Classical Form: A Theory of Formal Functions for the Instrumental Music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven
Building on ideas first advanced by Arnold Schoenberg and later developed by Erwin Ratz, this book introduces a new theory of form for instrumental music in the classical style. The theory provides a broad set of principles and a comprehensive methodology for the analysis of classical form, from individual ideas, phrases, and themes to the large-scale organization of complete movements. It emphasizes the notion of formal function, that is, the specific role a given formal unit plays in the structural organization of a classical work.
Focusing on the music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, this book identifies numerous formal functions at multiple levels within a musical composition. All of these formal functions are thoroughly investigated and refined in order to determine their essential characteristics and how they interact with each other to create a variety of formal designs. Along the way, a host of concepts associated with harmony, tonality, and cadence are introduced and examined.
Classical Form features over 200 annotated musical examples drawn from a range of instrumental genres. These examples illustrate the theoretical principles presented in the book and serve as models for further analysis. Written for theorists, musicologists, and composers, the book is also useful for courses on formal and analysis and on the history of musical style.
“This ambitious book offers nothing less than a new theory of form for the music of the Classical period….In its combination of scholarship, musicality and sheer common sense, Caplin’s Classical Form is a major achievement by any standards….it should be read by anybody who teaches, studies or writes about this music.”—Music and Letters
“It is no exaggeration to say that [Classical Form] is one of the most important books on musical form to appear in the twentieth century….His book is an important and impressive statement that no theorist or musicologist can afford to ignore.”—Music Theory Spectrum
“…a compilation of intriguing examples illustrating classical design and function, an up-to-date bibliographical guide, and a source of fresh insight into the accomplishments of the classical masters. Caplin’s approach, buttressed by methodological rigor and theoretical detail, makes a persuasive case for the revival of Formenlehre as a pedagogical tool and analytical discipline.”—Music Theory Online
Classical Form is an approachable text on form in classical music for musicians who have a basic understanding of functional harmony. Caplin provides a review of chord functions and then dives into musical form, beginning at the level of a phrase.
He provides insight into how some parts of musical phrases could only ever sound like a beginning or an end, which is how he organizes phrase parts into functional categories. Some are meant to spin off and feel more lyrical, while some are meant to be more repetitive and grounding.
The content is well-organized for both self-learning and reference, and Caplin’s style of writing is approachable.
I give Classical Form 5 out of 5 stars for its content, organization, and style.