Posted in Project 1: Sonata Form

Research point 5.1, Part B: Sonata form in Bartók’s String Quartet No. 4 (1928)

Continuing on from the previous post, where I outlined Bartok’s biography, this post will focus on his personal interpretation of the sonata form in the first movement of his String Quartet No. 4 (1928). I also listened to Bartok’s other quartets, which are included in my listening log here.

As I have outlined in Part A, Bartok’s music is known for its unique absorption of a broad range of seemingly disparate musical paradigms, including traditional Hungarian folk music, as well as the more objective procedures of modernism. His series of six string quartets, which constitute one of his most significant achievements in the eyes of critics and scholars, reflect Bartok’s eclectic compositional interests, stretching from some being more Romantic and folk-influenced to others that are more modernist in their use of ‘palindromes’ and ‘polymodal chromaticism’, which I wrote about in Part A. His String Quartet No. 4 belongs to the latter category structured like a mirror or arch in which the stand-alone third movement is surrounded by the thematically-related second/third and outer first/fifth movements – altogether forming the palindrome pattern. Furthermore, this quartet contains intensive use of dissonance, which was influenced by Berg’s Lyric Suite (1926), but rather than fully abandon tonality as the composers of the second Viennese School, the chromaticism is re-structured in relation to Stravinsky’s ‘poles of attraction’ resulting in Bartok’s unique polymodal chromaticism.

Centering my discussion now on the first movement of the composition, it represents a modernist re-working of the Classical sonata form. To this end, while the main divisions follow the traditional exposition-development-recapitulation structure, the harmonic and motivic features are distinctly modernist in an almost aggressive, dissonant polyphonic weaving of phrases with coloristic effects that are often extended techniques for the string quartet. It is interesting that the shapes of notation themselves seem very conventional, however, the tonic functions are not literal, but analogical – so that the tonic-dominant polarity of the Classical sonata is reframed into Stravinsky-like poles of C-F# and Eb-A. Similarly while horizontally, the first movement is characterized by chromatic/octatonic motifs, the vertical, harmonic structures, defined by superimposed major 2nd/9th, result in the whole tone scale. As such, the horizontal and vertical dimensions of the piece function separately.

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Posted in Project 1: Sonata Form

Exercise 5.3

The task of exercise 5.3 is to reflect on the previous two exercises – 5.1 and 5.2, considering the questions outlined in the brief. The aim is to write 250 words.

  • What are your thoughts on the investigation of Haydn’s Emperor that you have carried out?

Generally, I am quite used to the analytical approach to musical form, having applied identical methods to the one used in this project in my previous studies. Looking at different elements such as the tonal plan, texture and the character of the themes helps distinguish specific structural components and allows the musician to dissect the work and explore in detail how the material has been organized. Personally, I always learn a lot by delving deep into a composer’s work, which is what this type of investigation enables.

  • What kind of information does it tell?

I think beside the more general information such as the harmony, texture and other elements I’ve mentioned above, the analytical method of musical form also reveals how the composers themselves interact with the established conventions of style and genre of their own time. In the case of Haydn’s Emperor, the investigation imparts both the more standard qualities of the sonata form, but also the moments when there are certain innovations and deviations from the usual practice.

  • What does it leave out?

I believe that in the case of Haydn’t Emperor, the pure analytical approach left out some historical considerations. For example, if investigated only from the formal aspect as a piece of absolute music, it would be easy to miss out on the pastoral and other topoi being evoked in certain parts of the movement (see exercise 5.2). Along these lines, a completely objective stance that only relies on the notation in an isolated way could overlook Haydn’s reliance on the specific topics created by the previous generations in order to musically elicit specific landscapes and sentiments.

  • Is it a useful thing to do?

I would definitely answer yes to this question. However, I don’t believe the pure analysis should be used in an isolated way, but should be combined with other approaches when considering a piece of music. While it is immensely important as a method, particularly for musicians to dissect specific details of a composition, I would argue that the formal analysis alone could leave out some functional and historical aspects, just like in this example. As such, I would suggest that this type of investigation should be supplemented with a broader examination of different cultural, social and ideological circumstances that surrounded the creation of not only a musical work, but also impacted the wider formation of one’s musical vocabulary and treatment of form.

Posted in Project 1: Sonata Form

Exercise 5.2

This short exercise is about listening to the first 30 bars of the first movement of Haydn’s String Quartet Op. 76 No. 3 in order to describe different qualities of the themes and passages, writing about 100 words on the topic. However, I have slightly extended this post to include the full movement, since I believe there are some interesting moments going on in the development and recapitulation.

In terms of the exposition, in the primary subject area, I was expecting to see more standard forms such as a straightforward sentence or period. Instead, I was surprised to see how it is structured motivically, with the first and second theme almost being in a reciprocal, call-and-response kind of relationship in the first two bars, one being in forte and other silently answering in piano. The themes are also similar, and seem to stem from the same basic rhythmic and melodic idea. In bar 5, when the dotted theme appears, it is intertwined on top of the viola and cello playing the motif of the first theme. This weaving creates very stimulating textures that continually provoke interest. Overall, there seems to be a nice balance between the stasis provided by the pauses in the first four bars and the gradation achieved at the end of the first subject area, where the texture becomes very dense, culminating with the repetition of the high Cs in the violin.

