Saturday, December 03, 2005

 

Styles of Instrumental Music

Early (Baroque to Classical), there were three distinct styles of instrumental music in vogue, each complete in itself and outwardly independent of the others, and yet overlapping each other at certain points, and exerting a stimulating influence upon one another, namely: the Suite, the Sonata and the Symphony.

The Suite (seventeenth century) was primarily, and always chiefly, a mere collection of Dances, though other pieces of a more poetic and not infrequently of pictorial (descriptive) character were often interspersed, especially in France, to the number of from four to six as a rule, all in the same key, and usually in the same form---either a double-period or a primitive Two-Part form. This latter form was gradually elevated to the more refined and artistic design that became characteristic of the Sonata-movement, cultivated by Francois Couperin, Domenico Scarlatti and many other devotees of instrumental music (in France, Italy, England and Germany), and which, after a few additional perfecting strokes, was to evolve into the fixed structural type of the Symphony-movement.

An example of this popular Two-Part form, selected from the copious Pieces de clavecin by Francois Couperin (le Grand, 1668-1733) illustrates very clearly the embryo of that structural scheme from which the modern Sonata-allegro form was to emerge. It is entitled Le reveille-matin, and is of that descriptive order to which allusion was made above.

The First Part is a double-period of eleven measures, modulating in the fourth measure and closing with a cadence in the dominant key. It contains one Theme only, although a different motive sets in, in measure seven, which foreshadows the significant separation or "split," that, in the case of more expanded, broader examples, provides for a second (subordinate) Theme---to be demonstrated later on. The Second Part is considerably longer, and utilizes material from Part I, quite in accordance with the manner of the "Development" in the symphonic Allegro. It adds phrase to phrase in this fashion up to the twenty-seventh measure, at which point the third phrase (not the first) of the First Part reappears---from measure five and six---but this time transposed to the principal key (tonic); and in measure thirty-two the former new motive is resumed, also in the principal key this time, and restated exactly as before, to the end. Thus the Second Part is both Development and "Recapitulation," in an embryonic stage. Each Part is repeated, giving the performer an opportunity to improvise and ornament the original. It is easy to supplement this line of analysis by scanning other easily procurable examples, from harpsichord compositions of Domenico Scarlatti, Couperin, Rameau, J.S. Bach and others.


The Sonata is much older that the Suite, the title, at least, having been in use (affixed to both vocal and instrumental pieces) during the sixteenth century or earlier.

It consisted for quite a time of one single Movement, the structural plan of which advanced gradually from the simplest phrase-group up to the expanded Two-Part form in the previous green message. This latter design appears to have owed its inception to Couperin le Grand, though rudimentary traces of it are found in still earlier works. It was regarded, in a sense, as the established structural scheme for the One-movement Sonatas; but it gradually widened out into a Three-Part form, with fairly definite presentation of two motives in the First Part---the germs of the later principal and subordinate Themes of the classic sonata-allegro form.

The "widening out" of the Two-Part form is somewhat similar to the enlargement of the expanded Two-Part form of the previous message, but it differs in one exceedingly important respect, namely: The tentative separation or "split" of the material of the first Part into two recognizable motives, and the recurrence of these two thematic members in the second Part, accomplished nothing more than the increase in the number of thematic impressions, and did not actually extend the scheme to three Parts; the form remains Two-Part only, for the manifest reason that there is no detached third Part in evidence. So that in leading over into the genuine sonata-allegro design, this transformation into a Three-Part form had first to be accomplished, and it is of the latter act that we are now speaking, an operation which took place along with the growth of the One-movement Sonata, at least principally.

The simple Three-Partform, naturally, differs from the Two-Part form in that it contains a return to the very beginning, and a sufficiently clear presentation of the first motives of the first Part; all that follows this recurrence, from that point to the end, constitutes the Third Part.

There is something so supremely natural in this order of the structural factors: a Statement, a Digression for variety, and a return to the Statement for confirmation and a satisfactory closing of the circle---A-B-A,---that one wonders why any other arrangement should have been accepted from the very outset. It did occur, to be sure, though not as commonly as would appear natural. Its first pronounced application took place in the da capo Aria of early Italian operas, and thence passed over into instrumental music through conscious and partly fortuitous transformation and expansion of the then almost universal Two-Part form demonstrated in the previous message. Illustrations of the simple Three-Part form are so numerous---nine-tenths of our ordinary piano literature being molded in this design---that no special example need be given here. In passing, however, one may discover convenient masterly models of it in the Songs Without Words of Mendelssohn, for instance, No. 25.

In view of the fact that the Symphony is a "Sonata for Orchestra," it is obvious that the evolution of the Sonata has very direct bearing upon that of the Symphony. The steady development and perfecting of the instrumental Sonata, beginning with Andrea Gabrieli (1586) and carried along by Couperin, Johann Kuhnau, Domenico Scarlatti, the great Bach and his son Philipp Emanuel Bach, and many others, achieved its highest fulfillment in the classic epoch of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

Although the Sonata in one Movement was for awhile typical, it was not uncommon to enlarge it to two, three and even four Movements, under the influence, no doubt, of the contemporaneous Suite. As early as 1683, the eminent Italian violin-master Corelli wrote Sonatas in four short Movements: adagio, allegro, adagio, allegro; and the plan of three Movements finally became general, in both the Sonata and its more pretentious companion, the Symphony, the first Movement (at least) of which adopted the characteristic Two-Part form, as a very general rule.


The Symphony proper comprised from the beginning three separate Movements, and was originally, as has been shown, but little more than an expansion of the connected and homogeneous Sections of the Italian Overture---a slow Movement between two rapid ones. The first step in the artistic unfolding and growth of the Symphony concerned chiefly the first one of its three Movements. This was so lengthened that one Theme did not suffice; or, perhaps more probably, the desire for a greater amount of thematic material, and also for an increase in variety, made an expansion of the form necessary. Be that as it may, it soon became customary to add a second (in a sense an auxiliary or "Subordinate") Theme, in a different key. And the next significant step was the unfolding of the structural scheme out of the prevalent Two-Part into the far more artistically adequate and perfect Three-Part form, by returning to the beginning after the second part had done its work, and restating the entire First Part, as Third,---whereby the second one of the two Themes was transposed to the principal key (or at least the transposition a perfect fifth lower), thus providing for at least that kind and degree of diversity.

When thus magnified, the "Parts" assumed the proportions and qualities of "Divisions," the first of which is known as the Exposition (that is, the statement of the two Themes, with possible additions in the nature of Codettas, or concluding motives), the second as Development, and the third Recapitulation (with the transposition of the second theme). This design of the first (allegro) movement was maintained more or less persistently, and was handed over to Haydn, who recognized its superiority and firmly established it as the standard for classic structural design. It is now known as the Sonata-allegro---or, since the terms are synonymous, as the Symphony-allegro form. This, be it noted, does not refer to the complete Symphony, but to one, usually the first, Allegro-movement. It may be, and of course is, applied likewise to the other Movements, when their contents call for such a plan.

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