Friday, December 16, 2016

Sor's Grand Sonata Op. 25, 2--the big sonata that the last sonata was but a prelude for, also featuring a truncated recapitulation

Sor Op. 25, second movement

This is a large sonata but with an incomplete recapitulation.  The exposition may be construed as follows:
key signature
thematic group by motivic foundation
A B A' 

and given that we have a repeating exposition it's interesting to see what the large scale formal effect is with an observed repeat

A B A'     A B A'    C B A'
exposition repeated  development and recapitulation

This could be construed as a kind of abstracted hybridization of sonata and rondo forms (nine-part rondo) seeing as how the closing thematic group is in many respects a reprise of the thematic core of the opening theme.  It's kind of like an off-kilter nine-part rondo for which the C minor opening sonata form was a big prelude or anacrusis (obviously, since the attaca half cadence is intended to lead into this second sonata form). 

If the letter designations seem odd at the start of this discussion I'll take some time to explain why I regard the first and third thematic groups as different iterations of the same idea.  To best do that we'll get to the details.  Of course to get into the details we need to get to the score.  As usual ... you may want to collapse the menu options to the side to better look at the musical stuff after the break.

The exposition begins with a melody built from a rising fourth, from the fifth to the first scale degree that dances a little in 6/8 before rising to the fifth degree. The initial statement rises through G-C-G and the continuation phrase through G-D-G to set up a half cadence.  This upward leaping melody is answered by a lilting, descending diatonic line that leads to another half cadence which, in turn, leads us to a new statement of the first phrase.  The first phrase comes back and leads, as expected, to a new Phrase 2 but this time Sor chromatically embellishes the descent and gives us an authentic cadence.  No sooner has this authentic cadence been reached, we're launched from that point into a return to the chromatic descending phrase and another statement of the authentic cadential phrase that rounds of Theme 1.  Theme 1 may be explained as follows

Phrase 1, Phrase 2, Phrase 1, Phrase 2a, Phrase 2a'

We're looking at a lot of intra-thematic repetition just in this first theme. 

If we take the first two measures to be the core idea of Theme 1 it's stated (with modifications) no less than four times before Theme 1 resolves.  The descending line (with its modifications) is stated three times by that same end-point.  Remember that when Sor gets to the end of his exposition he instructs the guitarist to start from the beginning and play it all over again.  So take all those repetitions and multiply them by two.  So already we should be open to asking whether or not we want to bring ALL of this material back in a recapitulation for a large-scale form like a sonata.

The transition features significantly increased rhythmic activity as is fairly typical of modulating transitions in sonata forms composed by guitarists in the early 19th century.  Sor's transition works quickly to get what will be a half-cadence that moves from D (the dominant of the new key, G major) to the new tonic.  The music is ready to do this by the top of page 2 but Sor introduces an evaded cadence in the form of a deceptive resolution into a G diminished seventh chord passage and a phrase in G minor.  We're not at G major yet; we've been temporarily sidelined by a modal mutation into the parallel minor of the target key.  Sor gives us another, bolder half-cadence preparation for the arrival of the new theme in the key of G major and, finally, we get there in the fourth system of page 2.

Theme 2 arrives with pulsing thirds above a jaunty tune defined by a rising fourth.  Like Theme 1 we get a melody that oscillates between fifth and root in an ascending pattern and in which the melody rises to the supertonic.  The accompaniment clearly delineates this new theme from its predecessor but there's a core to Theme 2 (aka Group II, Theme 1) that shows us it's still built from the same rising fourth foundation of Theme 1.  When Sor repeats the first phrase of this new theme he has a treble strings "response" to the "call" of the melody in the bass strings. 

This Theme 2 isn't done, however, and has a second part, Phrase 2 and two variants.  Phrase 2b (indicated in orange at the bottom of page 2) keeps reminding me of the lyric triple meter dance that is the second movement from Beethoven's C sharp minor string quartet.  It's not the same gesture, of course, but it has a similar charm and lyricism to it (and Ricardo Gallen brings that out in his fine performance of Op. 25 available through Eudora Records, hint hint).

Theme 2 resolves half-way through the second system at the top of page 3.  This is immediately followed, without any kind of transition, by Group II, Theme 2 aka Theme 3.  This theme is a very clear reworking of the Theme 1 material from Group I at the start of the exposition.  Here the melodic alternation is between the dominant scale degree and the supertonic scale degree as arrival points but the phrasing is basically similar to what we heard in Theme 1 back on page 1.  Like Theme 1, Theme 3 repeats this idea a few times. There's even an interruption/extension phrase here (labeled in red around the middle of page 3) that prepares a half-cadence that drives us into a new idea.  Phrase 2, the new idea in Theme 3, is a rising set line harmonized in thirds that is typical of Sor's coda themes in his sonata forms.  We'll see similar rising thirds in inner-voice textures in his Op. 29 C major etude (also a sonata form) and in the Op. 30 Allegretto.  Sor wrote under a dozen sonata forms but his closing gestures tend to be identifiable in the Op. 25-30 sonata forms by these kinds of rising-thirds riffs.

But ... just when he seems to have arrived at a firm authentic cadence at the top of page 4 he does what he's been doing throughout this exposition, feinting at a resolution to his theme or transforming the end of a phrase into the beginning of a new one that repeats the cadential turns he's just lead us through.  So the closing theme or coda can be thought of as an augmentation of the half-cadence extension processes he's been deploying earlier in this exposition. 

