Charles Rosen – The Classical Style
Very good introduction to classical music. Lots of theories and ideas behind the music, that all make listening to the music more interesting and engaging.
“Sonata aesthetic of tonic – dominant – distant key – tonic resolution.” (Rosen, 1997, p.xxvi).
By building successive triads in both ascending and descending directions we arrive at a structure which is symmetrical and yet unbalanced: “This entails enforcing an equal distance between the twelve notes arranged in stepwise or scale progression (which produces the chromatic scale), and it distorts their relation to the natural overtones: the system is called equal temperament. Modulating around the circle of fiths in either direction will now bring one back to the original starting point. (…) it did not become the theoretical basis for music until the eighteenth century.” (Rosen, 1997, p.25).
“the center of tonal work is not a single note, but a triad.” (Rosen, 1997, p.25). “A passage in tonal work that is outside the tonic is dissonant.” (Rosen, 1997, p.26).
“In any case, the ‘sonata’ is no a definite form like a minuet, a da capo aria, or a French overture; it is like a fugue, a way of writing, a feeling for proportion, direction, and texture rather than a pattern.” (Rosen, 1997, p.30).
The motor of Baroque is harmonic sequence: short melodic harmonic pattern, repeated on different scale steps. The motor of classical music is the periodic phrase: the phrase of music is divided into an open-ended phrase that requires a second phrase as response (antecendent /consequence).
“The classical style (…) was characterized by its aptness for a dramatic style based on tonality.” (Rosen, 1997, p.57). “the most common Baroque form is one of simple and unified rhythmic texture. When a rhythm has been established, it is generally continued relentlessly until the end. (…) Once the piece is under way an impression of perpetuum mobile is not uncommon.” (Rosen, 1997, p.61). “For the classical composer the perpetuum mobile is only an added challenge to his desire to break up the rhythmic texture, and the tension adds dramatic force.” (Rosen, 1997, p.61). “Baroque dynamics provide a perfect analogy with Baroque rhythm. (…) In the same way a Baroque work may be played at a fairly constant level of sound, or to levels may be superimpose or juxtaposed without any use (at least structurally) of crescendo and diminuendo.” (Rosen, 1997, p.62).
Classical stye: “An articulate movement to the dominant (or its substitute is all that is required harmonically of a sonata exposition: how it is done is completely free, or, rather, bound only by the nature and material of each individual work. There is a movement toward the dominant in most Baroque music, too, even in early Baroque, but it is rarely made either articulate – that is, decisive – or dramatic.” (Rosen, 1997, p.69).
“Material presented outside the tonic must have created, in the eighteenth century, a feeling of instability which demanded to be resolved. (…) Today, our harmonic sensibilities have become coarsened by the tonal instability of music after the death of Beethoven, and the strength of this feeling is perhaps difficult to recapture.” (Rosen, 1997, p.73).
For classical work the drama is not necessarily in the material, but in the structure (Rosen, 1997, p.76). “the simplest way to summarize classical form is as the symmetrical resolution of opposing forces.” (Rosen, 1997, p.83). “it can be seen that sonata form is an immense melody, an expanded classical phrase, articulated, with its harmonic climax three-quarters of the way through and a symmetrical resolution that rounds it off in careful balance with the opening.” (Rosen, 1997, p.87).
“This relation of the individual detail to the large form even in apparently improvisational works, and the way the form is shaped freely in response to the smallest parts, gave us the first style in musical history where the organization is completely audible and where the form is never externally imposed.” (Rosen, 1997, p.93).
Sonata: “The movement begins by establishing a strict tempo and a tonic as frames of reference. The first section , or exposition, has two events, a movement or modulation to the dominant, and a final cadence on the dominant.” (Rosen, 1997, p.99). “The second section also has two events, a return to the tonic, and a final cadence. Some form of symmetrical resolution (called recapitulation)of the harmonic tension is necessary.” (Rosen, 1997, p.99). “The return to the tonic is generally (but not always) clarified by playing the opening measures again, as they are most closely identified with the tonic. If the return to the tonic is long delayed to heighten its dramatic effect (by modulating to other keys or by sequential progression its dramatic effect (by modulating to other keys or by sequential progressions at the dominant), the the work has an extensive development section.” (Rosen, 1997, p.99).
