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“Rotation” and “Deformation”

Rotation Another, perhaps more sophisticated, meta-

phor is that of tracking a large spiral through
Although they differ in their degrees of sub- two or more cycles. No set of events that un-
tlety and strictness, sonata movements are en- folds in nonrecoverable, ever-elapsing time can
gaged in a dialogue with a more basic archi- exist in a condition of complete identity to any
tectural principle of large-scale recurrence that similar set that has preceded it. An essential
we call rotation. Rotational structures are those feature of all such constructions is the tension
that extend through musical space by recycling generated between the blank linearity of non-
one or more times—with appropriate altera- repeatable time and the quasi-ceremonial cir-
tions and adjustments—a referential thematic cularity of any repeatable events or structures
pattern established as an ordered succession at that are inlaid into it. Rotational procedures are
the piece’s outset. In each case the implication is grounded in a dialectic of persistent loss (the
that once we have arrived at the end of the the- permanent death of each instant as it lapses into
matic pattern, the next step will bring us back the next) and the impulse to seek a temporal
to its opening, or to a variant thereof, in or- “return to the origin,” a cyclical renewal and
der to initiate another (often modified) move rebeginning. And indeed, quite apart from the
through the configuration. The end leads into issue of merely inhabiting a different temporal
the next beginning. This produces the impres- space, successive rotations in music are often
sion of circularity or cycling in all formal types subjected to telling variation: portions of them
that we regard as rotational. One metaphorical may dwell longer on individual modules of the
image that might be invoked here is that of a original musical arrangement; they may omit
clock-hand sweeping through multiple hours, some of the ordered modules along the way; or
with the face of the clock representing the suc- they may be shortened, truncated, telescoped,
cessive stages of the thematic pattern. 11:59:59 expanded, developed, decorated, or altered with
leads inevitably to 12:00:00 (= 0:00:00) and ad hoc internal substitutions or episodic interpo-
another round through the cycle. Similarly, lations. Not infrequently these varied multiple
the regeneration of day upon day, calendar year recyclings build cumulatively toward a longer-
upon calendar year, suggests how strongly this range goal. In addition, within any individual
perception of circular recurrence has been im- rotation an internal, smaller-pattern cycling can
pressed upon our experience. give the impression of a local subrotation. These

612 Elements of Sonata Theory

include such things as thematic-block restate- sonata movement—in each of the five sonata
ments, the altered recurrences of larger sequen- types—are omnipresent in the Elements.
tial blocks or zones, and the like. Within a sonata, tonality is irrelevant to
The rotational idea is an archetypal prin- the task of identifying the rotational principle.
ciple of musical structure: a referential model The central thing is an implied or actualized
followed by (usually varied) recyclings or re- ordered sweep through a temporal sequence of
statements. It underpins a generous diversity thematic modules, along with the assumption
of forms that may be distinguished from one that the most “natural” or expected continua-
another on more surface-oriented levels: theme tion of the layout’s last module will be to lead to
and variations; strophic songs; strophic varia- a relaunching of the initial module of the next,
tion; rondos (chapter 18); different types of thus producing the characteristic spiral or circu-
ostinato-grounded works; and the like.1 Any lar effect. Rotation is what we call a rhetorical
form that emphasizes return and rebeginning principle rather than a tonal one: it is governed
is in dialogue with the rotational principle. 2 by the expectation of a temporal presentation-
One of the defi ning features of a sonata is the sequence of thematic-modular elements, not by
particular way in which it textures and shapes harmonic procedures, even though, on another
the underlying rotational idea. In a sonata-form plane of analysis, those harmonic features have
composition the referential pattern laid down their own structures to articulate.
at the beginning is typically much longer and The underlying principle of recycling or re-
more internally differentiated than that found statement has also been widely noticed by oth-
in the smaller strophic or variation forms. Here ers. In Sonata Forms, for instance, Charles Rosen
the relevant pattern is the exposition, the musi- pointed out the relevant feature particularly
cal confi guration provided, in a two-part ex- with regard to what we would call triple-ro-
position, by P TR ’ S / C, including the subdi- tational Type 3 sonatas: “The need for a bal-
visions of each zone, if any. Discussions of the anced symmetry always remained essential to
rotational implications of the remainder of the any conception of sonata in all its forms. (Many