It's as if Sor's grim opening sonata movement was so grim he wanted to have a lively hybrid of rondo and sonata form but he's using the same simple ideas in all of the these.  He's also playing games in which he sets up cadential resolutions that he evades or repeats and even within this exposition there's a ton of intra-expositional repetition.  Once he has you hear all of this again from the top there's going to be a danger that all of these ideas will outstay heir welcome.  It's as though there's a kind of narrative tension between the insistent frivolity of the melodic and thematic material and the gargantuan scale of the sonata form he's working in.  This kind of tension or disparity between means and ends could signal that Sor was influenced by the work of Haydn (which he was) and it may help interpretation of this work to bear in mind that in spite of the Grand Sonata title there's possibly more jocularity in this piece than the "grand" in the title might usually suggest. 

So, we have ourselves a four-pager exposition that is to be repeated note-for-note if you're following Sor's instructions.  Not everyone does.  If you DO follow the instructions then the giant nine-part rondo implication in the thematic procession becomes much easier to bring out.  It also becomes far, far easier to literally hear how and why Sor regarded this as a sonata movement.  Not all sonata forms had repeating expositions but when they're there it might be a good idea to observe them. 

But we've seen how the exposition gives us an A B A' set of thematic relationships.  Given how observably A and A' can be shown to derive from the same core idea, would it be a good idea to repeat everything in the recapitulation?  Sor obviously did not think it would be a good idea.  In fact even if a guitarist skipped the repeat of the exposition the question of whether or not it would be a good idea to keep vamping away on the Theme 1 material is a pertinent question. Some scholars might suggest that a sonata form is not defined by just a set of key relationships like tonic and dominant but that the order of the themes is important.  There may be something to this but I would say that we can't let that idea, charming as it is, distract us from other paradigms such as procedural development.  If sonata themes can be thought of as like the subjects and countersubjects of fugues we have another possibility available to us, that what a composer develops or neglects across a form can depend on an interest in balancing and expansion. 

With that proposal in mind we can see that in the Development section Sor draws from ideas that can be derived from Theme 3 and from Theme 2.  Actually, we "could" propose that the development starts with a super-augmented inversion of the descending diatonic phrase 2 from Theme 1 that's been subjected to modal mutation.  Sor's development starts in C minor.  For a giant sonata form starting in the parallel minor tonic key wouldn't seem like the usual thing to do.  Yet ...

that's what Sor did.  If Sor were "only" aiming to compose a "textbook" sonata form starting the development in the tonic key seems odd.  But as we've discussed with help from Leonard B. Meyer, James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy, we need to be cautious about interpreting what may be the "script" of the composer's work with our "plan" for analysis.  Flexibility is important. 

If, as I've proposed, Sor was looking to create a giant hybrid of nine-part rondo and sonata then perhaps having the development start in the tonic key would make sense of the hybrid nature of the form that has resulted from his developmental processes for his gestures.  We would not normally expect a development in a sonata form whose goal is, in theory, to move TOWARD the tonic key to just dump us into the tonic zone at the start of the development.  But that's what Sor does.

At another level, noted in the analysis page of the score, the start of the development can be read as an augmentation of the rising scale-work in the extension phrase from Theme 3.  Either way, Sor uses his extension phrases from the exposition to build toward a half cadence that drives us toward the recapitulation.

When the recapitulation comes we get Theme 2, aka Group II, Theme 1. 

It's followed by Theme 3, aka Group II, Theme 2 and the closing themes.  

Theme 1 and its associated ideas never come back.  But as we've observed throughout this sonata, those core ideas were brought back so obviously in the Theme 3 material and then repeated.  So what's the benefit of bringing back Theme 1 if Theme 3 is a conspicuous re-composition of the same idea?  There's no benefit and it compels a guitarist to play something that could take a dozen minutes to play depending on which guitarist is playing the work.  It's not hard to find guitarists who skip the repeat in the second movement of Op. 25.  Did Sor come up with this type of sonata with an awareness of the possibility (or even the likelihood) that guitarists would choose to skip the repeats and just play straight through the second movement?  Obviously we can't know this with certainty but the high level of intra-expositional repetition does provide a kind of "insurance" from which even a skipped repetition indicated in the score won't wreck the thematic relationships in the sonata form. 

Any number of writers familiar with the conventions of sonata form from the 18th century could note how short Sor's development sections are.  This is one of the most distinctive things about his approach to this often large-scale form.  I think that the case for why these development sections tend to be so short is found in the high level of intra-expositional repetition and expansion Sor gave his core thematic ideas in the Grand Sonatas.  A tendency to "skimp" on development is one of Sor's most observable approaches to sonata form.  If we compared Sor's development sections to Matiegka's we'd find that Matiegka's development sections are more extensive and expansive.  But by comparison, Matiegka's expositions and recapitulations are brisk and his recapitulations are more apt to be VERY loose-limbed. 

Sor's approach to sonata form has some clearly observable patterns but one of the obstacles to studying his approach to sonata form has been a lack of scholarly consensus as to how many of his movements are even sonata forms to begin with.  Ironically we can also say this in reverse, because some musical works composed by Sor are obviously in sonata form but were not recognized as sonata forms because they were hidden away in Sor's Op. 29 etudes scholars have not always come to a common understanding about Sor's approach to sonata forms because they've restricted themselves to the movements that have already been formally designated as sonatas or that have been identified by previous scholarship as having a sonata form in them.  That's as it should be, but I would propose guitar scholarship is badly overdue to recognize that there are two sonata forms in Sor's Op. 29 etudes and that one of them is in E flat major--Sor writing a sonata form in E flat major should disabuse guitarists the world over of the idea that the sonata form is somehow inimical to the physical constraints of the six-string guitar.  But that case needs to be made in another essay.

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