Sunday, December 11, 2016

A survey of early 19th century guitar sonatas, starting at the end with this year's reading on sonata forms and a preliminary proposal about recapitulatory processes in sonata forms

Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late-Eighteenth Century Sonata
James Hepokoski & Warren Darcy
Copyright (c) 2006 by Oxford University Press

A Theory of Formal Functions for the Instrumental Music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven
William E. Caplin
Copyright (c) 1998 by Oxford University Press
ISBN 978-0-19-510480-6
ISBN 978-0-19-514399-7

Five years ago, when I was blogging about "an overview of structural concerns in the sonata forms of Sor, Giuliani, and Diabelli" I was unfamiliar with either of these books or their authors.  I only discovered these two books in the last year thanks to a couple of doctoral dissertations on the guitar sonatas of Sor (and Giuliani, in one of the cases) that can be read over here:

The two books are treasure troves of study for 18th century sonata forms and they have different strengths and weaknesses.  The strength of the Caplin book is that Caplin explored each level of formal development in a sonata form; whether it's the four to eight-measure sentence or period, or compound thematic modules at the lower level; or ranging up to the highest intra-movement and multi-movement cyclical patterns.  The weakness is that such a general survey of music can skip over interesting details such as variants of forms. 

Hepokoski and Darcy's book excels at defining variants of forms and they list no less than five types of sonata forms.  They also propose a very flexible and accommodating theory of sonata form that proposes two levels of formal thought, the level of expositional delineation of thematic relationships within a tonal hierarchy on the one hand and a formal concept of rotational presentation on the other.  The weakness is the book mires in minutiae about half the time and I'm not convinced, valuable the concept of "rotation" really is, that it should be adhered to very strictly.  The concept of rotation asserts that themes WILL appear in an exposition or a recapitulation or even a development in pretty much the same basic order.  Theme 1 will appear in the exposition and the recapitulation BEFORE Theme 2 rather than after, otherwise your coda isn't a shuffled placement for Theme 1 if you have Theme 1 following Theme 2, you have a Theme 1-based coda.  That seems pedantic.

In saying it's pedantic I'm NOT saying it's actually a bad idea.  In fact the concept of rotation is a fantastic idea for analyzing sonata forms that are not in anything like a traditional or conventional tonal idiom.  You need this concept of rotation if you're going to recognize that there's actually a sonata form in the first movement of Guitar Sonata No. 2 by Dusan Bogdanovic.  The concept of "rotation" allows for the possibilities that themes can get exposed, developed and recapitulated in their order of "rotation" whether or not we're ever in an identifiable key. 

The trouble is that in their commitment to the concept of "rotation" Hepokoski and Darcy commit to the assertion that if you have a recapitulation in which Group II (i.e. anything from the theme in the new key region to the end of the exposition, "Group II" is my ad hoc term for what they describe as S-C spaces) cannot count as genuine recapitulation.  I find the forcefulness of this assertion ridiculous for several reasons.  The first is that I don't think Charles Rosen was at all wrong to say that so long as you recapitulate into the tonic key whatever was in the dominant/non-tonic key from your exposition you fulfilled the requirements of a recapitulation in a sonata form.  That general axiom holds up. 

Secondly, and more importantly, Rosen's observation makes plenty of sense of what I was finding was actually the case in about half of the sonata forms written by guitarist composers I was studying.  Sor, in particular, seemed blissfully unconcerned with any concept of "rotation" in his sonata forms. While Hepokoski & Darcy's taxonomy of what they call a "Type 2" sonata is fantastic in principle, and it can make a lot of sense of sonatas by Molitor, Matiegka and Sor, it is most helpful as a very basic guiding principle.  Ironically, I'd say that in Hepokoski & Darcy's aversion to tackling more complex "Type 2" sonatas they may have fallen short of explaining how effective and relevant their scholarly term is.  I've been incubating a project for years, without having been familiar with their work, in which I've intended to demonstrate that incomplete recapitulations (ones that omit Theme 1 expository material) is practically co-equal to the most "textbook" approach to sonatas written for the guitar by guitarists. 

