Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Normative Wit: Haydn's Recomposed Recapitulations

Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Normative Wit: Haydn's Recomposed Recapitulations

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

We reject any normalizing principle that explains away an obviously nonconforming situation. Since a piece's essence resides in its individualized dialogue with socially established norms, any deviation from those norms--especially recapitulatory deviations--are of utmost interest. They need to be highlighted and problematized, not swept away with a slogan. (Hepokoski and Darcy 2006, 244)

[1.1] In the discipline of music theory today, there is arguably no more powerful tool for analyzing works in sonata form than James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy's Sonata Theory. Elements of Sonata Theory (2006) offers robust terminology that allows theorists to analyze and meaningfully describe virtually any conceivable musical event that may appear in an eighteenth-century sonata. Hepokoski and Darcy's method involves measuring pieces against a hierarchy of norms and deviations for this specific repertoire--yet their goals are not strictly analytical; in their words, "all analysis should be directed toward the larger goal of a hermeneutic understanding of music as a communicative system, a cultural discourse implicated in issues of humanness, worldview, and ideology, widely construed" (603). When composers deviate from established norms, Hepokoski and Darcy suggest they necessarily enter into this cultural discourse.

[1.2] The music of Haydn appears to lend itself particularly well to the deformation-based approach of Hepokoski and Darcy's Sonata Theory(1) (2006) because his compositional practices were so idiosyncratic. Hepokoski and Darcy highlight these idiosyncrasies and offer vivid readings of some of his sonata forms--often relying on the concept of wit. For example, in their description of the so-called Cpre-EEC in Symphony no. 97 (a C-like theme that appears before the moment of EEC), Hepokoski and Darcy write, "The witty effect is that of C stepping onto the stage, blissfully 'unaware' of any past difficulties ('All right! Here I am!')--as if it had been looking only at its 'expositional pocket-watch' and waiting for its pre-assigned moment of arrival" (60, n. 12). They single out Haydn as being particularly witty when they write about his use of closing material to begin the String Quartet in G major, op. 33 no. 5:

Such an obvious displacement of typical function must have had witty or other clever resonances that were especially appealing to connoisseurs.. . . As might be expected, this technique is characteristic of Haydn, one strand of whose Witz featured modular dislocations--ideas in "wrong places"--and surprises of different kinds. One obvious example is. . . his Quartet in G, op. 33 no. 5.. . . There can be little doubt that--"cadence" or not--Haydn expected his listeners to understand the opening here as a witty "closing formula" that has been transferred to the apparently "wrong" spot of the piece. (66-67)

Later, writing about the false recapitulation (a topic to which I will return below), they argue that "it is counterintuitive to suggest that at least some sort of intended wit or deception was not involved in the tonic-return of P" (223).

[1.3] While these descriptions are certainly lively and evocative, by emphasizing the deformational and disruptive aspects of wit, Hepokoski and Darcy run the risk of downplaying the cohesion and coherence of some of these pieces. The danger, in short, of using such vivid language to describe these events is that it makes them appear stranger than they really are. This is particularly true of those pieces that feature recapitulatory deviations--the very deviations that Hepokoski and Darcy argue should be "highlighted and problematized, not swept away with a slogan" (244).(2) In this article, I strive to maintain specificity when describing sonata procedures by using modern terminology, yet at the same time I refrain from judging pieces as "normative" and "deformative" based on anachronistic comparisons to music that Haydn's listeners could not have known (see 2. …

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