1. Our additional discussions of the rotational princi- 2. Baroque ritornello structures, for instance, suggest
ple—especially as applied to music from later decades— a set of varied refrain-like recurrences—the fi rst ritor-
may be found in the following: Hepokoski, Sibelius: Sym- nello (or tutti) often fi rst sounded as a patterned “begin-
phony No. 5 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ning”—that spin off into freer, diverse episodes for the
1993), pp. 23–26, 58–84; Darcy, “The Metaphysics of remainder of each rotation. (Or, conversely, once into the
Annihilation: Wagner, Schopenhauer, and the Ending piece we could also construe the rotations as comprising
of the Ring,” Music Theory Spectrum, 16 (1994), 1–40 freer, episodic beginnings—the “solo” passages—each
(see esp. pp. 10ff ); Hepokoski, “The Essence of Sibelius: of which is concluded by a refrain-like reference to the
Creation Myths and Rotational Cycles in Luonnotar,” ritornello or a portion thereof.) Extending such ideas
The Sibelius Companion, ed. Glenda Dawn Goss (West- to varied strophic songs with refrains and to rondos
port, Conn.: Greenwood, 1996), pp. 121–46; Darcy, is an easy matter. Similarly, da capo (large-formatted
“Bruckner’s Sonata Deformations,” Bruckner Studies, ed. ABA’s) or other emphatically ternary structures could
Timothy L. Jackson and Paul Hawkshaw (Cambridge: be interpreted as two “external” rotations of a musi-
Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 256–77; He- cal pattern, separated by a contrasting interpolation in
pokoski, “Rotations, Sketches, and [Sibelius’s] Sixth the middle. Extending the metaphor further, one might
Symphony,” Sibelius Studies, ed. Timothy L. Jackson and wonder whether we should entertain the possibility that
Veijo Murtomäki (Cambridge: Cambridge University the contrasting central section of such forms might even
Press, 2001), pp. 322–51; Darcy, “Rotational Form, Te- be understood as a substitution for an unsounded middle
leological Genesis, and Fantasy-Projection in the Slow rotation: an erasing or writing over a rotation that is
Movement of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, 19th-Century potentially conceptually present but rendered tacit by
Music 24 (2001), 49–74; Hepokoski, “Beethoven Re- the events sounded on the acoustic surface. However we
ception: The Symphonic Tradition,” in Jim Samson, might seek to assess these “ternary” considerations and
ed., The Cambridge History of Nineteenth-Century Music interpretive possibilities, they are relevant to the ways
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. in which we choose to understand the developmental
424–59; and Hepokoski, “Structure, Implication, and spaces of sonata forms.
the End of Suor Angelica,” Studi pucciniani 3 (2004),
Terminology: “Rotation” and “Deformation” 613

development sections reveal this, as they take up along Procrustean-rotational lines. For such
the complete thematic pattern of the exposition, developments the main hermeneutic problem
and develop each theme in turn.)”3 So much is might be to wonder whether (and to what de-
obvious. But even while endorsing such prior gree) what is actually presented on the music’s
statements, Sonata Theory distinguishes itself acoustic surface as a nonrotational event is to be
from them in three ways. First, we conceive the grasped as blanking-out or writing over a more
restatement-symmetry postulate as wedded to normatively rotational option. The question re-
the notion of circularity (as opposed to mere mains open: Is the rotational norm for develop-
carriage-return repetition.) Second, we treat the ments sufficiently powerful to suggest its tacit
idea more flexibly. We include into the general presence (perhaps as “a choice not made”) even
concept of circular repetition the related idea of in cases when it is replaced by something else?
substantially altered restatements, such as devel- Devising a term for a previously unlabeled
opmental half-rotations, truncated rotations, ro- but generally recognizable practice is not easy.
tations with episodic substitutes “writing over” We use “rotation” in the familiar sense provided
some of the expected individual elements, ro- in defi nition 2a of the Oxford English Dictionary:
tations with newly included interpolations, in- “the fact of coming round again in succession;
ternal digressions from the governing rotational a recurring series or period.”4 This meaning of
thread, occasional reorderings of the modules, the word is virtually identical with two of the
and the like. In general, the rotational character OED defi nitions of “cycle”: “a recurrent round
of the whole sonata movement is underscored or course (of successive events, phenomena,
whenever a development section begins with a etc.); a regular order or succession in which
treatment of the primary theme (P) or whenever things recur; a round or series which returns
a coda is added that is based on P-theme mate- upon itself ” [defi nition 3]; or “a round, course,
rial—regardless of what follows that material. or period through which anything runs in or-
(Interpreting “freer” thematic patterns that only der to its completion; a single complete period
begin rotationally is a challenge called forth by or series of successive events, etc.” [defi nition
the theory.) Third, because the rotational idea 4]. In the abstract, then, another term for ro-
was so important as an underlying assumption tational form would be cyclical form or cyclic or-
in the historical formation of the genre of so- ganization. The problem here is that that term
nata form (and because it persisted so palpably already means something different not merely
in so many later sonatas, extending through the in formal analysis but also in analytical work
nineteenth century and beyond), Sonata Theory applied directly to sonata-based structures. It
urges the elevation of the rotational principle to refers to a compositional strategy in which im-
become a foundational axiom of interpretation portant or motto themes or motives from an
that in one way or another is implicated in ev- initial movement return, however transformed,
ery sonata, even when it is apparently absent or in later movements.5 “Rotation” and “rotational
deeply obscured in developments. To be sure, form” do not have these prior (and in this situ-
literally nonrotational developments are an op- ation, misleading) connotations. This is not to
tion within the style—though they are not as say that “rotation” is unused for other purposes
common as might be supposed—and we hope in music theory. The term has a specific mean-
that we are not misread as encouraging the in- ing in the analysis of serial practice and ordered
terpretational forcing of any such development musical sets—as well as in the techniques of cer-