This gets me to a second part of my second issue with Hepokoski & Darcy's taxonomy of the "Type 2", it focuses on defending the viability of the concept at the expense of considering other formal processes that could either account for the possibility that we'll be going through a Type 2 or, speaking as a composer, attempt to explain WHY a Type 2 sonata might be chosen. 

I would propose that the "Type 2" sonata in which a Theme 1 is exposed but not recapitulated is fairly "normal" in early 19th century guitar sonatas and that you can't genuinely understand guitarist composers and their approach to sonata forms without having this idea of a "Type 2" sonata form firmly in mind.  The problem is that we need to bear in mind a claim I think I'll be able to prove, which is that a Type 2 is more likely to be chosen if two or more of the following characteristics hold for an exposition:

1) theme 1 is extremely short compared to themes 2 or 3 etc
2) theme 1 is subjected to a high level of intra-expositional development or repetition preceding the modulating transition
3) the exposition is repeated verbatim
4) ANY themes subsequent to the opening theme display a high level of gestural indebtedness to theme 1

Sor, in particular, provides us with sonata forms in which all four of these observations apply.  Three of these four can be applied to the first movement of Chopin's B flat minor piano sonata, for instance. 

What both the Caplin book and the Hepokosk & Darcy book argue for is building our understanding of 18th century music in terms of the actual literature, rather than being constrained by the conceptual or theoretical concerns of 19th century Germans in the thrall of Beethoven.  Considering how the pioneering guitarist composers tended to be Spanish, Italian or Bohemian this could be particularly wise counsel in analyzing the solo guitar sonatas of composers who did a lot of composing before German idealism and the Romantic era as we know it took shape and became a scholastic canon.

The following survey will go through the following composers in the following order:
Diabelli's Op. 29 guitar sonatas

There won't be any musical analysis involving scores since none of the Op. 29 sonatas have been made public domain in digital form. I've relied on Anthony Glise's edition for study purposes so if you're fortunate enough to have that, great.

Molitor, Op. 7

This work IS available at IMSLP and I've relied on a public domain fascimile of an early print edition that's public domain.

Matiegka Grand Sonatas I & II

These will feature somewhat detailed score analysis based on scores I've made from old Boije plates that were available via IMSLP and elsewhere up until a year or so ago.  I had intended to blog about these sonatas in particular back in 2011 but things happen.  Nevertheless, I've managed to create some detailed score analysis for these works and Matiegka's approach to sonata forms has not received much scholarly attention in the English language.  I hope to rectify that as this series of posts moves forward.

Giuliani, Op. 61 and Op. 150

I'm skipping Op. 15 because there's plenty of writing done about that sonata and because my primary aim with respect to Giuliani is to highlight how in the later opus numbers we can see that Giuliani used truncated recapitulation as an approach to a large-scale sonata form.  I intend to demonstrate that in the case of Op. 150 the brevity of the first theme and the extensive repetition of subsequent thematic cells helps to explain why Giuliani deployed a truncated recapitulation in what may be his largest-scale solo sonata form.


I'm skipping Op. 14 and 15 because there's already a monograph about those by Christopher P Calvet.  Instead I'm focusing on the following:
Op. 22, movements 1 and 2
Op. 24, movements 1 and 2
Op. 29, etudes 5 and 10 in C major and E flat major respectively
Op. 30, Allegretto

I am convinced after years of studying Sor's work that the Op. 29 sonata forms in the etude set have not been identified as the sonatas they really are.  The C major etude is easily shown to be a sonata form based on the concept of recapitulation articulated by Charles Rosen.  The advent of Hepokoski & Darcy's Type 2 sonata makes it seem necessary to argue that Sor's Op. 29, 5 etude would be an ideal "textbook" case study demonstrating that Type 2 was a "normal" option for composers and how it worked in a small, easily learned example.  The E flat major etude is also a sonata, and of a more traditional "textbook" kind.