“This sense that the movement, the development, and the dramatic course of a work all can be found latent in the (G: melodic) material, that the material can be made to release its charged force so that the music no longer unfolds, as in the Baroque, but is literally impelled from within – this sense was Haydn’s greatest contribution to the history of music.” (Rosen, 1997, p.119).
“The two principal sources of musical energy are dissonance and sequence – the first because it demands resolution, the second because it implies continuation. The classical style immeasurable increased the power of dissonance, raising it from an unresolved interval to an unresolved chord and then to an unresolved key.” (Rosen, 1997, p.119). “to speak of any of Haydn’s structures without reference to their material is nonsense.” (Rosen, 1997, p.129).
“The unsurpassed stability of Mozart’s handling of tonal relations paradoxically contributes to his greatness as a dramatic composer. It enabled him to treat a tonality as a mass, a large area of energy, which can encompass and resolve the most contradictory opposing forces. It also allowed him to slow down the purely formal harmonic scheme of his music so that it would not outstrip the action on stage.” (Rosen, 1997, p.186).
KV 428: “The opening measure is an example of Mozart’s sublime economy. It sets the tonality by a single octave leap (the most tonal of intervals), framing the three chromatic measures that follows.” (Rosen, 1997, p.186).
Concertos: “once it is accepted that the soloist’s role is to be a dramatic one, the ritornello poses a problem, simply (as I said) that the audience is waiting for the soloist to enter. (…).” (Rosen, 1997, p.197). “To drop the opening ritornello altogether and to have the material presented by soloist and orchestra as almost equal partners (…) is to renounce the classical delight in large-scale effects, to make the contrast between solo and orchestra one of short alternations, losing the breadth of the long sections. On the other hand, to make the opening ritornello overdramatic in an attempt to raise its importance and seize the audience’s attention would be to undercut the dramatic effect of the soloist’s role and to destroy one of the principal advantages of the concerto form.” (Rosen, 1997, p.198).
Mozart K. 271 “the piano participates - as a soloist – in the first six measures, and is then silent for the rest of the orchestral exposition.” (Rosen, 1997, p.198). “it is the most crucial misunderstanding of Mozart to think, in this concerto, of his repeating a pattern and adding colour, drama and variety to the individual elements: the entire pattern is what Mozart is dramatizing – the real material is not the individual themes but their succession – and the second exposition is not a repeat but a transformation.” (Rosen, 1997, p.203).
“there are no more brutal modulations than the ones in the finale of the G minor Symphony or the first movement of the last piano concerto. But their very brutality is a sign of the economy with which they are used, and of their dramatic purpose.” (Rosen, 1997, p.254).
“In expanding that small but resilient symmetrical structure derived from the dance that was later called ‘sonata form’, the problem was always how and where to add weight without undoing the proportions and wrecking the unity. The simplest solution was the addition of a long, slow introduction.” (Rosen, 1997, p.269). An additive concept: “To increase the length of the first half is both difficult and dangerous: the exposition of a sonata is based only on one action, the establishment of one polarity; to delay its arrival too long is to diffuse all the energy, to risk chaos.” (Rosen, 1997, p.269).
“The problem of the Finale is naturally one of weight, of sufficient seriousness and dignity to balance the opening movement, but there would be no problem at all if it were not for the classical conception of the finale as a resolution of the entire work.” (Rosen, 1997, p.275). “But in any case, the thematic material of a finale is always rhythmically squarer than that of a first movement, the cadences heavily emphasized, the phrases well-defined, and the first theme completely rounded off before any movement can take place.” (Rosen, 1997, p.275). “The only exception to this squareness is the contrapuntal finale. (…).” (Rosen, 1997, p.275).
