Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Caplin's form functions

The form-function terminology of William Caplin, derived in part from Schoenberg and so useful for sonata movements (among others), is less well suited to dance repertoires of the early nineteenth century. Late menuets still work well, and German dances generally pose fewer problems than do Ländler-based waltzes, in which tightly unified (that is to say, highly repetitious) themes and small forms can sometimes offer little in return for the effort involved in applying the terms.

Certainly, Caplin's terminology offers no unusual insights into formal design in D779n13. The first strain is only a bit more insistent than most waltzes in its repetitions of the basic idea of mm. 2-3, and other unusual features are self-evident without additional analysis: the displacement of the basic idea through the extended pick-up; the unexpectedly stable, if tonally distant, opening to the second strain; and the ending that is convincing as a reprise even though its appearance is somewhat muddled by a transition that puts the basic idea in a tonally uncertain position. The 16-measure theme in the first strain is a true 16-measure theme in Caplin's sense (not an artefact of the awkward beginning that would make the use of repeat signs clumsy). The 16-measure theme becomes the norm in Strauss, sr., and Lanner; that is stretched to 32 bars in the next generation. The contrasting middle (opening of the second strain) as a second theme is by no means unusual in the early waltz repertoire, especially in Schubert.

Sketch of the design: first strain: 16-measure period consisting of an 8-bar antecedent (sentence in which the continuation phrase is biv + biv with an imperfect authentic cadence) and an 8-bar consequent with the same elements but a perfect authentic cadence. (biv = "basic idea varied.") Second strain: rudimentary period with a 6-bar antecedent that appears to end with a perfect authentic cadence, followed by a 2-bar transition and a reprise of the consequent from the first strain.


William Caplin. Classical Form: A Theory of Formal Functions for the Instrumental Music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
See also my summary of the terminology in Chapter 1 of my PDF essay Dance Designs in 18th and Early 19th Century Music: Beethoven examples in Chapter 1.   Link updated 10 June 2016.