Finally, I considered adding Carulli's work to this survey but opted against doing so because his approach to sonata exposition and recapitulation is sufficiently "textbook" to permit passing over his work for this survey.  I also honestly don't like his development sections.  I had intended to study more Molitor and particularly more Matiegka but as critical editions of these composers' works may be in the making it seemed better to err on the side of catalyzing a potential future scholarly discussion relying on works that I know have been safely in the public domain and/or relying on arrangements of works that I've done myself based on public domain material.

I even considered expanding this survey to include 20th century guitar sonatas but that would have been a truly time-consuming project.  This has been a lot of work done in my spare time as it is.

A few final thoughts seem in order about sonata forms as a whole.  Over the last century there have been any number of claims made about the sonata, about the guitar, and about the relationship of the form with the instrument.  There can be an accepted axiom that the sonata form has been obsolete over the last century.  The sonata derives so inherently from tonal processes that the break-down of tonal procedures in the 20th century rendered the idea of the sonata obsolete if not suspect.  Another axiom I have seen from time to time is the proposal that the sonata form became obsolete before the guitar had fully developed as a vehicle for art music and that, in any case, the instrument's significant limitations render the possibilities of exploring sonata form as a composing idiom for the instrument utterly moot.

I regard both these axioms as completely wrong.  It's not as though the novel that emerged in the late 18th century became obsolete.  Earlier this year I had the pleasure of watching Whit Stillman's adaptation of Jane Austen's Lady Susan. If novels written two centuries ago can still be adapted into film why would we be so sure that sonata form is obsolete because entrenched academic cultures in the contemporary West are full of professors who would rather say that sonata form is a historic and obsolete form than to suggest that it should be theoretically possible to compose a sonata or a fugue drawing from the musical idioms of popular or vernacular styles such as Delta blues or ragtime rather than Austrian or Czech folk songs.  But to be able to say this is a possibility it would be necessary to more deeply understand the syntax and conceptual boundaries of sonata as a thought process rather than a modular paint-by-numbers "form"; it would require us to embrace a view of sonata as a thought process comparably flexible in possibility to the fugue, another musical idiom that has been ill-served by academic attempts at preserving in amber a 19th century ideal over against 18th century practice.

The value, in particular, of Hepokoski & Darcy's work has been to emphasize the diversity of sonata FORMS, that the five types are general guidelines for expositional and recapitulatory possibilities. Guitarists can draw two potential inferences from the work that has been done to correct or expand our understanding of sonata forms with respect to the guitar.  We can better present the beauty of our instrument's literature if we shed any inferiority complex about how Sor or Giuliani or Matiegka wrote cut-rate sonata forms because they made use of incomplete or truncated recapitulations.

First, when scholarly work in the last twenty years started to demonstrate that this kind of incomplete recapitulation was more normal than textbooks for undergraduates had let on it opened up the possibility of granting that it was not that guitarists weren't "good enough" to "master" the "real" sonata form; it was that the guitarist composers of the early 19th century tended to resort, for reasons any practical practicing guitarist can understand, to what we could call "shortcuts" within sonata forms that, if not as ideal by the ideals of 19th century German idealists, were well within the norms available to the pretty not-German guitarist composers at the dawn of the 19th century who did not regard these options as obsolete.

Second, even within the relatively small number of (at most) moderately well-known solo guitar sonatas from the early 19th century masters of the instrument, we'll observe sonata forms in F major and E flat major.  That Sor and Diabelli wrote sonata forms in such remote and demanding key signatures should disabuse guitarists the world over of the idea that somehow the guitar isn't "suited" to sonata forms.  It clearly was, is, and can be for as long as musicians want to try writing sonatas.


Basically the format for this week is I plan to have a blog post for each sonata movement I intend to discuss and the chapters will be doled out according to the day of the week.  So tomorrow we'll be looking at Diabelli; on Tuesday will be looking at Molitor; on Wednesday we'll look at Matiegka (personal favorite); on Thursday we'll look at Giuliani; and then for Friday night we'll kick off the weekend with Sor.

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