Loosening the 'shackles' of Sonata Form: Intersections of formal, tonal, and operatic drama in "Fidelio"

Benjamin Graf, University of North Texas and
Graham Hunt, University of Texas at Arlington

Recently described as "the first 'mind-splitting' opera in the canon" (Chrissochoidis 2011) Beethoven's Fidelio is a tour de force of intertwined plot lines, heroism, romance, and politics (Dean 1996). Indeed, the underlying dramatic plan of the opera is inextricably linked to the form and structure of its musical processes. This analysis illuminates striking connections to the dramaturgy by exploring formal-tonal relationships that extant scholarship has addressed in a limited capacity: "...a background awareness of sonata...can add interesting dimensions to one's appreciation of features [in Fidelio] that seem to underscore dramatic points precisely by evading or subverting sonata-form norms" (Tusa 1996). This research adds a new dimension to the discourse by engaging recent theories of aria-sonata forms -- most notably Martin (2016b) and Hunt (2017). Furthermore, the analysis explores salient intersections of form and tonal structure, particularly motivic connections to Pizarro's murder plot and Leonore's romantic-heroic rescue plan.