Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Sonata-Formal Functions and Transformational Processes in the First Movement of Rochberg's String Quartet No. 6

Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Sonata-Formal Functions and Transformational Processes in the First Movement of Rochberg's String Quartet No. 6

Article excerpt

[1] Published analyses employing networks of musical transformations have been critiqued for concentrating more on relatively small-scale processes and relations-chord progressions and motivic transformations-than on large-scale form and for omitting the chronological flow of the music which they represent (Morris 1995, Cook 1996). There are some notable exceptions to this trend, such as the last chapter of Lewin (1993) and Cohn (1999). Usually we understand the formal functions of large groups to depend, among other things, on the chronological order in which they are presented. The selection of a particular spatial layout in constructing a network is, in essence, the selection of the musical features that the network can model. Thus, if we want to discuss form in the temporal sense that it is conventionally understood, it is important that the network represents the temporal order of the piece's events.

[2] However, Lewin's discussions of transformational form are often essentially atemporal. For example, his analysis of Dallapiccola's Simbolo (the first chapter of Lewin 1993) identifies a bi-partite form whose two parts resemble each other, but this resemblance is defined purely in terms of transformational networks that are arranged anachronically. Similarly, his analysis of Stockhausen's Klavierstück III (the second chapter of Lewin 1993) sets aside a temporally ordered network, along with its "phenomenological presence" (Lewin 1993, 32), in favor of a spatial network that does not depict "how the piece moves through chronological time" (Lewin 1993, 17). Lewin presents a series of four different passes through the spatial network as a narrative account of the piece, but these passes do not by themselves represent sections of a form, standing instead as supplements to the atemporal spatial network. The last chapter of Lewin (1993) attempts to address a long composition and the interaction of its form with transformational structuring. This is similar to the work of Cohn (1999), which represents a large (sonata) form with transformational networks. Neither of the authors, however, discusses thematic aspects of non-tonal form in ways that are analogous to traditional accounts, such as the distinctions commonly made, say, between the types of material that characterize principal themes, secondary themes, and developments. Since "formal functionality involves the way in which music expresses its logical location in a temporal spectrum" (Caplin 1998, 111), such distinctions are essentially temporal, notwithstanding idiosyncrasies, such as a theme beginning with a continuation function;(2) they are perceived through hearing the themes in order and hearing the themes' inner groups, which fulfill specifically temporal functions.

[3] Nothing in transformational theory prevents making such temporally consequential distinctions. Indeed, transformational theory suggests a potentially powerful way to make them-by describing and contrasting not only sections' content but also their characteristic transformations. From this point of view the difference between a first theme and a second theme, particularly in non-tonal music, would not only be in their pitches, melodic contour, intervallic content, and durations, but also in the internal transformations they manifest.(3) Some interesting questions arise in such an approach: can the introduction of new transformations, even when not introducing new materials, signal different sections, and can the reprise of specific transformations articulate the recapitulation of sections of similar formal function? If so, it might be possible to give convincing transformational-network accounts of form in large-scale non-tonal pieces.

[4] In this paper, I show how to hear changes in transformations in the first movement of George Rochberg's sixth string quartet as articulating specific formal functions, in the sense of William Caplin's theory of form in the Classical style (Caplin 1998). …

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