3. Rosen, Sonata Forms, p. 157. application of “rotation” is defi nition 2b: “Regular and
4. The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary recurring succession in office, duties, etc., of a number
[1971]. Definition 1 of “rotation,” not surprisingly, of persons. Freq. In phr. by or in rotation.”
invokes the presence of an axis, which is less unprob- 5. See, e.g., the discussions of cyclic integration, cyclic
lematically applicable to our use of the term in Sonata organization, and cyclic form—with nuanced defi ni-
Theory: “The action of moving round a centre, or of tions—in Webster, Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony,” pp.
turning round (and round) on an axis; also, the action 7–9, 179–82, 246–47, 250–51, 252, 254–57, 258–59,
of producing a motion of this kind.” Closer again to our 262–67, 280–300, 308–13, 318–20, and 327–34.
614 Elements of Sonata Theory

tain kinds of minimalist patterns that are subse- the compositional choices presented in the indi-
quently subjected to an organized reordering. (It vidual work confi rm, extend, or override those
can refer, for example, to the shifting of the last options as we move from phrase to phrase. The
element of a succession to become the fi rst—a desired goal is to be able to read the moment-
single operation that is itself usually considered to-moment action of a piece through the lenses
a “rotation,” although, properly considered, the of (reconstructed) generic expectation and flex-
full rotation would not have occurred until all ible generic possibility.
of the elements in play have gone through one We use the term “deformation” to mean the
cycle of these reorderings.) These other usages stretching of a normative procedure to its maxi-
of “rotation,” though, refer to different reperto- mally expected limits or even beyond them—or
ries and different kinds of discussions from the the overriding of that norm altogether in order
one in question here. Confusion among these to produce a calculated expressive effect. It is
uses of “rotation” seems unlikely. precisely the strain, the distortion of the norm
What other substitutions might there be (elegantly? beautifully? wittily? cleverly? storm-
for “rotation”? “Strophic form” carries verbal ily? despairingly? shockingly?) for which the
and poetic-textual connotations not appropri- composer strives at the deformational moment.
ate here. “Theme and variations” suggests ir- The expressive or narrative point lies in the ten-
relevant generic connotations and traditions of sion between the limits of a competent listener’s
a different kind. “Varied repetitions” or “varied field of generic expectations and what is made
restatements”—when used apart from the rota- to occur—or not occur—in actual sound at that
tional concept as the guiding backdrop—seem moment. Within any individual exemplar (such
bland, unimaginatively divorced from the im- as a single musical composition) operating under
plied circularity of the procedure. Robert P. the shaping influence of a community-shared
Morgan’s recent treatment of what he called genre-system, any exceptional occurrence along
“circular form” displaying successive “cycles” these lines calls attention to itself as a strong ex-
and “cyclic renewal” (for example, in the Tristan pressive effect. As such it marks an important
Prelude) closely approximates our use of “rota- event of the composition at hand. A deforma-
tion,” although the methodology and interests tion may occur either locally, producing a mo-
at stake in that description differ from our own.6 mentary or short-range effect, or broadly, over
Of the available terms, we have come to favor the large-scale architecture of a piece of music
“rotation,” although by no means do we seek to as a whole.
banish parallel descriptions from our own work:
we sometimes also refer to our rotations as cy-
Connotations of “Deformation”: Paradoxes of
cles, varied repetitions, or varied restatements,
the “Normative” and “Non-Normative”; the
as the occasion suggests. In referring to the
Need for Nuance
larger structure and musical process, however,
the term “rotational form” is to be preferred. Since the concept of deformation is a central fea-
ture of Sonata Theory, we have tried to be care-
ful in selecting and applying that term. While
Deformation we do intend “deformation” to imply a strain
and distortion of the norm—the composer’s ap-
Sonata Theory views compositions as individual- plication of uncommon creative force toward
ized dialogues with an intricate system of norms the production of a singular aesthetic effect—
and standard options. We seek to illuminate the we do not use this term in its looser, more col-
expressive, dramatic, and contextual meanings loquial sense, one that can connote a negative
of single compositions, in part by inquiring how assessment of aesthetic defectiveness, imperfec-

