Page:EB1911 - Volume 25.djvu/414

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398
SONATA FORMS


range, with the consequent prominence of remoter key-relation- ships, necessitating the dwelling on these keys at greater length causes the key-system of each movement to react on the others to an extent that would be purposeless in the art of Haydn and Mozart. Thus in the B flat trio, Op. 97, we find such remote keys as G major, D flat and D major placed in positions of great functional importance, until we come to the finale, which keeps us in suspense by its very low and quiet key-colour, contrasting so oddly with its bacchanalian temper. But when the whole main body of this finale has passed before us in the drab colours of tonic, dominant and sub-dominant, the coda marvellously explains everything by opening with an enharmonic modulation to the most distant key yet attained except as a transitory modulation.

As Beethoven proceeded, his growing sense of the functional expression of musical forms enabled him to modify and strengthen them until their interaction was as free as its principles were exact. In the C sharp minor quartet (Op. 131) the opening fugue is functionally an enormously developed introduction. The following allegro, in the startling key of D major, the " arti- ficial" flat supertonic, is a first movement, with its development suppressed, and with certain elements of rondo style as a neces- sary contrast to the preceding fugue. The startling effect produced by this key of D major necessitates . a simple and limited key-system within the movement itself, thus accounting for the absence of a development. The remaining movements fall into their place among the keys that lie between the keys of D major and C sharp minor. Thus the slow movement (to which the brief allegro moderato forms a dramatic introduction) is a great set of variations in A major, and the strictness of its variation form allows no change of key until the two brilliant bursts of remoter harmony, F and C, in the coda. Then follows a scherzo of extremely simple design, in E major, with a small part of its trio in A. A short introduction in G sharp minor, the dominant, completes the circle of related keys and leads to the finale which (though cast in a compound of rondo and sOnata form that would allow it a free range of modulation) contents itself with very simple changes, until towards the end, where it systematically demonstrates the exact relationship of that first surprising key of D major to C sharp minor.

4. The Unity of the Sonata. — The gigantic emotional range of Beethoven's work is beyond the scope of technical discussion, except in so far as the technical devices themselves suggest their emotional possibilities. The struggle between decadence and reaction since the time of Beethoven indicates on the one side the desire to rival or surpass Beethoven in emotional expression without developing the necessary artistic resources; and, on the other side, a tendency to regard form as a scheme which the artist first sets up and then fills out with material. Early in the 19th century these tendencies gave rise to controversies which are not yet settled; and before we discuss what has taken place since Beethoven we must consider the connexion between sonata movements in a last new light.

Historical views of art are apt to be too exclusively progressive and to regard higher and lower degrees of organization in an art-form as differing like truth and falsehood. But in trying to prove that the megatherium could not survive under present conditions, we must beware of arguing that it never existed; nor must we cite the fact that man is a higher organism in order to argue that a jelly-fish is neither organic nor alive. Organiza- tion in art, as elsewhere, may be alive and healthy in its lowest forms. The uniformity of key in the suite forms is low organiza- tion; but it is not inorganic until a mild seeker after novelty, like A. G. Muffat, tries to introduce more keys than it will hold. The interdependence of movements in Haydn and Mozart is not such high organization as the ideal form of the future, in which there is no more breaking up of large instrumental works into separate movements at all; but neither is it a mere survival from the decorative contrasts of the suite. Evolutionists must not forget that in art, as in nature, the survival of the fit means the adaptability to environment. And the immortal works of art bring their proper environment with them into later ages.


The large instrumental forms have, until recent times, remained grouped into sonata movements, because their expression is so concentrated and their motion so swift that they cannot, within the limits of a single design, give the mind time to dwell on the larger contrasts they themselves imply. Thus, in the " Sonata Appassionata," the contrast between the first subject and the main theme of the second is magnificent; but that calm second theme lasts just the third part of a minute before it breaks off. Now, though the third part of a minute bears about the same proportion to the whole design as five hundred lines does to the design of Paradise Lost; though, moreover, this theme recurs three times later on, once in an exact recapitulation, and twice transformed in terribly tragic climaxes; yet the mind refuses to be whirled in less than ten minutes through a musical tragedy of such Shakespearian power without opportunity for repose in a larger scheme of contrasts than any attainable by the perfection and breadth of the single design within these limits. Hence the need for thu following slow set of variations on an intensely quiet tune, which, by its rigorous confinement to the tonic of a nearly related key, its perfect squareness of rhythm, and the absolute simplicity and strictness of its variations, reveals the true pathos of the first movement by contrast with its own awful repose; until its last chord, the first in a new key, falls like a stroke of fate, and carries us headlong into the torrent of a finale in which nothing dares oppose itself to those sublime forces that make the terror of tragedy more beautiful than any mere appeal for sympathy. Thus the dramatic interdependence of sonata movements is very strict. Yet the treatment by each movement of its own thematic material is so complete that there is little or no scope for one movement to make use of the themes of another. Such instances as may be suspected in Beethoven's later works (for example, the similarity of opening themes in various movements of the sonatas, Op. 106 1 and Op. no) are too subtle to be felt more than subconsciously; while the device of clearly quoting an earlier movement occurs only in three intensely dramatic situations (the introductions to the finales in Op. 101, the violoncello sonata, Op. 102, No. r, and the 9th symphony) where its whole point is that of a surprise.

5. The Sonata since Beethoven. — It is unlikely that really vital sonata work will ever be based on a kind of Wagnerian Leit- motif system, until the whole character of instrumental form shall have attained the state of things in which the move- ; ments are not separated at all. There has been no ambitious or " progressive " composer since Beethoven who has not, almost as a matter of etiquette, introduced the ghosts of his earlier movements into his finale, and defended the procedure as the legitimate consequence of Beethoven's Op. 101. But, while there is no a priori reason for condemning such devices, they illustrate no principle, new or old. The nearest approach to some such principle is furnished once by Schumann, who always ingeniously adapts the outward forms of the sonata to his own peculiar style of epigrammatic and antithetic expression, discarding as beyond his scope the finer aspects of freedom and continuity of rhythm, and constructing works which bear much the same relation to the classical sonata as an elaborate mosaic bears to an easel-picture. Dealing thus with a looser and more artificial type of organization, Schumann was able in bis D minor symphony to construct a large work in which the movements are thermatically connected to an extent which in more highly organ- ized works would appear like poverty of invention, but which here furnishes a rich source of interest. Many other experi- ments have been tried since Beethoven, by composers whose easy mastery is that of the artist who, from long practice in putting material into a ready-made form, becomes interested in the construction of new ready-made forms into which he can continue to put the same material. A sense of beauty is not a thing to be despised, even in pseudo-classical art; and neither the many beautiful, if mannered, works of Spohr, which disguise one stereotyped form in a bewildering variety of instrumental

1 In Op. 106 the first two notes of the slow movement were an afterthought added (as Beethoven told his publisher) for the purpose of producing such a connexion.