“an introduction acts as an extended dominant chord within the tonic area.” (Rosen, 1997, p.282). “In fact, no description of sonata form can be given that will fit the Haydn quartets but not the majority of forms in Mozart opera.” (Rosen, 1997, p.296). “There are no fixed rules, (…) It is a work itself (once its language is understood) that provides its own expectations, disappoints and finally fulfils them” (Rosen, 1997, p.296).
“A finale is an opera in miniature: the same tonl unity that reigns there may be found more loosely understood as is appropriate to its greater length – within the opera as a whole.” (Rosen, 1997, p.304). “only after the age of twenty did Mozart invariably finish an opera in the key of the overture.” (Rosen, 1997, p.304). “The most highly organized and the most highly brilliant of the finales is never the last (or second of the two large ones) but the first: it is, like a development section, the extreme point of tension within the work. It is also placed harmonically as far away from the tonic of the whole opera as Mozart could go.” (Rosen, 1997, p.304). “In every one of the opera finales, without exception, the last number does not modulate, but remains firmly fixed on the tonic. It serves as a cadence to the finale.” (Rosen, 1997, p.304).
“Beethoven transformed the musical tradition he was born into, but he never challenged its validity.” (Rosen, 1997, p.380). ”For example, in his frequent evasion of strict dominant-tonic relations within a single movement, Beethoven may seem to be closer to Schuhmann, Chopin, and Liszt in their most successful, least academic forms than to Haydn and Mozart. (…) Haydn and Mozart: (…) an increase of tension at the opening almost always implies the imminent establishment of the dominant as a secondary tonality; the more remote harmonies are played, not only against the tonic, but against the polarity of tonic-dominant as a continual area of reference; resolution always goes to the tonic through the dominant. This polarity has a much less fundamental role in the work of the first generation of Romantic composers, and sometimes disappears completely.” (Rosen, 1997, p.382).
“Almost from the beginning of his career as a composer, Beethoven attempted to find substitutes for the dominant in the classical tonic-dominant polar relation.” (Rosen, 1997, p.382). “After the Waldstein sonata, Beethoven is almost as likely to use the more remote median and submediant keys to employ a straightforward dominant. (…) only chromaticism could further enlarge the field.” (Rosen, 1997, p.382). “His expansion of the large-scale harmonic range took place within the limits of the classical language, and never infringed on the tonic-dominant polarity or the classical movement towards a greater tension away from the tonic. These secondary tonalities to his work, mediants and submediants, function within the large structure as true dominants. They create a long-range dissonance against the tonic and so provide the necessary tension for a move towards a central climax.” (Rosen, 1997, p.383).
“Beethoven: “He started with a late and diluted version of classicism and gradually returned to the stricter and more concise form of Haydn and Mozart.” (Rosen, 1997, p.385).
“The use of the simplest elements of the tonal system as themes lay at the heart of Beethoven’s personal style from the beginning. It was only little by little, however, that he realized its implications.” (Rosen, 1997, p.389).
“It is clear that such an increase in size without altering the fundamental classical proportions (the placing of the climax, the ratio of harmonic tension to resolution) could not start from the long, regular and complete melodies of Mozart but had to base itself on Haydn’s treatment of tiny motifs.” (Rosen, 1997, p.394).
“the repeat during the Baroque period is a way of accenting the regularity of a dance form. (…) In the third quarter of the eighteenth century, the repeat was above all the opportunity for expressive ornamentation.” (Rosen, 1997, p.395). “It is largely in the music of Haydn nd Mozart after 1775 that structure replaced ornamentation as the principal vehicle of expression.” (Rosen, 1997, p.395).
“Thoughout his life, Beethoven increasingly relied directly upon the fundamental tonal relationships for material. His continuous attempt to strip away, at some point in each large work, all decorative and even expressive elements from the musical material – so that part of the structure of tonality is made to appear for a moment naked and immediate.” (Rosen, 1997, p.435).
