Samuel Ng

Reconsidering the Phrase Rhythm of Sentences

Recent scholarship on the concept of sentence (‘Satz’) has concertedly expanded Caplin’s (1998) eight-bar model to accommodate a larger variety of motivic, harmonic, and rhetorical designs. Various modifications to Caplin’s criteria and taxonomy proposed by BaileyShea (2002/03), Forrest and Santa (2012), and Braunschweig (2013) aim to categorize and historicize sentential structures found in repertoires ranging from Bach to 20th-century popular music. While their work has inarguably shed light into the formal possibilities of sentences, phrase-rhythmic complexities as a result of melodic and harmonic innovations remain underexplored.

In this paper, I will examine the impact of various motivic and tonal manipulations on the phrase-rhythmic structures of sentences in late 18th-century instrumental music. While Caplin’s eight-bar prototype is commonly construed - through the lens of Rothstein’s (1995) rule of congruence - as comprising two four-bar (and, at a lower level, four two-bar) hypermeasures over non-overlapping phrase segments, I will show that many departures from the eight-bar model involve phrase-rhythmic trajectories that are not easily traceable to the four-bar hypermetrical schema. Non-normative melodic designs - e.g. loops, lead-ins, and caesuras - subvert the standard phrase-rhythmic paradigm in the presentation phrase, while compression and expansion - procedures typically found in the continuation phrase - often problematize a straight reading of duple or quadruple hypermeter. Further, taking cues from the analyses of Temperley (2003) and Ng (2012), I will also show that the formal context of sentences may induce aberrant readings of their phrase rhythm. For example, sentences introduced after a structural downbeat in the secondary-theme zone may be read as end-accented, thus contradicting the rule of congruence. Finally, Mirka’s (2009) dynamic model of meter offers a valuable tool to evaluate the (hyper)metrical creativeness in textbook sentences, such as the opening themes of Beethoven’s piano sonatas Op. 2 No. 1, and Op. 49 No. 1.