6. Morgan, “Circular Form in the Tristan Prelude,”

Journal of the American Musicological Society 53 (2000),
Terminology: “Rotation” and “Deformation” 615

tion, or ugliness. Here our defi nitions must be mation” is cooler, more detached—hopefully,
explicit. Within our system, “deformation” is more connotationally “technical.” It marks only
a technical term referring to a striking way of our noticing (and often relishing) of a remark-
stretching or overriding a norm. As a techni- ably unusual compositional choice; it is not
cal term it is intended to carry no judgmentally judgmental.
negative connotation, as in some popular usages Nevertheless, we also recognize that how-
of the word.7 We understand that other scholars, ever carefully one might insist upon one’s inten-
for other purposes, may have used the term to tions to provide only a “technical” defi nition of
suggest some of these negative connotations. 8 any term, words have connotational, lateral slip-
But that is not our intention. We are suggest- pages and past histories that can escape our con-
ing neither that a sonata deformation is an unat- trol. And it may still be that some readers, for
tractive structure (as opposed to any supposedly whatever purposes, might mistakenly read into
more attractive or socially preferable norm) nor it only unintended implications of the negative
that it is the result of a misguided execution on or the critical. For such readers—and for any
the part of the composer. Nor, more locally, are readers curious about a more expanded treat-
we implying that the deformation of a medial ment of our view of the term and its conno-
caesura, for example, results in something that tations—we pause here to examine the matter
is aesthetically negative.9 To avoid encouraging (and related issues) with more patience and nu-
such connotations in our own writing, we steer ance. This initially entails a backing-up to some
clear of the verb “to deform” along with (espe- fundamental aspects of how we understand so-
cially) the related word “deformed” (let alone nata form.
“deformity”!) to describe the effect of a defor- As indicated in chapter 1, our view of so-
mation. Instead of a “deformed recapitulation” nata form is essentially dialogic, not conforma-
we prefer to write of a “recapitulation subjected tional. It is not the task of a sonata merely to
to a deformation.”10 The abstract noun “defor- “conform” to a pre-existing template. On the

