Brahmsian articulation: Ambiguous and unfixed structures in op. 38

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Ana Llorens

Abstract

The analysis of the structural repercussions of musicians’ strategies has traditionally focused on their handling of timing and dynamics, not only because of the correlation found in a number of performances between hierarchical phrase structure and coordinated decreases in both parameters—usually referred to as phrase arching (Gabrielsson 1987) or phrase-final lengthening (Todd 1985; Repp 1990)—but also because of these parameters’ easier quantification. However, other parameters, including articulation, can play a no less significant role in the emergence and, potentially, perception of musical structures. The processes of performance and inference are, moreover, so unique to each musician and/or beholder that Manichean, categorical approaches to musical form have already started to be revised.


To explore this phenomenon, I study both the score and five recordings of the finale from Brahms’s first cello sonata, op. 38. The composer seems to have left undetermined the junctures where the transition and the recapitulation start. He also combined procedures typical of both the sonata and the fugue to produce a formal hybrid that poses significant quandaries to both performers and analysts. With particular focus on the select musicians’ manipulations of articulation, I aim to address the following questions:


  • How can musical articulation be empirically measured and analyzed?

  • Which parameters are most relevant in the emergence and perception of formal relations?

  • How can compositional formal ambiguity be materialized, concealed or created in performance?

This article ultimately investigates how musical form can, on the basis of its performance, be considered as multivalent.

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