Elements of Sonata Theory
Elements of Sonata Theory: Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late-Eighteenth-Century Sonata
Elements of Sonata Theory is a comprehensive, richly detailed rethinking of the basic principles of sonata form in the decades around 1800. This foundational study draws upon the joint strengths of current music history and music theory to outline a new, up-to-date paradigm for understanding the compositional choices found in the instrumental works of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and their contemporaries: sonatas, chamber music, symphonies, overtures, and concertos. In so doing, it also lays out the indispensable groundwork for anyone wishing to confront the later adaptations and deformations of these basic structures in the nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries.
Combining insightful music analysis, contemporary genre theory, and provocative hermeneutic turns, the book brims over with original ideas, bold and fresh ways of awakening the potential meanings within a familiar musical repertory. Sonata Theory grasps individual compositions-and each of the individual moments within them-as creative dialogues with an implicit conceptual background of flexible, ever-changing historical norms and patterns. These norms may be recreated as constellations “compositional defaults,” any of which, however, may be stretched, strained, or overridden altogether for individualized structural or expressive purposes. This book maps out the terrain of that conceptual background, against which what actually happens-or does not happen-in any given piece may be assessed and measured.
The Elements guides the reader through the standard (and less-than-standard) formatting possibilities within each compositional space in sonata form, while also emphasizing the fundamental role played by processes of large-scale circularity, or “rotation,” in the crucially important ordering of musical modules over an entire movement. The book also illuminates new ways of understanding codas and introductions, of confronting the generating processes of minor-mode sonatas, and of grasping the arcs of multimovement cycles as wholes. Its final chapters provide individual studies of alternative sonata types, including “binary” sonata structures, sonata-rondos, and the “first-movement form” of Mozart’s concertos.
Elements of Sonata Theory is a good reminder that there’s more than one way to look at a topic in music (theory). Although this book can be dense and not as approachable to beginners, it contains a wealth of knowledge about common patterns in sonatas as well as the effects they seem to have on listeners.
Elements of Sonata Theory is a successor of Charles Rosen’s Sonata Forms, which was one of the first treatises to argue that there is more than one form for the sonata. In fact, the sonata is more like a style of composition than a singular form. Hepokoski and Darcy further developed this idea in Elements of Sonata Theory through the use of similarity and “deformation,” where deformations are actually the music we tend to find most interesting.
One of the things Elements of Sonata Theory‘s helps students the most with is learning to recognize patterns in even the smallest of musical elements and find meaning in them.
This book is not for beginners; it’s better suited to those who have studied classical form and are familiar with the basic forms of sonata, rondo, binary dances, etc. It is organized in a logical and easy-to-reference manner. Style-wise, aside from the form vocabulary required to keep up with the content, the writing style is easy to follow.
I rate Elements of Sonata Theory 5 out of 5 stars for its deep content, numerous examples, easy-to-follow style, and organization.