7. The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary 9. Complementarily—to suggest a clarifying reductio ad
[1971] provides three defi nitions for the word “defor- absurdum—no serious scholar could maintain, within an
mation.” The fi rst two have negative implications that analytical situation, that merely recognizing a familiar
do not reflect how we are using the term: (1) “The ac- compositional choice as a “norm” or as “normative”
tion (or result) of deforming or marring the form or inevitably connotes a tacit personal approval or moral
beauty of; disfi gurement, defacement”; (2) “Alteration endorsement of that norm. On the contrary (of course),
of form for the worse; esp. in controversial use, the op- it is merely an acknowledgment of standard operating
posite of reformation. . . . An altered form of a word in procedure within the quasi-formulaic genre under ob-
which its proper form is for some purpose perverted [as servation (as in, e.g., “in tonal practice the norm has
God to ‘od].” Instead, our adoption of the term is analo- been to resolve dissonant sevenths downward”), an
gous to the third, more technical (and nonjudgmen- awareness of what usually occurs, for whatever histori-
tal) defi nition: (3) “Physics. Alteration of form or shape; cal reasons, under certain circumstances and traditions
relative displacement of the parts of a body or surface of musical manufacturing.
without breach of continuity; an altered form of.” 10. OED, “Deformed,” fi rst defi nition: “marred in ap-
8. As perhaps in Renato Poggioli, The Theory of the pearance; disfi gured, defaced.” Under the entry “de-
Avant-Garde, trans. Gerald Fitzgerald (Cambridge: Har- formed” there is no technical or neutral use that would
vard University Press, 1968), esp. pp. 176–79, in which be applicable to its potential relevance to the field of
Poggioli refers, among other things, to the effects of physics (see n. 7, defi nition 3 above—closer to our usage
“neoprimitivist deformation,” “ritual and allegrorical of “deformation”). Nonetheless, the term “to deform”
deformation,” “stylistic deformation,” and “avant-garde is encountered in scientific writing, as in the New Ency-
deformation” (“shocking” or nonrealistic representa- clopedia Brittanica: Micropedia (1994) entry, “Deformation
tions) in early twentieth-century modernist art.—Pi- and Flow,” cited in the text above. Still, its absence from
casso, Braque, and others. Poggioli initially played up the OED helps to confi rm our sense that “deformed”
the negative connotations of these things in the lan- has stronger negative connotations, a situation that we
guage of their critics (“the principle of dehumaniza- do not believe is true for “deformation.”
tion,” etc.) but soon turned to something of an apologia:
“Avant-garde deformation . . . also becomes a tradition
and a stylistic convention.”)
616 Elements of Sonata Theory

contrary, a sonata is a musical utterance that is a “thing,” a self-realizing verb, unspooling itself
set into dialogue with generic options that are in time, not a static noun.
themselves taken socially to be sonata-defi ning Nonetheless, once a compositional (modular)
(establishing the guidelines for composition and decision has been made (via notation or perfor-
reception under the categories of the genre). In mance in the case of a sonata), it is now part of
this dialogic process the fl ash-point “now” of the piece’s history, fi xed in place, unalterable.
the unfolding structure moves progressively This is because chronological time is irreversible
through various action-spaces. Within a sonata, on the work’s acoustic surface: one cannot take
what we regard as an action-space—a flexible back in reality what has already been sounded.11
concept—can be quite small (P, TR, MC, S, From this perspective, the already sounded is
C), rather broad (exposition, development, re- converted into fi xed units of modular space. In
capitulation, coda), or very broad indeed (sin- chapter 2 we compared the process of composi-
gle movement, multimovement plan). The dia- tion to that of constructing a sonic bridge over
logue inherent in any sonata form may include ever larger stretches of otherwise empty time or
the occasional stretching or overriding of the to the laying-down of “one appropriately styl-
options on offer from the genre. These decisions ized musical tile after another”—in which each
bring those moments into the realm of what we tile, more fundamentally, was also described as a
call deformation. But how can we characterize “space of action.” In this way decisions regarding
more carefully what it is that is being subjected the fi lling of offered spans of time lay out real-
to a deformation? ized spaces, which in turn are analogous to con-
Each action-space of the sonata is generically ceptual spaces. The result is an individualized
present to make possible an ongoing dialogue “shape”: an array of modules that has produced
of compositional decisions with a background a fi xed musical idea in time. The “shape” pro-
constellation of standard or traditional options duced is metaphorically analogous to a “shaped”
(norms). This is nothing less than what it means vessel or container: one can perceive the musical
to work within a genre—any genre—one that result sculpturally, in terms of how it realizes
furnishes an ongoing horizon of expectations melodic pattern, meter, tempo, articulation, dy-
for the receiver. All genres (indeed, all familiar namics, timbre, density, drive-to-cadence, and
actions) involve systems of norms and guide- the like. One might regard music as sculpted
lines, typical and expected procedures. In the time, as a temporal sculpture in sound.
case of music these are grounded in increments All genres of music presuppose genre-de-
of elapsing time. We are inescapably involved fi ning guidelines for the production of typical
with the results of laying down compositional or more or less standardized “shapes” (modular
decision after decision, module after module, arrays in each of the available action-zones). In
in time, presumably with a larger purpose or the case of sonata form, with all of its complexi-
grander coherence in view all the while. The ties and possibilities, these guidelines are mani-
result is a temporal process of ongoing dia- fold and varied. Within the sonata we have not
logue—successive modular decisions that invite merely one or two but numerous standard pro-
us to understand them, one by one (and then cedures available, which in turn means that the
conceptually joined together in groups or clus- expected contours or “energy-shapes” of any
ters), according to the guidelines of a backdrop individual work are supple in their realizations.
of a set of implied norms for the genre, which (There is no single standard “shape” for expo-
the reception community is assumed to share. sitions, for instance, nor for its internal zones,
Since the basic, initial process here is temporal, P, TR, S, and C, although in a more general
the fundamental concept is that of a process, not sense one is invited to recognize any individ-

