back in the tonic key than the requirements of a recapitulation in a sonata form have been fulfilled.  This seems to make the most sense of what Giuliani did and while it's possible to argue that a sonata form NEEDS to have the themes presented in an exposition brought back in the recapitulation in the same way this simply doesn't seem to be necessary. 

Furthemore, as Chopin's second piano sonata also demonstrates, when a high level of intra-expositional expansion of a simle initial idea in an exposition that is repeated, it's not unreasonable to expect pianists as well as guitarists to opt to not bludgeon a listener with material they will have heard transformed radically within the first part of the form.  Who's really going to argue that Chopin's second piano sonata would open with a "better" sonata form had Chopin really brought back Theme 1 according to the strictest conception of a "textbook" sonata form? One of the pitfalls of scholarly analysis of sonata form that seems to persist in the literature is forgetting that we're never "just" looking at the modules of a large-scale form in a sonata movement, we're also looking at patterns of thematic expansion and transformation. 

As I've been studying the sonata forms of the early 19th century guitarist composers I've been having the impression that while they all evince care for recognizable structural units they don't stop considering linear/developmental processes either.  Whether it's Diabelli or Giuliani we can see that in their works they keep in mind something that a guitarist composer like Jimmy Page habitually ignored, the point at which a sober-minded auditor doesn't want to keep hearing the same riffs over and over again.  :) Even Matiegka, whose Grand Sonata II, 1 arguably consists of a sonata with themes entirely derivable from his Theme 2, constantly varied the nature of the material throughout the opening sonata form.

What Giuliani may have done here was start a grand heroic sonata and as he worked with his material concluded that his second and third themes were far more grand than his first one and composed a recapitulation in light of that.  Alternatively, Theme 1 may have been an introductory theme added later in the compositional process to make an already grand sonata still more grand.  That's something doctoral candidates with access to a mountain of manuscript evidence could (and ideally already have) take a shot at.

Because Sor wrote so many sonata forms we'll skip the Opp 14 and 15.  We'll take on the Grand Sonatas, the Op. 29 etudes, and the Op. 30 Allegretto between Friday and Saturday if things stay on schedule.  It might be best to tackle the Op. 22 and Op. 25 sonatas tomorrow and save the Op. 29-30 sonata forms for Saturday. 

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