Academic journal article Journal of Band Research

A Comparison of Sonata Forms in Hindemith's and Persichetti's Band Symphonies

Academic journal article Journal of Band Research

A Comparison of Sonata Forms in Hindemith's and Persichetti's Band Symphonies

Article excerpt

The band symphonies of Paul Hindemith and Vincent Persichetti have long been established as two major cornerstones of the wind band repertoire. Written in 1951 and 1956 respectively, both works have received numerous performances since their premieres. A number of writers have analyzed the forms of both symphonies.1 However, as far as can be determined, there is no research that compares how both composers recreate sonata form in their respective first movements.

Eighteenth-century theorists saw sonata form as essentially binary rather than ternary, placing harmonic considerations above thematic ones. The first section begins in the tonic and progresses to a secondary tonal area, usually the dominant, creating the large-scale "structural dissonance" that must be resolved later in the work.2 The second section intensifies the tonal tension through a myriad of modulations and concludes with a return to the tonic, thus resolving the structural dissonance. Nineteenth-century theorists, however, saw sonata form as essentially ternary rather than binary, placing thematic considerations above harmonic ones. The exposition states the contrasting themes, the development works out these themes, and the recapitulation restates them. Consequently, the twentieth-century composer who decides to employ the sonata form is at a quandary. Which tradition should one consider more valid?

The purpose of this paper is to argue that while Hindemith 's sonata form reflects an essentially eighteenth-century concern with tonality as a principle of structuring, Persichetti 's sonata structure is more in line with a nineteenth-century preoccupation with themes. In keeping with eighteenth-century traditions, Hindemith sets up the structural dissonance in the exposition, intensifies tonal tensions in the development section, and resolves the structural dissonance in the recapitulation. However, he puts his personal spin on this eighteenth-century recreation by displacing the medial caesura,3 creating an unusual third tonal area, employing an innovative simultaneous recapitulation, delaying the resolution of the structural dissonance, and creating an unusual large-scale tonal structure. Though thematic-formal drama is important, it is essentially harmonic-formal drama that Hindemith seeks to achieve.

Persichetti 's approach to sonata form is nearly the opposite. He recreates a twentiethcentury sonata structure which is somewhat more in line with the nineteenth-century preoccupation with themes. His sonata form does not set up a structural dissonance, and he appears more interested in creating local harmonic interests. In other words, his approach to tonality is more coloristic than structural. More crucially, he creates several interesting reversals of thematic functions. These include swapping the rhetorical character of themes I and II, rendering theme II in the exposition more developmental in character than in the actual development section, and creating a theme II in the development section that really functions more like an exposition statement. Though there are aspects of harmonic-formal drama, it is essentially thematic-formal drama that Persichetti seeks to achieve.

This essay will now unpack the key points listed above via an analysis of both first movements, beginning with the Hindemith before proceeding to the Persichetti.

Setting up the Structural Dissonance

The exposition begins in ? -flat minor. Cornets and trumpets state theme I (ex. 1) while bassoons and tubas concurrently announce primary motive "P"5 (ex. 2):

The second statement of theme I at m. 1 1 is also in B-flat, this time with a new descending countermelody added (saxophone and horn). A two-measure transition at m. 24, with the timpani articulating a structural "dominant of the dominant" (i.e. pitch "C") leads to a crucial F major chord at m. 26. This creates the opposing tonal pole with unmistakable clarity and sets up the structural dissonance. …

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