Academic journal article Studia Musicologica

Does a 'Monothematic' Expositional Design Have Tautological Implications for the Recapitulation? an Alternative Approach to 'Altered Recapitulations' in Haydn

Academic journal article Studia Musicologica

Does a 'Monothematic' Expositional Design Have Tautological Implications for the Recapitulation? an Alternative Approach to 'Altered Recapitulations' in Haydn

Article excerpt

1. The traditional view and its shortcomings1

Many authors have remarked on Joseph Haydn's habit of substantially recomposing his recapitulations, which is considered a hallmark of his sonata-form style. To explain this specific habit, eminent scholars such as Jan LaRue or James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy have referred to the composer's personality traits, in particular Haydn's originality and inventiveness, as well as his distinct predilection for avoiding mechanical repetition, predictability, and ultimately boredom. 2 Yet this argument is inherently circular, arriving at a tautological explanation: personality traits derived from Haydn's oeuvre are subsequently employed as categories in order to account for the characteristics of that very repertoire.

Apart from extra-musical reasons, some authors have put forward purely structural ones to help explain recapitulatory recompositions. Specifically, Haydn's 'altered recapitulations' are commonly traced to the monothematic design of the exposition, yet another feature for which Haydn is particularly well known. An oft-cited article by Ethan Haimo provides a concise summary of a view that is widespread among music analysts:3

If the recapitulation simply repeats the material of the exposition, transposed when necessary to the tonic, then the repetition of the theme in the second half of the recapitulation would be tautological. Instead of emphasizing the new key area as it does in the exposition, the repetition of the theme in the recapitulation might simply be redundant. However, if the repetition of the theme is omitted, then the transition leading to it could become pointless - it would become a transition leading nowhere. But if the transition is omitted as well, then the entire tonal balance of the movement could be placed in jeopardy.4

Thus, according to Haimo, Haydn was facing two interrelated problems: first, one of tautology or redundancy caused by the monothematic design of the exposition,5 and second, one of balance (or imbalance) that would arise if Haydn simply omitted the monothematic statement in the recapitulation along with the preceding, allegedly "pointless" transition.6 As becomes clear from Haimo's account, this structural explanation, with its focus on the avoidance of repetition, largely corresponds to the personality-based explanation mentioned above.7 However, as I shall argue, Haimo's reconstruction of compositional problems in Haydn's sonata-form movements is in itself far from unproblematic. In particular, I would like to point out three of its main shortcomings:

(1) Though the term 'monothematicism,' or more specifically 'monothematic exposition,' has often been considered a misnomer in the scholarly literature (including Haimo's study), it seems advisable to reconsider the reasons for rejecting the term, as it helps to answer the question of to what extent an expositional design can in principle determine the recomposition of the recapitulation.8 It has already been criticized by numerous authors that 'monothematicism' denotes solely the relation between main theme and secondary theme sections, while saying nothing about the number and nature of the remaining thematic units.9 It seems even more important to note, however, that a 'monothematic exposition' is not a clear-cut formal type at all. Due to the variability in both the temporal location and the formal function of the 'monothematic statement' it can result in categorically different formal designs such as a so-called 'two-part exposition' as well as a 'three-part' or 'continuous exposition.'10 Issues concerning what specific formal design is employed or where in the formal process the monothematic statement appears - either in the center or late in the exposition, thus changing its function with respect to the tonal process - may have impact on the reappearance( s) of the main theme in the recapitulation.

Moreover, 'monothematicism' is a broad concept embracing structures that involve from loose motivic references to the use of a literal and complete restatement of the main theme in the related key area. …

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