Merging Of The Suite Into The Sonata

IN the previous chapter it-was stated that the various dances, such as the minuet, sarabande, allemande, etc., led up to our modern sonata form, or, perhaps, to put it more dearly, they led up to what we call sonata form. As a matter of fact, already in the seventeenth century, we find the word sonata applied to musical compositions; generally to pieces for the violin, but rarely for the harpsichord. The word sonata was derived originally from the Italian word suonare, ” to sound,” and the term was used to distinguish instrumental from vocal music. The latter was sung (cantata), the former was sounded (suonata) by instruments. Thus many pieces were called suonatas; the distinguishing point being that they were played and not sung. Organ sonatas existed as far back as 1600 and even earlier, but the earliest application of the word seems to have been made in connection with pieces for the violin.

Dances were often grouped together, especially when they had some slight intrinsic musical value. Probably the term sonata first designated a composition in one of these dance forms not intended for dancing. Gradually groups of dances were called suites; then, little by little, the dance titles of the separate numbers were dropped, and the suite was called sonata. These different numbers, however, retained their dance characteristics, as we shall see later. The arrangement of the pieces composing the suites differed in various countries. There were French, ltalian, German, and English suites, generally, however, retaining the same grouping of the different movements. The first movement consisted of an allemande; then came a courante; then a minuet; then a sarabande; and last of all a gigue; all in the same key. Sometimes the minuet and sarabande changed places, just as in modern times do the andante and scherzo.

Already in 1685, when Corelli’s sonatas for strings appeared, the custom of decreasing the number of movements to three began to obtain, and a century later this custom was universal. The allemande, overture, or preludio formed the first movement; the second consisted of the sarabande, the ancestor of our adagio; and the last part was generally a gigue. Even when the dance titles were no more used (the music having long outgrown its original purpose), the distinctive characteristics of these different movements were retained; the sarabande rhythm was still adhered to for the adagio (even by Haydn) and the triple time and rhythm of the gigue were given to the last part. In addition to this, these three movements were often kept in one key. ln his first sonatas Beethoven added a movement, generally a minuet, to this scheme; but returned to the three-movement structure later. His Op. 111 has only two movements, in a way returning to a still earlier general form of the sonata. Now, as has already been said, some of the earliest examples of instrumental music were mainly descriptive in character, that is to say, consisting of imitations of things, thus marking the most elementary stage of programme music. Little by little composers became more ambitious and began to attempt to give expression to the emotions by means of music; and at last, with Beethoven, ” programme music ” may be said, in one sense, to have reached its climax. For although it is not generally realized, he wrote every one of his sonatas with definite subjects, and, at one time, was on the point of publishing mottoes to them, in order to give the public a hint of what was in his mind when he wrote them.

Analysis may be considered as the reducing of a musical composition to its various elements — harmony, rhythm, melody — and power of expression. Just as melody may be analyzed down to the motives and phrases of which it consists, so may the expressiveness of music be analyzed; and this latter study is most valuable, for it brings us to a doser understanding of the power of music as a language.

For the sake of clearness we will group music as follows:

1. Dance forms.

2. Programme music. (Things. Feelings.)

3. The gathering together of dances in suites.

4. The beginnings of design.

5. The merging of the suite into the sonata.

The dance tunes I need hardly quote; they consist of a mere play of sound to keep the dancers in step, for which purpose any more or less agreeable rhythmical succession of sounds will serve.

If we take the next step in advance of instrumental music we come to the giving of meanings to these dances, and, as I have explained, these meanings will at first have reference to things; for instance, Couperin imitates an alarm clock; Rameau tries to make the music sound as if three hands were playing instead of two (Les trois mains); he imitates sighing (Les soupirs); the scolding voice; he even tries to express a mood musically (L’indifferente). ln Germany, these attempts to make instrumental music expressive of something beyond rhythmic time-keeping continued, and we find Carl Philip Emanuel Bach attempting to express light-hearted amiability (La complaisance) and even languor (Les tendres langueurs). The suite, while it combined several dances in one general form, shows only a trace of design. There was more design in one of the small programme pieces already quoted than in most of the suites of this period (see, for example, Loeilly’s ” Suite “).

