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Thread: Sonata form without exposition

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    Senior Member Rhombic's Avatar
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    Default Sonata form without exposition

    Sonata form is relatively predictable when it has an exposition: you clearly distinguish the two main themes and you will perfectly understand what is being developed in the development. Furthermore, the recapitulation is also relatively predictable because you have heard the exposition before and both have certain parallelisms that, even in Romantic sonatas, will always guide the listener to the coda.

    I thought that if you got a piano sonata, even a Haydn one, and you started with the development instead of the exposition, effectively getting rid of that section, it would be extremely surprising. Take Mozart's Sonata no. 16 in C Major and start with the development in the first movement. While in this case the development is very short, you still fell very confused if you had never listened to the exposition before.

    If a development-recapitulation form was made in sufficiently large dimensions (otherwise it would be too short to be a movement), together with an increase in the duration of the development, you'd get an extremely innovative tonal form. The listener would perceive some chaotic elaboration of motives that he had not heard before and, when the recapitulation begins, he understands everything: the order is uncovered. From apparent chaos to perfect order.

    Has any composer done this (statistically, someone has done it)?
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    Senior Member Dim7's Avatar
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    From Wikipedia about Dutilleux "Some of Dutilleux's trademarks include..... "reverse variation," by which a theme is not exposed immediately but rather revealed gradually, appearing in its complete form only after a few partial, tentative expositions."

    I don't really know anything about Dutilleux and can't give specific examples, but that sounds a bit similar.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dim7 View Post
    From Wikipedia about Dutilleux "Some of Dutilleux's trademarks include..... "reverse variation," by which a theme is not exposed immediately but rather revealed gradually, appearing in its complete form only after a few partial, tentative expositions."

    I don't really know anything about Dutilleux and can't give specific examples, but that sounds a bit similar.
    Schnittke did this as well. His Seventh Symphony ends with several complete statements of a dirge that was used as the basis of material from the earlier movements, where phrases of the dirge were verticalized as tone clusters. I'm pretty sure he also developed tone rows early in a work, often to produce tonal sounding materials, saving a statement of the row until the end.

    Considerably earlier I think Jacques Ibert did the reverse variation trick in a symphonic work.

    Don't know of any sonata forms without expositions, although leaving out the development was a standard form for slow movements.

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    Senior Member Rhombic's Avatar
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    Leaving out the development, in my opinion, is taking the interesting parts out of the sonata form. It has been widely used, though.
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    I think that the whole point of sonata form grew out of a concept of key and modulation. The whole point of the exposition was to establish the relationship between the tonic key and the dominant key (or another related key later on but that's another matter altogether) and the latter section used melodic material from the exposition to further explore modulation to other related keys before returning to the tonic and restating some material heard at the start. If you look at really early Haydn sonatas, or even sonatas by Scarlatti you can see the prototype of sonata form as being a series of phrases which overall imply a structure built on tonality rather than development of thematic material. The melodies and motifs themselves are a way of giving the piece coherence to the listener, and repetitions and variations of thematic material in the section immediately after the exposition eventually grew into an elaborate development section in its own right throughout the course of history.

    Dim7 mentioned the idea of "reverse variation" which would probably be more successful because theme and variation form has its basis in the thematic material itself and variations/developments of it rather than a structure built on key relationships like sonata form.

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ComposerOfAvantGarde View Post
    I think that the whole point of sonata form grew out of a concept of key and modulation. The whole point of the exposition was to establish the relationship between the tonic key and the dominant key (or another related key later on but that's another matter altogether) …
    This is true through the classical era, although for Beethoven, other secondary key areas besides the dominant, and sometimes ones not related to the dominant, were acceptable. In the nineteenth century, however, a thematic-schematic model took over, that is, so-called textbook sonata form. The specific classical key relations were still observed more often than not, but they were probably vestigial features by then; the thematic structure had, arguably, become the central focus.

    For me, one of the most interesting things about sonata form is that the only thing uniting the various structures bearing this name is an historical tradition. This is clear if one asks what, for example, the first movements of C.P.E. Bach's Prussian Sonatas have to do with the first movements of Tchaikovsky's 4th or Shostakovich's 1Oth Symphony. Kind of like the relationship between a Tyrannosaurus and a parakeet.

    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    Considerably earlier I think Jacques Ibert did the reverse variation trick in a symphonic work.
    Nice try Ed, but you were thinking of Vincent D'Indy, not Ibert.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Mar-09-2015 at 14:21.

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    Senior Member Richannes Wrahms's Avatar
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    If I recall correctly, Messiaen in his Treatise says that the only section of sonata form that it's still fresh today is the development, so as to write 'sonatas' without exposition or recap.

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    Senior Member Rhombic's Avatar
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    Sorry for unearthing this thread... but I have still not found any piece structured in this way, so I've thought that my next composition will be like this, albeit leaning more towards atonality than towards tonality.
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    That is actually a really interesting idea. Especially given the exposition is repeated in Classical tradition, it makes the developed ideas in the development much clearer and obvious.

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    Im curious to see how this would turn out. The thing about framing the development with exposition and recap. is that is can give the listener a sense of journey. A starting safe familiar place, then exploration and divergence and then return home. You set the scene, then break expectations to create interest and tension, and then bring everything back full circle to a place where the recap. psychological feels different (even though the notes might be similar to the exposition) because of everything that happened on the journey. This process creates a sense of satisfaction and movement, much like a story or drama. So you would likely lose something.

    On the other hand there are examples of modern dramas where things are told in reverse or chaos is presented and then later we find out how we got there. Why couldn't this work in music in some form?

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    Senior Member Dim7's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rik1 View Post
    Im curious to see how this would turn out. The thing about framing the development with exposition and recap. is that is can give the listener a sense of journey. A starting safe familiar place, then exploration and divergence and then return home. You set the scene, then break expectations to create interest and tension, and then bring everything back full circle to a place where the recap. psychological feels different (even though the notes might be similar to the exposition) because of everything that happened on the journey. This process creates a sense of satisfaction and movement, much like a story or drama. So you would likely lose something.

    On the other hand there are examples of modern dramas where things are told in reverse or chaos is presented and then later we find out how we got there. Why couldn't this work in music in some form?
    In a way recapitulations are actually very undramatic, or "unstorylike" if you will. How often in stories there's a more or less literal repetition of the beginning?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dim7 View Post
    In a way recapitulations are actually very undramatic, or "unstorylike" if you will. How often in stories there's a more or less literal repetition of the beginning?
    Yes you're quite right actually. I guess I was just implying that the psychological effect of the recap. has some allusions to story telling in that after the development the recap. can feel different despite the repetition. In much the same way that some stories may have a character reflect on themes presented at the start but now seen in a new light because of the emotional journey they have just been on. Tenuous, I know... but I was thinking more from the effect on the listener (or audience). Some story endings do tie together themes presented at the start in a new way.

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