21 January 2011

Bell & Haywood: Balletics of Romantic Sonatas

Joshua Bell

Codified by 1840, the [sonata] form was now no longer a free development of stylistic principles, but an attempt to reach greatness by imitation of classical models. The results, at their best, aspire toward a classical ideal that had become unpopular by the mid-nineteenth century.”
  — Charles Rosen, p. 394.
S onata norms remained in place as ‘regulative’ ideas throughout the 19th Century, even as the who sonata genre, with its various options, was continuously updated, altered, and further personalized with unforeseen accretions, startling innovations, and radical deformations... The ‘de-energizing transition’ and suppression of the medial caesura in, say, Schubert or Brahms, surely emerged from the precedents of the ‘blocked medial caesura’ coupled with ‘expanded caesura-fill’ in Haydn and Mozart.”
  —  James Hepokoski & Warren Darcy.
S aturday’s performance in the Harriman-Jewell Series will be given by Joshua Bell (Violin) and Sam Haywood (Piano).
  • Brahms: Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in A major, Op. 100
  • Schubert: Fantasy for Violin and Piano in C major, D 934, Op. 159
  • Grieg: Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in G major, Op. 13
T hese works are ones of tremendous lyricism, and showcase the narrativity of song and dance for creative structure. In fact, the pieces are unusual as sonatas go—unusual for the egalitarian ways that the violin part and the piano part interact with each other. It is not a one-sided virtuoso violinistic ego trip. For example, in the second movement of Grieg’s violin sonata Op.13 we have the secondary theme introduced by the piano without the violin! There is an innovative parity between the parts’ roles that's unusual—dance-like, ballade-like, Nordic.

Grieg Op. 13, Mvt. 2, mm. 46-49 T here is a manneristic thread that runs through the Op. 13 sonata, maybe deriving from Grieg’s Norwegian nationalism?

B ut in each of these three pieces we have structures of contrast, varied repetition, and symmetry-making and symmetry-breaking—specific patterns can be found in the arrangement of the lines. Between the piano and the violin we have “melodico-textural” networks of iterated phrases that embody the unfolding of stories.

F or Grieg ... the variation form may have been tied to the idea of strophic repetitions in a folk song. But in Grieg’s Ballade the variations make such a dramatic progression that one wonders whether to understand the work as a new venture ... in suggesting both the form of the song and the progression of the story.”
  —  James Parakilas, p. 159.
T rends in sonata procedure in the Romantic period are either (1) elaboration of sonata form beyond the 17th Century norms, or (2) exploration of tonal designs, both within sections and across entire movements. As noted by Carissa Reddick (link below), both of these Romantic trends result in “fusion” of forms, which occurs when a single section of music simultaneously fulfills more than one formal function. The breach of norms gives those sections innovative functions and powers, and often thwarts listeners’ expectations. The innovative tonal designs transgress the boundaries between the sonata’s formal divisions or thematic rotations (exposition, development, recapitulation, and coda), creating rotational overlaps.

I n Grieg’s Sonata, Op. 13, there are fusions of Transition and Re-transition within the Primary theme, fusion of Recapitulation and Development functions within the Transition [i, mm. 256-271; iii, mm. 86-98], fusion of the Development within the Secondary theme [i, mm. 169-183] and a variety of other novel maneuvers. In addition there are what Reddick terms ‘Multiply-Rotational Development Divisions’ and ‘Half-Rotational and Non-Rotational Development Divisions’ [iii, mm. 105-124; iii, mm. 273-305].

S o, composers active in the Romantic era took sonata form as a point of departure only, co-opted it as a vehicle for Romantic politics, and plied it with Romantic harmonies. The result is a progressive ‘dialogic form,’ in which a sonata was no longer the conservative, status-quo-reinforcing thing it used to be but instead became a ‘process’ in an open-ended dialogue [Hepokoski & Darcy, p. 10], among performers who may, as in this case, regard each other as equals.

Sam Haywood
R eddick’s taxonomy of rotations (half-rotations, double-rotations, triple-half-rotations, episodic reversals and flips) evokes something of the imagery of balletic movements (échappé sauté or jeté entrelacé) or diving figures (612B / armstand forward somersault pike).

P erfect, it seems to me, for the physicality of Bell and Haywood, whose refined kinesthetic sense can reach artistic heights visually as well as musically. Looking forward to Saturday night’s performance.

Pas de deuxHepokoski & Darcy book



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