Tuesday, December 18, 2012

First Movements

In the name of Music Appreciation or something equally vapid, most people learn that the first movement of a sonata is usually in Sonata Allegro form, consisting of theme A in the tonic key, theme B in the dominant, followed by a development section, and culminating in a recapitulation of theme A, still in the tonic, and theme B, now also in the tonic.  Pretty predictable, thus pretty uninteresting.

With the invention of the piano, however, whether a theme was in the key of C (no black keys) or G (one particularly unsettling black key) made a huge difference.  I found this out while studying a Mozart sonata when a theme in C major was so transformed when it appeared in G that I could hardly play it: the single black key so utterly altered the balance of tones as to make it entirely new.

I find this inherently dramatic, the opposite of predictable.

What if the purpose of the first movement is to present a cast of characters, including a masked villain lurking behind a pillar, waiting to pounce on the suspecting soprano?  What if the action is not in the elements that we would identify as obvious themes but in those at the bottom of the texture?