Monday, March 4, 2013

The Sonata Principle

Let's play "drop the needle"


Based on that tiny snippet you've just heard, what sort of piece do you think this is? What does the music sounds like that leads into it, or that comes right after it?

I'd like you to take a second and try to imagine it. Do something with that musical fragment--in your head, in your larynx, in your feet or hands, or at the piano or oboe. Imagine it, hum it, tap it out--just play with it a little. Be a composer.

I'll wait.

Ok. Ready for the next part? This might seem a little odd because here is what actually comes immediately before it.


I thought I'd put these two parts in isolation because so often we just listen to pieces of music and it is like the aural equivalent of going Greyhound--we just leave the driving to the composer. Well, I'd like to encourage you all to be backseat drivers for a while.

You must have noticed that these two bits of music didn't seem like they had that much in common--one in a chirpy major key, march-like, kingly, trumpets and drums, the other in a minor key, subdued, all in unison, no rich harmonies to back up the sparse musical motive, trumpets and drums need not apply.

It's a union of opposites. And this is often what sonatas are all about. Here is one musical point of view, here is another, and---go! And then we listen as they struggle with each other, attempt to come to terms, or one dominates the other.

Actually, I can save you some suspense. Coming of age as sonatas did during the era of Enlightenment and Colonialism (how's that for a collision) the musical winner was generally a foregone conclusion. But that's for another time.

For now, the second movement of Haydn's sonata in A Major (Hoboken number 5), the middle section of which provided today's musical examples.

Haydn: Menuetto from Sonata no. 5 in A Major

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