Biblioteca de la Guitarra y Cuerda Pulsada

Biblioteca de la Guitarra y Cuerda Pulsada

Sor's Grand Sonata Op. 22, 1 Mov. (Allegro)

Sor's Grand Sonata Op. 22, 1: on the distinction between a "script" and a "plan" for a sonata (you can't really break rules that haven't been written yet)

Op. 22, Movement 1 (Allegro)

We've been climbing the prestige ladder here in discussing sonatas for solo guitar written by guitarist composers.  Anyone familiar with the instrument and its literature would know that Giuliani and Sor would top the list here and they do. 

We're finally at Sor and it will be fun to discuss his work (even if I actually, personally, prefer Matiegka's approach to sonata form) because extensive English-language scholarly work on Sor's handling of sonata form has been relatively recent.  More importantly, I have believed for years that Sor's approach to sonata form has left out two entries in his work I will probably discuss tomorrow (Op. 29 etudes 5 and 10).

Today we'll be discussing the Grand Sonatas Op. 22 and Op. 25 and there's a lot we could discuss.  The most important and simple thing we'll be looking at is how Sor tends to favor incomplete recapitulation.  It's been one of the most basic reasons theorists and historians who have tried to grapple with his sonatas have been stymied by the basic question of whether Sor even used sonata form and whether or not, if he did use sonata form, he composed "good" sonata forms.

Five years ago when I was steeping myself in the sonatas of Diabelli, Giuliani and Sor I began to realize that they were writing sonata forms but that they habitually declined to write the kinds of "textbook" sonata forms I read about when I was getting an undergraduate degree.  Either the textbook paradigm I learned was correct and the guitarist composers were botching sonata form OR the textbook paradigm was for undergraduates only (at best) or even simply wrong (at worst) and this meant I needed to start recalibrating my understanding of sonatas based on the literature.

I'd concluded that incomplete recapitulation was normative for solo guitar sonatas before I'd read James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy's Elements of Sonata Theory, which I hadn't read or heard of until this year.  Their Type 2 sonata is a concept that retrospectively distilled a lot of observations I'd made in my study of solo guitar sonatas that I had lacked a scholarly nomenclature for. 

In gratitude for what they've provided by way of their scholarship, I can hope to contribute, as a guitarist, an element to supplement their ideas.  Hepokoski and Darcy stated that in the 18th century there would not have been such a thing as sonata forms and that there's somethingan achronistic in the very idea of talking about sonata forms.  I'm inclined to agree.  My own idiosyncratic take on sonata is that it is, like the fugue before it, a process rather than a fixed form and that how the process plays out depends a great deal on what foundational materials a composer works with and how the composer decides to play with the ideas.

For instance, if we've been taught that a development section is where the composer develops ideas in a sonata form that is a conceptual "box" that we'll have.  We'll expect the music we hear or see to fit into that concept.  Sor's works don't necessarily do this.  His development sections can be rather short whereas his exopsitions can be giant and his recapitulations can be, particularly in the Grand Sonatas, incomplete.  If we look at his sonatas with the idea of a modular plan-based approach this will look like a shortcoming.  But, as Leonard B Meyer put it in Style & Music ...





ISBN 0-226-521

page 245-246

... While music of the Classic period employs plan-based patternings, these are almost always coordinated with and dominated by syntactic scripts. In the nineteenth century, the situation is more or less reversed: what had been specific syntactic scripts tend to be subsumed within or transformed into general plans. [emphasis mine] For instance, from this very broad point of view, the history of the practice and theory of sonata form during the nineteenth century might be interpreted as the transformation of a script--a tonally defined hierarchic schema of slots--into a thematic plan, often of a dialectic or narrative sort (thesis/antithesis --> synthesis; opposition/conflict ---. resolution). [emphasis mine] More generally , as suggested earlier (and argued later), the role of the secondary parameters in the shaping of musical forms and processes becomes increasingly important during the course of the nineteenth century. The forms and processes thus shaped are based on plans, not on scripts.

What Meyer observed in very general terms, Hepokoski and Darcy described in more detail, and the latter two went so far as to point out that there was no such thing as sonata form as we understand it as a form (i.e. a thing).  There was, instead, a series of prevailing patterns and options.  If Meyer's insight was to highlight that the 19th century prescriptive plans were not the same thing as 18th century implicit scripts, Hepokoski and Darcy have provided us, in their Types 1 through 5 sonata options, a range of scripts.  