Bach possessed instinctively the feeling for musical speech which seemed denied to his contemporaries when-ever they had no actual story to guide their expression; and even in his dance music we find coherent musical sentences as, for instance, in the Courante in A.

ln art our opinions must, in all cases, rest directly on the thing under consideration and not on what is written about it. ln my beliefs I am no respecter of the written word, that is to say, the mere fact that a statement is made by a well-known man, is printed in a well-known work, or is endorsed by many prominent names, means nothing to me if the thing itself is available for examination. Without a thorough knowledge of music, including its history and development, and, above all, musical ” sympathy,” individual criticism is, of course, valueless; at the same time the acquirement of this knowledge and sympathy is not difficult, and I hope that we may yet have a public in America that shall be capable of forming its own ideas, and not be influenced by tradition, criticism, or fashion.

We need to open our eyes and see for ourselves instead of trusting the direction of our steps to the guidance of others. Even an opinion based on ignorance, frankly given, is of more value to art than a platitude gathered from some outside source. lf it is not a platitude but the echo of some fine thought, it only makes it worse, for it is not sincere, unless of course it is quoted understandingly. We need freshness and sincerity in forming our judgments in art, for it is upon these that art lives. All over the world we find audiences listening suavely to long concerts, and yet we do not see one person with the frankness of the little boy in Andersen’s story of the ” New Clothes of the Emperor.” It is the same with the other arts. I have never heard anyone say that part of the foreground of Millet’s ” Angelus ” is ” muddy ” or that the Fornarina’s mysterious smile is anything but ” hauntingly beautiful.” People do not dare admire the London Law Courts; all things must be measured by the straight lines of Grecian architecture. Frankness! Let us have frankness, and if we have no feelings on a subject, let us remain silent rather than echo that drone in the hive of modern thought, the ” authority in art.”

Every person with even the very smallest love and sympathy for art possesses ideas which are valuable to that art. From the tiniest seeds sometimes the greatest trees are grown. Why, therefore, allow these tender germs of individualism to be smothered by that flourishing, arrogant bay tree of tradition — fashion, authority, convention, etc.

My reason for insisting on the importance of all lovers of art being able to form their own opinions is obvious, when we consider that our musical public is obliged to take everything on trust. For instance, if we read on one page of some history (every history of music has such a page) that Mozart’s sonatas are sublime, that they do not contain one note of mere filigree work, and that they far transcend anything written for the harpsichord or clavichord by Haydn or his contemporaries, we echo the saying, and, if necessary, quote the authorities.” Now if one had occasion to read over some of the clavichord music of the period, possibly it might seem strange that Mozart’s sonatas did not impress with their magnificence. One might even harbour a lurking doubt as to the value of the many seemingly bare runs and unmeaning passages. Then one would probably turn back to the authorities for an explanation and find perhaps the following: ” The inexpressible charm of Mozart’s music leads us to forget the marvellous learning bestowed upon its construction. Later composers have sought to conceal the constructional points of the sonata which Mozart never cared to disguise, so that incautious students have sometimes failed to discern in them the veritable ` pillars of the house,’ and have accused Mozart of poverty of style because he left them boldly exposed to view, as a great architect delights to expose the piers upon which the tower of his cathedral depends for its support.” (Rockstro, ” History of Music,” p. 269.) Now this is all very fine, but it is nonsense, for Mozart’s sonatas are anything but cathedrals. It is time to cast aside this shibboleth of printer’s ink and paper and look the thing itself straight in the face. It is a fact that Mozart’s sonatas are compositions entirely unworthy of the author of the ” Magic Flute,” or of any composer with pretensions to anything beyond mediocrity. They are written in a style of flashy harpsichord virtuosity such as Liszt never descended to, even in those of his works at which so many persons are accustomed to sneer.

Such a statement as I have just made may be cried down as rank heresy, first by the book readers and then by the general public; but I doubt if anyone among that public would or could actually turn to the music itself and analyze it intelligently, from both an esthetic and technical standpoint, in order to verify or disprove the assertion.

Once a statement is made it seems to be exceedingly difficult to keep it from obtaining the universal acceptance which it gains by unthinking reiteration in other works. One of the strangest cases of this repetition of a careless statement may be found in the majority of histories of music, where we are told that musical expression (that is to say, the increasing and diminishing of a tone, crescendo and diminuendo) was first discovered at Mannheim, in Germany, about 176o. This statement may be found in the works of Burney, Schubart, Reichardt, Sittard, Wasielewski, and even in Jahn’s celebrated ” Life of Mozart.”