11. As pointed out elsewhere in this book, however, in nying, repeating, re-experiencing, and so on) is typi-
music the fictive artifice of “psychological” time (sug- cally counterpointed against the inescapable “reality” of
gesting the possibility of backing up, recapturing, de- chronological time.
Terminology: “Rotation” and “Deformation” 617

ual exemplar of the possibilities when one hears likely to be sidelined by historical consensus as
it.) unimaginative, composition-by-the-numbers, a
Under these circumstances, it is composition- boiler-plate product. This means that in the case
ally possible—and was even doubtless encour- of sonata form—and certainly in the hands of
aged—to submit such generically received, stan- classical masters—it was perfectly “normative”
dardized “energy-shapes” to significant strain, to intersperse into the individual work instances
stretching, and overriding. The term deformation of the “non-normative” or the rivetingly defor-
refers to such situations. Musical deformations mational. Within the artifice of art the concept
are purposeful distortions of the standardized of the “non-normative” or “nonconforming” is
“action- or texture-shapes” on offer to the com- housed under a broader concept of what one is
poser from the ordered complex of pre-exist- generically prepared to accept as standard pro-
ing generic expectations and traditional proce- cedure. Simply put, what is “non-normative”
dures. Structural deformations are the results of on one level of understanding becomes “norma-
applications of compositional tension and force tive” under a wider span of consideration.13
to produce a surprising, tension-provoking, or In this more expansive sense, instances of aes-
engaging result. More to the point, on both thetic deformation are indications of normality
the production and reception side of things, as within strong works of art. It is both historically
part of the compositional “game” it was expected inaccurate and simple-minded to understand
(“normative”) that, within the then-current deformations as ipso facto violating a fundamen-
boundaries of taste and decorum, a composer tal premise of the genre at hand or introduc-
would apply conceptual force here and there ing illicitly foreign, unpleasant, or moralistically
to strain or alter what is otherwise a bland or tainted elements of the “abnormal” or “disfi g-
neutral set of conventional options and proce- ured” into an originally idyllic, positive model.
dures—mere starting-points for the mature and Indeed, the reverse is true. Deformation, strain,
experienced artist. As has been observed over and conceptual distortion were standard strate-
the decades by virtually all commentators on gies within the sonata game, which was played
the sonata repertory, applying such forces and increasingly under the auspices of a growing
purposeful generic “misshapings” is just what demand for originality and apparent “depth”
can give a composition personality, memorabil- of the compositional idea. (What would have
ity, appeal, interest, expressive power. been aesthetically “abnormal,” if not amateur-
This is a crucial point. Deformations are ish, would be to shy away from all signs of them
compositional surprises, engaging forays into altogether.)
the unanticipated. But the paradox of art is that Within the sonata structures of the period
the nature of the game at hand also and always in question “progressive” connoisseurs have
includes the idea that we are to expect the unex- typically taken such thematic or structural de-
pected. If deviations from the merely expected formations—in Johann Stamitz, C. P. E. Bach,
never happen within an individual work, that is Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and so on—as signs
no sign of aesthetic health or integrity.12 On the of creative vigor, not of any debilitating nega-
contrary, if expressively charged stretchings or tive. The distortions and localized reshapings
transgressions of standardized shapes and pro- of these composers have historically been as-
cedures are not present at all, the work is more sessed as positive features, marks of original-

12. Nor, of course, do health and integrity (compo- 13. See also the fi nal subsection of chapter 15, “The
sitional “excellence” or community “legitimacy”) lie Role of the Listener,” especially n. 47, which references
only in the deformational moments. The central thing Wolfgang Iser (The Act of Reading, p. 112) on the role
is the clever interplay—the dialogue—between a work’s of the reader in expecting the unexpected within the
adherence to and departures from conventional expec- plots of novels.
tation. Both have their roles to play, and the genre qua
genre has things that it (socially) “wants to say” through
the vagaries of the individual work. See appendix 1.
618 Elements of Sonata Theory

