Monday, December 12, 2016

Diabelli Op. 29, No. 2 in A major: the one in the three solo guitar sonatas that actually has a "textbook" sonata form

Diabelli Op. 29, No. 2 in A major

Diego Milanese does some fine work on Matiegka's Op. 23 guitar sonata, by the way, but we're discussing Diabelli here so that's just a passing comment for folks interested in listening to more early 19th century guitar sonatas.

Diabelli's opens this bright and glittery sonata with a descending major scale that's reminded me of a similar descending scale-line in a B flat major piano sonata by Haydn.  We get the tonic scale-run, and then we get the dominant scale-run.  This is another case where the theme is, to my ears, two-thirds of the way to being ragtime material.  There are some fun, almost Giuliani-worthy tunes in this sonata movement.  Theme 1 and the transition are moderately easy to hear for what they are.

Theme 2 shows up at 0:53 in the performance linked to above, and it's at measure 28 in the score marked "dolce".  Diabelli's Theme 2 begins in C major, the flattened mediant key of A major.  Diabelli's harmonic sleights of hand from C major to E minor are what jump out in this new section.  He starts each phrase of Theme 2 in C major but twists his melodic and harmonic movement into a phrase ending first on E minor in the first phrase and then on E major in the second phrase.  It's at the end of this second phrase that, so to speak, the joke is over and Diabelli firmly plants us in E major and runs in that key to the end of the exposition.  There's a lot of fun riffs and thematic ideas in the Op. 29, No. 2 as a whole and they could sound really fun if recomposed in a ragtime style.  Someone may have even done that [] but we've already got stories about another composer proposing that you could do interesting things with Diabelli's not necessarily inspired ideas, don't we?

Some of Diabelli's ideas really were inspired, I think, he just may have been too mercenary or lazy to give them the attention they deserved or develop them in a way that went beyond the routine.  But I digress.  I'm actually more fond of Diabelli's guitar sonatas on several points than I am of Sor's.

For instance, Diabelli wrote development sections where things actually develop. This is a point that may seem pedestrian but not all guitarist composers from the early 19th century put much effort into their development sections.  Sor was notably terse in his development sections but his development sections don't infuriate me and the development sections in Carulli's Op. 21 sonatas drive me up the wall.  Carulli's expositions and recapitulations in the Op. 21 sonatas are memorable and even charming but his development sections are placeholders, often of such a mechanical and pedestrian sort as to make Diabelli sound seriously committed to developing his ideas in the Op. 29 sonatas even if he avails himself of shortcuts in his expositions.

The development starts about 3:40 and it starts off with a kind of minor-key vocal warm-up riff that becomes the basis of the development as a whole. It's a kind of intervallic mutation of the opening gesture from Theme 1. When I say Diabelli develops his ideas this doesn't always mean he develops them in the most inspired possible ways.  The scale-work here is often pedestrian and he livens up the development by introducing stretto as the development stands on the dominant pedal moving toward the recapitulation.  But Diabelli nevertheless starts with ideas in his exposition and subjects them to development.  He doesn't develop his ideas in intra-expositional expansion the way Sor does, nor does he weave ideas across his longer forms with systemic development the way Matiegka does, but Diabelli does, at least, develop his ideas.  He reaches a perhaps uncharacteristic pinnacle of his compositional craft in the Op. 29 No. 3 sonata and we'll get to that.  For this A major sonata the development is a development but a somewhat pedestrian one.   There's no development of the most compelling and memorable idea in the entire exposition, the surreal mediant-shifting phrases that opened up Theme 2.

Diabelli gets us to his recapitulation at 5:00 and it's a proper recapitulation.  Everything comes back in the appropriate key, the tonic key.  This is a substantially stronger opening sonata form than what Diabelli gave us in the C major sonata.  We even get a minor mode mutation in the non-modulating transition.  Theme 2 comes back beginning on an F major chord that leads to A minor in phrase 1 and leads into A major at the end of Phrase 2, giving us a clean and glittering coda that rounds of the sonata movement.  The exposition and recapitulation here are memorable and charming, marred by a pedestrian development section.  Then again, of the guitarist composers from the early 19th century Giuliani and Matiegka seem to have been the  two guitarists committed to making development sections that were more than just "wait until the recapitulation" prep moments.    Diabelli's best sonata in his Op. 29 set is easily the third, in F major, and we'll turn to that one presently.

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