Caitlin Martinkus

Richard Strauss and the Classical Cadence

Studies of late Romantic musical form typically highlight the complex relationships that arise when various elements of a work interact, such as musical program, large-scale tonal structure, and the over-arching form of a piece (e.g. Hepokoski 1992, Darcy 1997, Monahan 2007, and Vande Moortele 2009). Issues of cadence, however, are rarely the focal point of analyses (with the notable exception of Monahan 2011), even though cadences arguably play no less central a role in formal articulation in Romantic music than they did in earlier repertoires. In this paper I focus on the use of cadences in the works of one specific composer: Richard Strauss. Culling examples from the tone poems Don Juan and Ein Heldenleben and the Horn and Oboe Concerti, I argue that Strauss, to a surprising extent, relies on classical notions of cadence.

I take as a starting point the distinction made by William Caplin between cadential content and cadential function (Caplin 1987, 1998, 2004). I then catalogue the consistent means by which cadential closure is both effected and thwarted in Strauss’s music: (1) I demonstrate classical cadential formulae providing syntactical closure to large-scale formal units, and (2) I illustrate Strauss’s use of cadential deviations in order to expand themes and middle-ground structures, thus creating larger overarching formal designs. I conclude by assessing the aesthetic and interpretive implications of the fact that the syntactical function and conventionalized harmonic content of cadential formulae retain their signifying power in this highly chromatic late Romantic music.