The transition reuses the material of the first theme, but also introduces novel moments with trills and new rhythmic figures. At the moment of the arpeggiated dominant chord for the new key of G major in bar 22, there is another interesting call-and-response kind of moment, as the p melody suddenly reaches the fiery subordinate subject area. The melody of the theme is rather similar of the second theme from the primary subject area. It is important to note that Haydn was fond of mono-thematic sonatas, and the influence can be noticed indeed, In this rendition though, the texture is a lot more saturated, with the near-galloping of the repetitive semiquaver notes of the accompaniment. Unlike the previous more imitative and polyphonic texture, here the theme is more monophonic with violin playing the lead role. The sudden key change also makes this subject area a lot dramatic, shifting from G major to G minor in order to have a cadence at Eb. There is another transition-like moment, which brings back the more-polyphonic treatment. Suddenly, the fiery theme intrudes and repeats again concluding in G major. I would argue that there is a short 3-bar codetta at the end, before the exposition is repeated.

Although technically this would be the end of the exercise, I felt inclined to mention a few moments I found very interesting in the development and recapitulation of the piece. Firstly, in the development, I found the moment E major appears very intriguing. (bars 65-74) With the drones and the general nature of the melody, it can be identified that the theme recalls the genre of Musette. (I have marked this instance as green on the score – please refer to my annotation in exercise 5.1) In fact, looking back at some rhythmic moments, the exposition also contains some moments of the pastoral topoi, such as the evocation of hunting horns in the fast repeated notes and the dotted rhythm resembling country dances. In the recapitulation, there are two instances, which I have marked purple in the score (again refer to exercise 5.1) the rhythm and textures are completely different to the rest of the piece. I would argue that they present yet another kind of musical topics, though I haven’t yet extensively researched this subject to understand completely what these illustrate. Nonetheless, I see some elements of court-based music in the first, faster texture (bars 105-107) almost like concertato-style, while the second instance (bars 109-113) reminded me of the more church-like music with slower minims. All these moments really stood out to me.

In the next exercise, I will provide a reflection on the two previous exercises.

Posted in Project 1: Sonata Form

Exercise 5.1

The aim of this exercise is to mark the first appearances of the themes in the first sonata allegro movement of Haydn’s String Quartet Op. 76 No. 3, also know as the ‘Emperor’. The themes should be marked in both the exposition and the recapitulation. Beside the main themes, however, I also highlighted two interesting musical instances with the green and purple color. I also labelled some of the keys.

Here is the slideshow of all the things marked in the score:

I will write a reflection, discuss the themes and explain the additional instances I’ve labelled in the following two exercises, as their brief has specified.

Posted in Project 1: Sonata Form, Uncategorized

Exercise 5.0

This exercise is about the Classical sonata form. The task is to refer to the outline in the brief and make notes regarding the main sections found within its structure. Since I have already researched the sonata form in my previous studies, I did already write extensively about it early on in the Composing 1 unit here. As such, I decided to include some snippets from that post, which illustrate the main points.

To begin, I’ve delineated some historical background on how the form was developed in the post, which I have compiled into a slideshow below:

I have then described each section, which I’ve also grouped into another slideshow:

To conclude, I think the whole post was very detailed and that there isn’t much to add. All the notes it provides have a great level of information for the following exercises for this project, so it was good to read through everything again and remind myself of certain things.

Posted in Project 1: Sonata Form, Uncategorized

Research Point 5.0: Classicism in the 18th Century

The task of this research point is to write 400 words about Classicism of the 18th Century and how it related to science, philosophy, politics and other fields, with the focus on the way it impacted the arts and music.

To begin, it is worth mentioning that the term Classicism itself refers to a network of ideas and attitudes, as well as different artistic traditions in the West through history. But perhaps the most important is its ethos “to construct an ideal vision and version of human experience that should inspire and instruct by its nobility, authority, rationality, and truth … and to provide convincing models for imitation.” (Greenhalgh, 2016)

This ideal was first taken by the ancient Greek and Roman artists, and in the subsequent generations, the term classicism came to signify those who admired, imitated or reused their antique artworks and literature, rediscovering the systems of measurement and proportion that have been used to achieve the main characteristics of beauty, including “harmony, clarity, restraint, universality and idealism”. (Britannica, 2018)

However, classicism doesn’t necessarily denote direct influences by the antiquity and can broadly represent ‘distant responses’ of the past in one’s contemporary culture: “Each generation’s classicism is cumulative – a data bank of ideas, forms, and motifs based on contributions made by previous centuries.” (Greenhalgh, 2016) Interestingly, although Western music was still theoretically somewhat influenced by the antiquity, in practice, however, it stood as an art form that has mainly accumulated the post-antique customs and techniques. As such, the 18th century music was marked as ‘classical’ not in terms of its relationship with the antiquity, but in terms of reaching a high ‘standard of excellence’ (Greenhalgh, 2016) that contrasted the preceding ‘baroque’ phase. In this sense, it was established by the German-speaking composers of Europe, including Haydn, Mozart, Gluck and the young Beethoven, as a new caliber of polished and refined music, allowing for the standardization of certain genres and musical forms, as wells as the structure of symphony orchestras and chamber ensembles. (Britannica, 2018)

In terms of the wider culture, while the Renaissance regarded the binaries of feeling/reason, humanity/nature, social/personal, generic/individual, church/state etc., as one harmonious whole, Classicism began polarizing and distancing them, evidenced in the rise of Enlightenment. This current of philosophical thought had its primary origin in the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, with rationalism becoming its main doctrine, and it is often associated with the liberal political and revolutionary ideas, especially being linked to the French Revolution of 1789. (Bristow, 2017) The ideas of the structural clarity and objectivity from the philosophy particularly influenced the musical style as it switched to homophony and crafted the main sonata-form.

Greenhalgh, M. (2016) ‘Classicism.’ In: Grove Art Online. At: (Accessed 20th Oct 2019)

Britannica (2018) Classicism and Neoclassicism. At: (Accessed 20th Oct 2019)

Bristow, W. (2017) Enlightenment. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy  At: (Accessed 20th Oct 2019)