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CLASSICAL  March 2000

CLASSICAL March 2000

Subject:

Re: Repeats

From:

Felix Delbruck <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 13 Mar 2000 08:03:47 +1300

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Thanks to Steve Schwartz for filling in for me here earlier.  I suppose I
had nevertheless better answer this.  But this is the last time I write on
this subject!

Len Fehskens wrote:
>
>>But is it not conceivable that there will be cases where the exposition
>>repeat continues to be used as a convention, but with no clear
>>ramifications for the musical substance?
>
>If you conclude such, then you are you not implying that composer was
>in some sense in error, either out of negligence or stupidity?

Perhaps, but so what if I am? Schubert was a man, not a god, and thus
necessarily fallible.  You can't shut me up by invoking taboos!

However, I don't think I went that far.  Schubert wasn't an idiot and he
certainly knew more about composition than me.  But for reasons which I
set out earlier, it does look to me as if the exposition repeat was for
him a conventional matter.  Now that wouldn't matter much, if not for the
fact that his whole style changes radically in some of his late works -
they become broader, more Romantic, less classical, more discursive, the
contrasts are less marked - and in some cases that seems to me to pull the
rug out from under the repeat, so to speak.  That doesn't mean Schubert is
stupid - it merely says that formal coventions sometimes persist beyond
their practical use.  I chose Schubert as an example for what seems to
me a problem in the use of the repeat in Sonata form when we come to the
Romantic period.  Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, earlier Schubert composed
in a style in which the repeats made sense, so to speak; somewhere along
the line musical thinking changed radically, and Schubert's last sonatas
seem to me to be on the other side of the divide.  In that new style,
where proportions are less clear, where psychological concerns seem more
important than structural ones, the presence or absence of the repeat seems
to make *less of a difference*.  That's all I am trying to argue - people
like Jocelyn seem to think that omitting it would kill the piece in each
and every case, but as far as I can see that is question-begging.  I may
well be wrong about these particular repeats, I'm no musicologist, but I
want a posteriori reasons, pointing to specific losses in the particular
work at hand.  You did so by pointing to the lead-in back to the beginning,
and that is certainly arguable.  But since in this case the lead-in may
well be prompted by the prior 'necessity' for the repeat rather than be an
end in itself (and that is arguable too, see Brendel on the subject), you
have to go further:  why *in terms of its own musical substance* is the
lead-in so important to the scheme of the piece, beyond the fact that it
is there? As I said, the answer will depend on your view of the movement
as a whole.

Note that the only reason I feel it is legitimate to make these judgment
calls here is because the repeat seems to be conventional.  So will someone
who is able please tell me if I am wrong about this - *not* by simple
question-begging - 'Schubert intended it because Schubert wrote it.  He did
it for the structure of the music' etc.  If, say, Schubert had included the
repeats in only some works, like Beethoven, then that would be evidence
that they had particular significance in the scheme of those works, and we
would have to make sense of them whether we like them or not

>If you can conclude this about a repeat sign, why can't you conclude
>this about other aspects of the work's structure, or harmonic progression,
>or rhythm, or ...

Why not? My final reply to Jocelyn gave examples where this had been done
by respected scholars.  You would say - 'yes, but you were talking about
misprints - things the composer clearly didn't intend'.  Maybe, but in some
of those cases there was no actual documentary evidence to show that these
were misprints - what the scholar had to rely on was *his own judgment* -
his knowledge of the logic of harmonic progressions, similar passages
elsewhere in the score, rhythmic and rhetorical proportion.  Where there
was an anomaly, he then had to decide whether that anomaly could somehow
be justified within the work's overall scheme or not.

>>what justifies the repeat (other than the fact that Schubert wrote it!)?
>
>What other justification is necessary? Once we feel free to second
>guess the composer's justification for any aesthetic decision, how do we
>decide how much second guessing is legitimate and how much intrudes on the
>composer's prerogative as the composer?

I don't know.  I don't care, either, as long as the second-guessing is
informed and responsible, rather than merely whim-based.  I suppose the
more you know about the musical theory at a particular time, the style
of a particular era and that of earlier eras, of the composer himself (at
a particular stage in his career), the more familiar you are with the
composer's entire repertoire, the more you will be in a position to
second-guess.

And of course I'm not in that position with regard to Schubert.  But
Schubert was just a possible example.

>Again, I believe that where the composer wishes the interpretor to
>exercise judgment, the composer gives clear indication thereof (e.g.,
>ad lib, ossia, ...)

That can't be an iron-cast rule.  He may just assume that that is what the
performer will do.  As Satoshi Akima pointed out, this textual literalism
only really became widespread in this century.

Felix Delbruck
[log in to unmask]

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