“Bach’s method is to isolate one element of the original theme, the bass, and build upon that. Beethoven’s system is to make an abstract of the total shape of the theme; the form implied by his first variation, a form which supports the variation and relates to what follows, is not the melodic shape alone (…) nor the bass alone, but a representation of the theme s a whole.” (Rosen, 1997, p.436).
“The fourth variation reaches almost undifferentiated pulsation, enforced by the continuous pianissimo and by the omission of the melody note from the opening of every beat. The trill represents the complete dissolution of even this rhythmic articulation: the movement reaches the extremes of rapidity and immobility (Rosen, 1997, p.448).“It is in this way that the most typical ornamental device is turned into an essential element of large scale structure.” (Rosen, 1997, p.448).
Yet: “To the end of his life he continued to employ and even revive many musical procedures that he had known as a child in the 1770s and that younger contemporaries, like Weber, Schubert, and Mendelssohn, had abandoned as banal and old fashioned.” (Rosen, 1997, p.449). “In general one may say that Beethoven’s originality reveals itself most often not by frustrating the conventions tht he learned as a child but by magnifying them beyond the experience or expectation of any of his contemporaries.” (Rosen, 1997, p.460).
“One of the most basic relationships of triadic tonality is that the tonic is the dominant of the subdominant – in other words, a move fom tonic to dominant in the first half of a piece can be reproduced by going from subdominant to tonic without any other change. A simple transposition of the second half of the exposition up a fourth will give us the rest of the recapitulation without the necessity of any further thought or invention.” (Rosen, 1997, p.463).
“It has been said about certain sculptors (most often probably Michelangelo) that they do not so much invent forms as reveal those hidden within the stone. In a similar way, Beethoven seems to discover the meanings and emotions buried within the musical language.” (Rosen, 1997, p.483).
“The techniques of inversion, augmentation, and diminuition are among the most traditional in writing fugues: Beethoven gives them a totally new significance. Inverting the upward-moving theme became a symbol of exhaustion, the meaning enforced by texture and dynamics. Transforming the theme played at half tempo back to the original tempo renders the experience of a return of energy, and the diminuition at triple tempo beginning softly represents the source of new life. For the first time in history of music these commonplace elements of fugue take on a narrative content.” (Rosen, 1997, p.505).
“he rejected no part of the eighteenth-century tradition. He continued to employ the contrast within a theme (…) the fundamental force of the dominant (…) while his younger contemporaries preferred chromatic shifts. To the end of his life, he preserved the classical balance of dominant and subdominant. (…) He never abandoned the long final section in the tonic and the insistence on final resolutions. His greatest innovation – and they cannot be overestimated – lay in the unprecedented expansion of the style.” (Rosen, 1997, p.508).
“In harmony and rhythm, as well as formal outline, there is a return to the principles of Baroque.” (Rosen, 1997, p.515). “Like the homogeneous rhythmic texture of the Baroque, the rhythmic forms of the first generation of the Romantics are not syntactical (i.e. they do not depend on balance and ordering) but cumulative in their effect.” (Rosen, 1997, p.515). “The impulsive energy of the Romantic work is no longer a polarized dissonance and an articulated rhythm, but the familiar Baroque sequence, and the structures are no longer synthetic but additive. The music of Schuhmann in oarticular (…) comes in a series of waves, and the climax is generally reserved for the moment before exhaustion.” (Rosen, 1997, p.515).
“There are phrases by Beethoven, particularly in the Diabelli Variations and in the late quartets, which display a chromaticism as radical as anything outside Gesualdo, but they all imply a firm diatonic structure as a background. With Chpin it is the background that shifts chromatically as well.” (Rosen, 1997, p.516).
“post classical style, in which the melodic flow is essentially more important than the dramatic structure. (…) the very looseness of organization prevented the dramatic concision, the close correspondence of part to whole and the consequent richness of allusion f the classical style.” (Rosen, 1997, p.517).