But they have provided us with a range of scripts regarding tonal hierarchies.  What can also be added is a general observation about developmental/linear processes.  I would suggest that if we approach sonatas as though they were scripts (per Meyer) and that they played the role in homophonic tonal music that was previously played, so to speak, by the fugue, then we can have composers who may frontload a lot of their developmental exploration of ideas into their expositions to a degree where they feel no obligations, within the constraints of a "script" based approach to what we now call the sonata form, to "stick to the plan".   If the composer and audience share comparable knowledge of the "script" approach a whole lot about a "plan" based approach could be ignored (because that conception of what we now call sonata form, with all its dialectic/Hegelian expectations (or "baggage") had not been saddled onto what is now called sonata form yet.

Hepokoski and Darcy proposed that composers and audiences alike would share a set of expectations and conventions that could be rewarded or subverted or delayed by composers.  If one of the expectations of the "script" of what we now call a sonata was not just the expectation that certain things might happen in certain keys but that any number of developmental procedures could happen anywhere along the way, then if the script-based goal of expanding a set of ideas were met in one area it would not be necessary to fulfill that goal in some other area.  To put it in practical terms, if Sor fulfilled the script-goal of developing his key ideas within the exposition he might feel less obliged to "follow the rules" of what would be 19th century "plan" thinking about sonatas. 

Another way to formulate all of this in a simple question is whether or not Sor could have "broken the rules" of a sonata form that Anton Reicha hadn't formally codified yet?  Lars Rosvoll wrote a dissertation "FERNANDO SOR’S EVOLUTION AS A PERFORMER AND COMPOSER AS REFLECTED IN THE REVISIONS OF THE GRANDE SONATE, OP. 22" (2012) and mentioned that an early version of what is now Op. 22 was in progress as early as 1803 as El Merito.  The work, as Rosvoll explained it in the aforementioned treatise, was eventually published as Grand Sonata Op.22 in 1825. By Rosvoll's account none of Sor's revisions entailed changes in form. 

It's with all that in mind that I plan to discuss Sor's Op. 22, below the break.

Download score 1

The first theme is cast in binary form (aa, bb) in the tonic key, C major. The sonata opens with a grand set of three chords--tonic, dominant, tonic--followed by a delicate descending scale run from the sixth to the tonic scale degrees before arriving at a half-cadential end to the first four-measure phrase.  This is answered by a dominant statement of the opening idea and an embellishment of the scale-run that is given a perfect authentic cadence end to the second four-measure phrase.  The second part of Theme 1 constitutes a repeating "answer" that would be fairly typical of, say, a Haydn symphony from his later period.  All in all this sixteen-measure opening theme is pretty grand for solo guitar writing and it’s followed up by the start of the transition, effectively announced by the appearance of triplet figuration (marked out in green on page 1 above).

Sor effects his modulation by running through an initial alternation of the tonic and dominant in a way that would actually be pretty typical of the second strain of a ragtime piece.  After the third iteration of this pattern begins he shifts into a secondary dominant (V7 of V) in the form of D7 that leads to G major, from which the tonic-dominant oscillation is resumed with G as the newly tonicized key. It is from this G major tonic, established fairly quickly in the transition, that Sor jumps to E flat as a chromatic submediant to his intended new tonic in the dominant key.  In spite of the newly frenetic sextuplets chord work we're still looking at the same tonic-dominant oscillation pattern, this time between E flat major and B flat dominant 7. As Sor winds down this section he transforms E flat into a dominant seven chord that resolves down into a D major chord that evokes G minor half-cadential moods.  As Sor winds down his modulating transition he moves out of triplets and sextuplets into conventionally duple rhythm patterns on the half cadence aiming at the new tonic in the dominant key.

Now at the bottom of page 1 we get Group II, Theme 1 starting off the new section of the exposition. This new theme is essentially a variation of Theme 1 and this is most evidence in the recurrence of steady quarter-note melodic activity rising from the new tonic scale degree to the second scale degree. That this theme, new as it is, is so obviously indebted to the motifs of the opening theme will go a long way to explaining why this material only appears in the exposition and not in the recapitulation.  But we're getting ahead of ourselves there. Group II, Theme 1 aka Theme 2 actually repeats a bit before ending on another half cadence in the new key and this prepares the way for Group II, Theme 2 (indicated in red on page 2).

Download score 2

This new theme, Group II Theme 2 aka Theme 3, introduces genuinely new material--a dotted quarter note on B natural moving along down the scale diatonically toward another quarter-note pulsing pattern, once again on the dominant.  With the bouncy dotted rhythms Sor gives us a pretty straightforward I-IV-I-V cycle that resembles vocalize preparations for a rehearsing choir.  This leads to another little solo that lands on a B dominant 7 chord (i.e. V7 of vi within the key of G) that resolves deceptively not to E minor but to C major, which is the subdominant we'd expect anyway before the final push to the dominant and tonic for a theme from this period.   We get there by way of a secondary leading tone chord (C sharp fully diminished 7) to a second inversion G major chord followed by a G root tonic and a dominant alternation in two phrases.  This close to Group II, Theme 2 (aka theme 3) dovetails into the closing theme/coda, some frenetic tripleted sixteenth chord work that outlines the most relentlessly active diatonic scale runs in the exposition so far, audible as eighth notes in the lower register throughout and presented two times before the closing chords of the coda are played and the exposition repeats. 

