Form-Functional Ambiguity: The Issue of Closure in Performance

By Ellen Bakulina (University of North Texas)

Last fall, I taught an undergraduate form analysis course at UNT.  I did not initially plan to focus on performance issues, but, as the semester went on, I got caught up in them more and more, partly thanks to the large number of performance majors in the class.

Among the various aspects of form, I find questions of closure the most obviously relevant to performance.  In the classroom, I particularly value two aspects of relating cadence analysis to performance choices:  (1) it is an effective way to show connections between a theory course and the students’ daily performance practice; and (2) it develops their musical thinking.  Indeed, cadence identification carries crucial performance implications, inviting such questions as:  Where is this passage going, and why?  How can one decide what is and what isn’t a phrase ending—and, therefore, how long is the phrase?  How do these endings (punctuation, to use H.C. Koch’s term) partition the larger whole?  And perhaps more difficult: should one project that a certain point is a goal, and if so, how?  Directly showing the result of one’s analysis in performance may be a naïve idea; as William Rothstein suggests, sometimes underplaying an important structural event has greater value than “forcing” it upon the listener.  (His remark, in fact, refers to melodic material, but it can be applied to many other musical dimensions.)

None of the thoughts here are original or new in the field.  The concept of cadence has been, and continues to be, thoroughly explored by theorists, one of the most recent contributions being the book What Is a Cadence, edited by Neuwirth and Bergé.  My goal is to use existing concepts to offer performance-related suggestions about a specific passage that could be demonstrated in class.  (Of course, the opposite process is often useful as well:  existing performances influence one’s analysis, whether consciously or not.)  I also provide my own performance of the passage in three different versions.  The piece is the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in E, Op. 14, No. 1.

Beethoven s 9 mt

In my class, which used the theory of William Caplin, I gave this movement for the final analysis project; the wealth of cadence-related interpretations the students came up with enriched my own understanding of the piece.  Here, I focus on the main theme, which offers a truly ambiguous cadential situation with interesting performance implications.  The issue involves both the location of the cadence and its type.  I analyze with the presumption that m. 13 begins the transition, with the main theme ending at this point or shortly before.  The theme is written in a (somewhat loose-knit) sentence form.

Here, I should give some conceptual background.  According to Caplin’s theory, a sentence consists of three phrase functions:  presentation, continuation, and cadential phrases.  The latter two functions are the most likely to be destabilized, or loosened, which is exactly what happens in our theme.  “Problems” here begin in mm. 7–8, whose six-four chord suggests a cadential function.  By m. 9, it becomes clear that the cadence has been delayed, causing an expansion of a supposed underlying 8-measure structure.  The expansion lasts until m. 13 and consists of a cadential progression (the bass line G#–A–A#–B–E) stated twice, finally reaching a true cadence in m. 13 that elides with the transition.  My performance (Recording 1) attempts to represent this analysis.  What kind of cadence is it?  An IAC, one would probably presume at first glance, since ^1 is avoided in the upper part.  But a closer look reveals that this initial analysis misses many musical nuances.

One of the students in my class identified a cadence—a PAC!—in m. 11.  Although it makes harmonic sense (there is a root-position tonic), I don’t like this choice, mainly because the next two measures repeat mm. 9–10 an octave lower and thus suggest that the theme is not yet completed.  (In Caplin’s terms, mm. 11–12 represent an extension of the cadential phrase, and repetition is a defining element of phrase extension technique.)  However, this student’s answer drew my attention to the possibility of hearing the inner voice (G#–G♮–F#–E) as the true soprano line, thus rendering the B on top a non-structural cover tone both times—leading up to m. 11 and m. 13!  This connection, of course, opens up the possibility of hearing a PAC in m. 13 with an implied E3 during the ostensible rest on the downbeat of m. 13.  The descent to E would be the structural descent in a Schenkerian analysis of the theme.

How can one project such an analysis in performance, given that the melodic arrival on E in 13 is so demonstrably withheld?  The key, I think, is to emphasize the inner-voice line G#–G♮–F#–E the first time, making sure the arrival on E at m. 11 is clearly heard, but at the same time avoiding a cadential effect—avoiding making m. 11 too conclusive; and then to emphasize the same line the second time, affording the listener the greatest chance to hear the implied arrival on E at m. 13 in the middle voice.  This is not easy to do, and I’m not sure my performance (Recording 2) does full justice to my analysis.  In this alternative version, I strive to de-emphasize the top-voice B, which I brought out in the first example, illustrating an IAC.

Can one consider another possibility—a half cadence in m. 12 instead of an elided authentic one in 13?  This would mean a linear interruption of the inner voice on the F#, instead of its resolution to E.  This is the issue that Poundie Burstein engages in his recent article on half cadences.  He examines progressions where V is followed by I at phrase structural boundaries; deciding between a half and authentic cadence usually involves determining which harmony is the goal:  the V or the I?

Indeed, several of my students chose to read a half cadence in m. 12, possibly to avoid the phrase elision—of which students are sometimes inexplicably afraid—that an authentic cadence would require.  The dominant of this half cadence is a V7, what Janet Schmalfeldt calls a “nineteenth-century half cadence.”  (Burstein has recently argued that this cadence type can sometimes occur in the eighteenth century as well.)  This reading, supported by the absence of a tonic downbeat in m. 13 (though it is obviously implied), changes the phrase structure and phrase rhythm.  All phrases in the main theme are now two and four measures long, the overlap is gone, and the cadence in m. 12 is hypermetrically weak (an odd-strong hypermetrical pattern has been established from the opening).  This is an important consideration; a hypermetrically strong cadence is likely to sound more conclusive.  Although this is not my personally preferred reading, I have attempted a performance of it (Recording 3).  This version may exaggerate the break between the two sections a little; if it does, the reader will hopefully find their own way to project a half-cadential reading in performance.

I should add that Caplin himself gives the theme up to m. 13, thus implying a cadence there, rather than in 12.  Ultimately, I agree with this interpretation, whether one chooses the IAC or PAC option.  I should also add that both Caplin and Burstein are very much aware of the performance implications of the concepts I have discussed; references to performance choice appear in their work multiple times.  What I have tried to do here is to offer, in a specific situation, some specific performance suggestions for solving the problems one encounters in analysis, and to show its value in a teaching situation.

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