Seeing Double: Proliferating Phrase and Ambiguous Functions in Sonata Forms of the Eighteenth Century

Rebecca Long, University of Houston

In several recent articles, Pound Burstein has expounded upon the potential for modern sonata analysis to misrepresent a mid-eighteenth-century form by using terminology charged with extraneous, late-eighteenth century connotations. Burstein prefers using eighteenth-century models, primarily those of Heinrich Christoph Koch, to describe the expositions of mid-eighteenth century. Sections of early- and mid-eighteenth century sonata forms often avoid strict categorization and at times serve a dual or ambiguous function. This contradicts the hyper-specialization of thematic sections seen in the late-eighteenth century that influence current understandings of sonata form.

Many eighteenth-century movements feature a proliferating phrase, that is, a phrase with an ambiguous function. Modern terminology struggles to describe these phrases: they often occur between what would be termed the transition and the secondary theme, sharing functions with both. Eighteenth-century descriptions of the form however, are hardly a panacea. Though the models put forth by eighteenth-century theorists like Heinrich Christoph Koch often resonate with the pattern of phrases and endings within these expositions, their terminology fails to convey the function of such passages in a way that the modern listener, performer, and analyst comprehends. This presentation demonstrates the use of proliferating phrases and cadences in Type 2 sonata form movements from the early- and mid-eighteenth century, examines their relationship to both contemporary and eighteenth-century models of the form, and finally, introduces a combined model that accounts for these forms using (mostly) familiar terminology.