Sonata Form in Stravinsky's "Violin Concerto", Mvt. I: Topical, Formal, and Expressive Interpretations

Scott Schumann, Central Michigan University

Given Stravinsky's preoccupation with music of previous stylistic periods, it is not surprising that he utilized sonata form as an organizational model in his neoclassical compositions. Joseph Straus discusses how twentieth-century composers had two sonata form traditions from which they could draw in their own compositions: 1) an eighteenth-century focus on harmonic contrast, and 2) a nineteenth-century focus on thematic contrast (Straus: 1990, 96). Building on these categories, I would argue that topics and tropes can also be used in conjunction with harmonic and thematic elements to further highlight the difference between formal sections, and to indicate possible expressive interpretations. In the absence of any strict relationships between specific topics and formal functions, both of these elements must be analyzed in order to better interpret the formal and expressive designs of each piece.

In this paper, I will examine the interactions between musical topics and sonata form in Stravinsky's Violin Concerto, Mvt. I (1931). In particular, I will focus on the pastoral, military, and tempesta topics, and how various shifts in dominance between arrangements of these topics are used in conjunction with harmonic and thematic contrast to outline the piece's sonata form structure. Furthermore, I will examine how the development section can be interpreted as expanding upon the expressive associations connected to the topics used in the exposition more than the motivic or thematic content itself. I will then build on the analyses of these interactions to discuss the piece as an example of the pastoral expressive genre.