We'll move along to the development, which, as you'll see, is not very long.

Download score 3

The development is characterized chiefly by being in E flat major, the chromatic mediant key region in relationship to C major. The broad notes in the treble at the start of the development can be thought of as a super-augmentation of the melodic pattern in part 2 of Theme 1. The derivation of subsequent development material from the closing theme is fairly easy to see and hear in the score but overall the development is characterized by being relatively short and not necessarily strongly or readily tied to working out of ideas in the exposition.  Given the simplicity and repetitiveness of the tonic-dominant oscillation and the pulsing note gestures across the exposition there's arguably a great deal of intra-exposition expansion and development of the material.  The development contribution to the form is chiefly presentation or exploration of remote key regions but here, too, the development simply expands upon a tonal region that was already presented in the modulating transition.

So it isn't too long before Sor gets us to the recapitulation of Theme 1.

What changes in the non-modulating transition is how the chain of root movements progresses.  We start with a tonic-dominant oscillation pattern but we go from I-V in C major to A minor/ E7 to A minor to C7 to F to C in first inversion to F to F# diminished and the preparation of a half cadential gesture that gets us back to C major as our re-established tonic. 


Which, of course, we get, but along the way in this transition we don't get Group II, Theme 1, which Sor has omitted entirely.  Instead we get Group II, Theme 2 and once it has been played we don't get the closing theme/coda material, either.  Instead we get a new coda that brings the first movement to a close.

Download score 4

In light of how much material Sor doesn't bring back from the exposition into his recapitulation we have to ask a few questions about which themes Sor considered genuinely essential to the exposition.  Since we lack alternatives at the moment and since manuscript evidence isn't handy there's some room to have to guess.  Charles Rosen's observation that a recapitulation need only bring back that which was in the non-tonic key doesn't help us much here since a great deal of the material that wasn't brought back was in the non-tonic key regions of the exposition.  So we have to fall back on other possibilities.

The most probable explanation, given the level of shared rhythmic and linear motifs in the exposition, is that Sor opted to bring back only those themes whose harmonic and melodic activity had the greatest level of formal differentiation.  So Group II, Theme 1, being a little too audibly indebted to Theme 1, didn't need to come back.  Let's recall that Theme 1 opened with a fairly grand tonic-dominant call and response pattern.  Group II, Theme 1 could be construed as a larger-level "response" to the "call" of Theme 1 in the Group 1 material (i.e. Theme and the transition).  As to why the Closing Theme/Coda doesn't come back, its prominent role in the development may provide a possible answer. 

Sor seemed to compose so as to reduce the likelihood that a listener or a player would be forced to confront material that was repeated a lot in the exposition and also repeated doubly by way of the repeated exposition.  This closing theme would have shown up half a dozen times if it was repeated verbatim and it was already repeating cadential scale-work.  If Sor wanted to cut out all the cadential formulas and fills that would be expected in the style and boiled the recapitulation down to just the most distinct, differentiated materials from the exposition then his selections in this opening movement make sense.

It's hardly the case Sor didn't know how to write what we'd call a textbook sonata form (he did that perfectly in his Op. 29 etude but that's for later).  To borrow Meyer's terminology about scripts, in what we now call sonata forms we can focus too much on what's known as the formal script (i.e. identifiable structural points that demarcate a form) at the expense of a developmental/procedural script (i.e. what is being done with the ideas as gestures in rhetorical or syntactical terms).  Sor presents us with a case in which intra-expositional development is at such a high level it's not surprising if he has what seem to be small and even incidental development sections.

Or at least they will if we are immersed enough in this style to understand how formal compression of thematic materials could play out based on the precepts alluded to so far.  Sonata analysis has tended to focus on the modular blocks of themes and key regions without necessarily taking stock of procedural development.  A composer might opt to expand upon a second theme in a recapitulation that was neglected in terms of development in an exposition or even a development, such as Beethoven did in his Op. 111 piano sonata in his first movement.  In the case of Sor's Grand Sonata Op. 22 what he chose to bring back in the recapitulation and what he chose to omit can be construed as a potential disclosure of what he considered the core thematic cells of the exposition to have actually have been.  Of course we can't be sure and one of the reasons we can't be sure is that Sor's decisions to never come back to long stretches of expository material is typical of his Grand Sonatas  and a fuller appreciation of why he did this may have to depend on formal analysis of his smaller-scale sonata forms.  We'll get to those in time but for now we'll wrap up discussion of the first movement of the Op. 22 sonata.



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