Dissertation Index

Author: Andrew Aziz

Title: In Name Only: The Interaction of Title and Genre in the Sonata Forms of Debussy and Ravel

Institution: Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester

Begun: May 2011

Completed: April 2013


This dissertation examines the extent to which the title of a sonata form interacts with its generic context, looking specifically at works by Debussy and Ravel. I start by tracing the historiography of sonatas (from the eighteenth century to the present) and considering a set of alternative perspectives, such as theories of narrative, discontinuity, and phenomenology. I consider the semiotic perspectives of Nattiez: the “poietic” perspective—a look into the relevant influences of the two composers (including both late-nineteenth-century French sonatas as well as historical musicology); and the “esthesic” perspective, which considers the perception of these works in terms of Sonata Components, a set of three axioms based upon a generic compilation of theories on sonata.

Extending the definitions of poietic and esthesic, I divide the analyses (chamber and solo piano works) into two groups: those possessing an abstract title and those possessing a “subjective” title. Movements that contain an abstract (“generic”) title invoke the sonata genre in terms of both the poietic and esthetic poles, whereas the latter category prioritizes the esthesic. Applying the objective conditions offered by the Components, I measure—in the abstract title group—the extent to which an objective schemata of sonata form is confirmed or reconstructed, introducing the phenomena of “semiotic clash” and “semiotic restoration.” While it is traditional to apply sonata axioms to compositions that carry abstract titles, such considerations have not been consistently applied to those with “subjective” titles—works that seem to suggest ad-hoc formal procedures (based upon esthesic cues). I contribute two new concepts: the notion of “post-expositional breakthrough” (PEB) and a formal paradigm called “resetting the formal compass” (RFC). Breakthroughs are the result of a formal discontinuity, in which a process suddenly ceases, only to be resumed following a point of “apotheosis” (or Adorno’s Durchbruch). RFC is a formal function that results from the music “losing its formal bearings,” veering away from any predictable backdrop; as a result, the music suddenly changes course, offering a blanket of sound that serves as a “memoryless” buffer. I posit that many works by Debussy and Ravel of this “subjective” category can be viewed through the traditional sonata lens, facilitating a reconsideration of this genre in fin-de-siècle French contexts.

After considering each group independently, I compare the analyses of both and consider the broad impact of a title’s influence on generic context and formal perception. Conclusively, I establish that the procedures outlined in both groups exhibit distinct twentieth-century sonata conceptions that are uniquely French.

Keywords: Debussy, Ravel, sonata theory, title, genre, form, narrative, discontinuity, phenomenology, semiotics


Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction: Why A Sonata?
1.0. Introduction
1.1. Problem and Methodology
Aside: A Note on the Intentional Fallacy
1.2. Historiography of Sonata Form, circa 1800 — 2000
1.3. Contemporary Models of Sonata Form
1.4. Toward A Generic Model of Sonata Form: Sonata Components 48
1.5. Chapter Outline

Chapter 2: Literature Review: Narrative and Discontinuity; Previous Analyses

2.0. Can Narrative Strategies Supplement Sonata Theory?
2.1. 1. A Survey of Narrative Strategies
2.1.2. Theories of Discontinuity
Aside: Lewinian Extensions to Formal Analysis
2.1.3. Extensions of Discontinuity; the “Memoryless” Property
2.2. Previous Analysis of Debussy and Ravel
2.2.1. General Approaches — Debussy
2.2.2. General Approaches — Ravel
2.3. Conclusion

Chapter 3: Were sonatas intended?

3.0. Poietic Treatments
3.1.1. The “Modern” Sonata
3.1.2. French “Nationalism”
3.1.3. D’Indy, Course of Musical Composition, Vol. 2
3.2. Debussy’s Poietics
3.3. Ravel’s Poietics
3.4. Debussy and Ravel; Conclusion

Chapter 4: A Few French Sonatas

4.0. Select Analyses
4.1. A Few French Sonatas
4.2.1. Fauré, Violin Sonata No. 1 (1875)
4.2.2. Saint-Saëns, Violin Sonata No. 1 (1885)
4.2.3. Franck, Violin Sonata (1886)
4.2.4. Saint-Saëns, Piano Trio No. 2 (1892)
4.2.5. Debussy, String Quartet (1894)
4.2.6. Ravel, Violin Sonata #1 (1897)
4.2.7. Vincent d’Indy, Violin Sonata (1904)
4.2.8. Fauré, Violin Sonata No. 2 (1918)
4.3. Conclusion

Chapter 5: “Sonata Forms”

5.0. Introduction
Prelude: Debussy, String Quartet
5.1. Debussy, Sonata for Violin and Piano
5.2. Debussy, Sonata for Viola, Flute, and Harp
5.3. Debussy, Sonata for Cello and Piano
5.4. Ravel, Sonata for Violin and Cello
5.5. Ravel, Violin Sonata (#2)
5.6. Ravel, Trio in A minor
5.7. Conclusion

Chapter 6: Sonata Forms

6.0. Introduction
6.1. Post-Expositional Breakthroughs, En blanc et noir, L’isle joyeuse
6.1.1. En blanc et noir
6.1.2. L’isle joyeuse
6.2. Pour Le Piano: “Prelude”
6.3. Resetting the Formal Compass; Jeux d’eau; Miroirs: “Oiseaux Tristes,” Gaspard de la nuit: “Ondine”
6.3.1. Jeux d’eau
6.3.2. “Oiseaux Tristes”
6.3.3. “Ondine”
6.4. Le Tombeau de Couperin: Prelude.
6.5. Sonatine, Third Movement.
6.6. Conclusion.

Chapter 7: Conclusion

7.0. Introduction
7.1. “Sonata” Forms
7.2. Sonata Forms
7.3. Sonatas by Debussy and Ravel: Postlude



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