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A Child's View of Sonata Form

Here's a link I didn't manage to post earlier: my review of last week's very nice concert by Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Which gave rise to an additional stray thought. Listening to the Dvorak 5th with a kind of open-eared enjoyment (I find that sometimes going to a concert slightly tired lets you encounter the music more honestly), I was suddenly sharply reminded of the way I reacted to sonata form when I was a child, something I haven't thought of for 30 years or more. When I was about 8 or 9 and really liked a musical theme, I found it intensely annoying that the composer felt it necessary to distort it, twist it around, or hide it so that only bits of it peeped out. I would wait for the recapitulation impatiently, rather than appreciating the transformations the theme was undergoing; it seemed like a lot of music to sit through to get to the good parts (though I did have a vague sense that it was an adult taste I might grow into). From this, it can be seen that I was anything but a musical prodigy. I suppose I would have preferred to hear the same tune over and over; not surprisingly, I was always partial to rondos. But on Thursday I was quite sure that my 8-year-old self would have loved the Fifth Symphony enough to get annoyed at Dvorak for messing up his nice themes with all that development.

By Anne Midgette  |  June 9, 2009; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  local reviews , random musings  
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I like this post. It reminds me of how, at age 12 (when I began to be semi-seriously interested in classical music), I identified the third and fourth movements of "Eroica" as the "good" movements. I did like development sections from the beginning, though. And codas! I loved codas. Say it, then say it again, but more emphatically.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | June 9, 2009 7:34 PM | Report abuse

8 years old! Wow. I was a late bloomer and didn't learn about sonata form was until my second year theory class at university.

Those lessons ruined Beethoven piano sonatas for several years but happily I've since recovered.

My favourite thing about sonata form, is the recap. Somehow I like knowing the excursions in the development will eventually return to something more familiar.

Like Lindemann777, I'm rather partial to the coda as well...especially the ones with new material.

Posted by: MissMussel | June 9, 2009 9:34 PM | Report abuse

I always hated the idea of form, particularly Sonata Form, as a child. I simply didn't believe in it (partly because I heard people talk about it, but hadn't a clue what it was). Unlike you, I loved the variety of themes that you could get, particularly in Mozart, and always thought that they were simply ideas that were strung together, rather than any kind of conventional formula. If I knew there was a formula when I was a child, I would probably have dismissed the value of it as a gimmick.

As an adult I came (finally, once I learned what it was) to enjoy the idea of knowing where I was in a classical sonata, and appreciating the way the composer used the form (if it was a good composer) to every advantage, and bemoaning the way a not-so-good composer did not.

Posted by: elainefine | June 13, 2009 10:52 PM | Report abuse

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