The story is that Jommelli, an Italian, first ” invented the crescendo and diminuendo, and that when they were first used, the people in the audience gradually rose from their seats at the crescendo, and as the music ” diminuendoed ” they sat down again. The story is absurd, for the simple reason that even in 1705, Sperling, in his ” Principae Musicæ,” describes crescendos from ppp to fff, and we read in Plutarch of the same thing.

Shedlock, in his work ” The Pianoforte Sonata,” quotes as the first sonatas for the clavier those of Kuhnau, and cites especially the six Bible sonatas. Now Kuhnau, although he was Bach’s predecessor at St. Thomas’ Church in Leipzig, was certainly a composer of the very lowest rank. The Bible sonatas, which Shedlock paints to us in such glowing colours, are the merest trash, and not to be compared with the works of his contemporaries. I do not think that they have any place whatsoever in the history or development either of music or of that form called the sonata.

The development of the suite from dance forms has already been shown, and we will now trace the development of the sonata from the suite in ltaly, Germany, and France. As an example of this development in Italy, a so-called sonata by G. B. Pescetti will serve (the sonatas-by Domenico Scarlatti were not originally so named, and the sonatas before that were simply short pieces, so designated to distinguish them from dance music). This sonata was published about 1730, and was one of nine. The first movement is practically of the allemande type, and its first period ends in the dominant key. There is but the slightest trace of a second theme in the first part; yet the improvement in contrapuntal design over the suites is evident. The second movement is in the same key, and retains the characteristic rhythm of the sarabande; at the end, the improvement, so far as design is concerned, is very noticeable. The last movement, still in the same key, is a gigue, thus keeping well in the shadow of the suite.

A sonata by the German Rolle (1718-1785) is valuable in that it shows a very decided second theme in the first period, thus tending toward the development of the original simple dance form into the more complex sonata form. The adagio, however, still has the sarabande characteristics, and foreshadows many things. lt contains many words that later were shaped into great poems by others. ” The Erlking ” of Schubert is especially hinted at, just as the first movement was prophetic of Beethoven. ln the last movement we have the gigue rhythm again.

In France, music had become merely a court appendage, as was the case with the other arts, and had long served as a means for showing the divine grace with which Louis XlV or XV could turn out his toes in the minuet. ln addition to this, the arranging of a scientific system of harmonization by Rameau (1683–1764) (which, by the way, is the basis of most of the treatises of harmony of the present century), caused the few French composers who could make headway against the prevailing ltalian opera after Lully to turn their attention away from polyphonic writing; and having, after all, but little to express in other than the long-accustomed dance rhythms and tunes, their music cannot be said to have made any mark in the world. In order to show the poverty of this style, let us take a sonata by Méhul (1763-1817). The first movement has already a well-defined second theme, but otherwise is a mere collection of more or less commonplace progressions. The second part is a dance tune, pure and simple; indeed the first part had all the characteristics of the farandole (see Bizet’s ” l’Arlesienne “). The last part is entitled rondo, ” a round dance,” and is evidently one in the literal sense of the word. ln all these sonatas the increasing use of what is called the Alberti bass is noticeable.

To show the last link between the suite and the sonata, reference may be made to the well-known sonata in D major by Haydn. In this, as in those analyzed above, all the movements are in the same key. The adagio is a sarabande, and the last movement has the characteristics of the gigue. This, however, is only the starting point with Haydn; later we will consider the development of this form into what is practically our modern sonata, which, of course, includes the symphony, quartet, quintet, concerto, etc.

Our path of study in tracing the development of the sonata from the suite leads us through a sterile tract of seemingly bare desert. The compositions referred to are full of fragments, sometimes fine in themselves, but lying wherever they happened to fall, their sculptors having no perception of their value one with another. Disconnected phrases, ideas never completed; to quote Hamlet, ” Words, words! ” Later we find Beethoven and Schubert constructing wonderful temples out of time same fragments, and shaping these same words into marvellous tone poems.

The music of the period we have been considering is well described by Browning in ” A Toccata of Galuppi’s “:

Yes you, like a ghostly cricket, Creaking where a house was burned: Dust and ashes, dead and done with, Venice spent what Venice earned.