David Sears

The Classical Cadence in Context: A Corpus Study of Haydn’s String Quartets

In the history of music theory, the concept of closure has occupied a central position for centuries. Despite the seemingly exhaustive treatment this topic has received, particularly for music of the classical period, the lack of consensus as to how composers articulate endings in the classical style has prompted renewed activity from the scholarly community over the last few decades, leading to considerable refinement of the cadence concept. Yet in spite of such intense theoretical scrutiny, it remains unclear how cadential patterns and the boundaries they generate are perceived in the context of music listening. In this paper I provide a temporal framework consisting of two stages to examine how listeners hear cadences: a prospective stage, in which various musical parameters within the cadential progression contribute to the formation of schematic expectations for cadential arrival; and a retrospective stage, in which parameters both at and following cadential arrival serve to elicit, reinforce, or weaken the boundary percept after the fact. To examine cadences that appear in a variety of temporal contexts, I apply this framework to a corpus of 50 sonata-form expositions derived from Haydn’s string quartets. Along with the score, I have also annotated scale degrees, modulations, cadences for which the cadential arrival is present (i.e., perfect authentic, imperfect authentic, half, deceptive, and evaded), and inter-thematic functions. I first examine the musical parameters in the prospective stage for each cadence in the corpus—e.g., a trill above the penultimate dominant, a cadential six-four, etc.—to consider the degree to which these parameters function as rhetorical ‘signposts’ for the impending cadential arrival in Haydn’s compositional style. Next I consider how principles of segmentational grouping in the retrospective stage serve to confirm or revise the previous schematic representation after the fact.