Classical Form: A Theory of Formal Functions for the Instrumental Music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven

Category: Music
Author: William E. Caplin
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by Xenoceratops   2019-11-17

The Schoenberg book has this, and William Caplin's book is especially good (drawing from Schoenberg's work). Check out Seth Monahan's video on sentences and periods as well.

by Xenoceratops   2019-11-17

Oh, it's great when there's appreciation and real engagement. Occasionally, something here will stick with me, and I'm more than glad when someone else says, "That thing you said a while back stuck with me."

What's even better is when an idea becomes widespread. When I started with music on the internet, everything was modes, modes, modes. It's still like that to an extent, but I've noticed in recent years (it might just be this little corner of the internet though) more resistance to half-baked ideas about modes, modal harmony, etc., and a greater focus on substantive, functional analysis (which can mean a few different things, but by which I mean the way in which a musical object is behaving). I don't know what caused that shift, probably thousands upon thousands of glorious (and likely very cringey) internet battles and sharply pointed YouTube videos (these ones are especially useful: 1, 2, maybe just a generation of guitarists growing up or going to music school, but analysis on internet forums has improved. In my view, people got more informed. I'd be interested in knowing if others think so too.

Mind you, there is still resistance on these low-valence topics. We have to break through so much noise about modes or negative harmony or what-have-you before we can even have a nuts and bolts conversation about basic harmony. I can only hope that by making Nobile's harmonic function paper and Caplin's work on formal functions known, /r/musictheory can finally have its moment where a good chunk of users' first instinct is to ask, "Where did this come from, where is it going, and what is it doing?". The project to get users thinking of music (especially dichotomies like "classical" and "jazz/pop/etc." or "old" and "modern") in terms of historical materialism and social/economic relationships is farther off, but I keep trying to chip away at it. The whole idea of "pop theory" on /r/musictheory is sooooo uninformed.

>Hmm, any ideas? More user flair? Calling out low effort posts?

>Gonna be tough, might not want to jeopardize the high traffic here. Because the most basic material is usually brought up by low-effort posts, preventing said posts might mean less new visitors. That could mean a crippling of the community in the long run.

The idea of flair is floating around. I don't know where the rest of the mod squad is on that right now. And you're right about the second point—we have to be really careful. I don't know what to do about it on a structural level while still keeping the community together like it is now. One idea I've had is to require more effort and specificity from top posts. You know, if you're going to ask/talk about a song, link the damn thing. If you're going to ask for composition advice, specify the style you're going for and maybe provide some examples of music you want to emulate. Then you don't end up with this problem of getting downvoted for telling people they really should link the thing they're talking about, or people going off on what they think the OP is asking about and either being completely off or having the OP go "lol thats cool but idc". I think some of these problems are simply unfixable. Look at how many upvotes this trash fire of a thread has gotten. There is no discourse here.

by Xenoceratops   2019-11-17

16th century music (and earlier) is tough. I’d suggest you start with 18th century music, honestly. Bill Caplin’s book, Classical Form, will keep you busy. The important thing is to learn analytical methodologies. Don’t worry about chronology — Susan McClary uses Schenkerian analysis on 16th and 17th century music, after all.

by Xenoceratops   2018-11-10


Not exactly an outlandish theme. You could have found this in a piece from 1775. The form of the theme is |:A:||:BA:|, what Caplin calls small ternary. Both A and B are sentences. The presentation of B is a modulating sequence.

How do we write something like this? I'd chart out the form, first of all. Get the structural elements of a sentence down, write in the cadences, write the basic idea and its response with appropriate harmonies, fill in the chords until the cadence and compose out from there. If you're good enough, you start with the basic idea and keep going.

Per your title (and what everybody seems to be answering to), when we say "Romantic style," everybody starts thinking Wagner. That harmony is nuts, and yes, neo-Riemannian theory will help you out. However, there are plenty of Romantic period works that have this kind of simple, subtle, and straightforward harmony. That said, Chopin did the transformational thing from time to time too.

by Xenoceratops   2018-11-10

Where are you in your studies and what do you want to do? I consider both to be historical documents more than practical sources for novices, though some find Schoenberg's singular style and attitude quite pragmatic. You can find PDFs of both without too much trouble, at any rate. Caplin crystallizes Schoenberg's thoughts on form and is more readable for a 21st century audience. But once again, until we know your current level of education and your musical goals, anything is going to be a shot in the dark.

by Xenoceratops   2018-11-10

For form: William Caplin - Classical Form

Form differs from structure (in the Schenkerian sense) in that structure defines characteristics of voice leading and harmony. For instance, I would consider whether a phrase ends with a half cadence or an authentic cadence to be a structural concern, whereas whether a theme is a sentence or a period is a formal concern.

Here is a non-rigorous breakdown of formal levels, from smallest to largest:

  1. Cell - Smallest possible relation between formal elements. For example, a repeated note, an arpeggio, a neighbor tone.

  2. Motive - A meaningful relation of

  3. Phrase - Terminates in a cadence.

  4. Theme - Determined by the organization of phrases.

  5. Section - A grouping of one or more themes. May contain a small form, in which case it is a compound section (e.g. a minuet and trio is a large ternary form, ABA, but each section contains a small binary form; A = ab, B = cd, A = ab, so we call each section a compound section).

  6. Large form - Encompasses the entire formal shape of the music. Revisit the large ternary of the minuet and trio again. We would say the entire thing is a compound ternary form.

Orchestration is much more complicated in my opinion. You need to do a lot of score study and get a sense of what works on a case-by-case basis.