Vasili Byros

Sonata Quasi Uno Schema: A Case from Beethoven

Recent advances in schema theory have brought an unexpectedly negative appraisal of ‘Formenlehre’ for the apprehension of late-18th-century music. Robert Gjerdingen (2007) has explicitly distanced issues of musical form from the ‘schema’ concept that drives his conceptualization of the phrase level, and even deemed sonata form an anachronistic Romantic ideology that was imposed on the 18th century.
I return to an earlier conception of a schema in Leonard Meyer (1989), who viewed sonata form as one among several different kinds of hierarchically varied “script-like schemata”. Meyer’s concept implicitly revisits Heinrich Christoph Koch’s (1782–93) contemporary description of “die Form der Sonate” as a hierarchical ‘punctuation form’: certain lower-level types of syntax called ‘punctuation formulas’ communicate higher-level points of closure, which Koch termed “Hauptruhepuncte des Geistes.”
Through a case study on Beethoven’s Second Symphony, I advance both positive and negative analytic evidence for such a sonata schema. First, phrase-level patterns and William Caplin’s (1998) form-functional categories operate as foreground and middleground types of “subschemata” (Rumelhart 1980) oriented to structurally weighted cadences—including what James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy (2006) call the “medial caesura” and cadence of “essential expositional/structural closure”. Negative evidence comes via a marked deviation in Beethoven’s use of a ‘punctuation formula’ that I have styled the Le–Sol–Fi–Sol schema (Byros 2012), which is powerfully targeted at the exposition’s medial caesura.

The case study suggests that sonata form was a culturally shared cognitive context by which composers and listeners communicated in the 18th century.