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Virginia Tech

Form Functional Displacement in Schubert’s Sonata Forms

In this paper, I consider two mutually reinforcing formal phenomena, exemplified in Franz Schubert’s sonata forms. The first is commonly termed developmental “extension” or “episode” (e.g., Dahlhaus 1978, Hyland 2016, and Martinkus 2017) and, for some, has come to define form functional displacement in Schubert’s idiom (e.g., Godin 2014). The second situation comprises development sections that are “un-developmental” in their formal construction. These have not received such extensive analytical attention, yet they are equally important to our understanding of Schubert’s conceptualization of sonata form. In many of his “un-developmental” developments, processes of variation come to the fore as a primary means of organization.
I establish Schubert’s tendency to compose displaced developmental episodes and variational development sections through a brief review of D. 887/i, D. 958/i, and D. 960/i. I then offer an in-depth analysis of the first movement of the A Major Piano Sonata (D. 959/i) as a case study of form-functional displacement in Schubert’s sonata forms. The exposition’s subordinate theme complex exemplifies Classical “core” technique (Caplin, 1998): a model is sequenced in full three times, the fourth repetition leads to fragmentation and a return of material referencing the main theme’s B section. Meanwhile, it is through variation, and the use of un-developmental loosening devices such as expansion, that Schubert loosens the formal texture within the development section. Schubert’s (“un”)idiomatic use of compositional techniques—juxtaposing variation techniques with developmental processes in expositions, developments, and recapitulations—requires a reconfiguring of expectations surrounding the compositional possibilities available within a sonata form.


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Caitlin Martinkus is Assistant Collegiate Professor of Music Theory at Virginia Tech. Her research interests include musical form in the nineteenth century, historical and contemporaneous theories of musical form, nineteenth-century improvisatory practices, and the role of improvisation in music theory pedagogy. She has presented research on these subjects at the annual meeting of the Society for Music Theory, the European Music Analysis Conference, and regional societies within the SMT. Her most recent publication in Music Theory & Analysis considers Schubert’s use of variation techniques in the introduction and subordinate theme complex of his C Major Symphony (D. 944/i). Caitlin is an affiliate of the Centre for the Study of Nineteenth-Century Music at the University of Toronto, and her research has been supported by grants from Virginia Tech, the Ontario provincial government (OGS), and the University of Toronto (Waters Graduate Fellowship).

Caitlin Martinkus

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