ity and personal voice. With the exception of misses the complexity of what the term, with all
a few grumbling caveats from waning sectors of its purposely implied connotations of strain
of “old-world” traditionalists circa 1780–1820, and distortion, seeks to convey. Above all, such
they have not been regarded as off-putting dis- an interpretation bypasses the crucial distinc-
fi gurements or “disabilities” to be contrasted tion, central to the philosophy of art for centu-
with some tacitly posited concept of the sup- ries, between life and art. As Aristotle noted in
posedly “normal” or “well formed” of how the Poetics with regard to the effects of staged
exemplars of the genre “ought” to proceed.14 tragedy, what would displease us in life—ter-
Such a viewpoint—which would see in struc- rors and sorrows, violence and tears, brutal and
tural deformations and innovative procedures unhappy outcomes—can be profoundly moving
only implications of the exceeding of proper or in the displaced realm of art. We often savor and
socially acceptable limits, only transgressions of applaud in art what we do not in life. Judgments
good taste—is historically associated principally that we might make in life-situations are not
with social and aesthetic conservatives wield- properly transferable to the world of distanced
ing their eroding claims of authority to cling to artifice, to the world of artificiality that is the
the way things once were (or were imagined to most basic presupposition of the art-situation.
be). Nonetheless, what becomes clear, especially Similarly, terminology that can carry nega-
as one moves further into the nineteenth cen- tive connotations when applied to assessments
tury, is that a primarily technical local strategy in life can carry neutral or positive ones when
within an individual piece—what we are calling applied to the very different situation of art.
a structural deformation (Witz and originality Potential negatives in life can be reversed into
in various degrees of strength)—could be seized positives in the reception-worlds of their meta-
upon by both proponents and opponents of any morphosed analogues within art. It may be for
“new” or “developing” art form as evidence of reasons along these lines that musical distortions
either, on the one hand, a brilliant display of or intentional “misshapings” of a generically re-
breathtaking creativity or, on the other, a lapse ceived action- and texture-space within music
of compositional judgment from a composer of (“deformations”) have so often been hailed as
questionable taste or talent.15 attributes of genius and originality—indica-
For all of these reasons one should not call tors of aesthetic seriousness and pleasure. Our
attention to only the potentially negative slip- term “deformation,” with its charged edginess
pages of the word “deformation” or confl ate and flavor of aesthetic risk, seeks to convey this
them inappropriately with concepts of defor- richer, more complex world of connotation.
mity or disability. Such a one-sided view, in his-
torical terms, promotes the blinkered views of
aesthetic and social reactionaries. Moreover, it

14. This claim has been made recently, and mistakenly pin, Schumann, Liszt, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Strauss,
attributed to us as a latent implication within the terms Mahler, and so on. To be sure, each of these composers
“norm” and “deformation,” by Joseph N. Straus, “Nor- had their legions of champions. On the other hand, in
malizing the Abnormal: Disability in Music and Music varying degrees, some of the works of these composers
Theory,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 59 came to be placed under a quasi-moralistic suspicion
(2006), forthcoming. In our view the arbitrary and ex- by conservative, masculinist, or aggressively nation-
clusive binaries driving Straus’s argument—the catego- alist (sometimes racialist) critics as deviant, dilettant-
ries that he offered his readers were limited to only “well ish, socially undesirable, decadent, or degenerate. As
formed” vs. “deformed” and “normal” vs. “abnormal” strategies within an aesthetic genre, structural-defor-
—are false choices, too narrowly drawn to engage the mational strategies may be “morally neutral” in them-
complexities of the topics at hand. selves, but history has also shown us—often much to
15. This obviously touches on the historical-recep- our consternation—that they may also be seized upon
tion issues surrounding certain later, more “extreme” and denounced by cultural critics for their own cultural
or fl amboyant rhetorical- or structural-deformational purposes.
procedures—those found in Schubert, Berlioz, Cho-
Terminology: “Rotation” and “Deformation” 619

Precedents in the Use of the Term by norms—the application of force that would
subject it to distortion or reshaping would be
Strictly considered, the term “deformation”
the creative will of the composer.17 The act of
is not new with us, although prior to our use
composition, producing something in dialogue
of it, it has not been much applied to musi-
with norms as they are socially received, could
cal works. We have adapted it primarily from
be understood as producing a “flow” in certain
leading traditions of twentieth-century literary
portions of those norms—perhaps a straining,
criticism (Russian formalism, narrative theory,
a stretching, an expansion, or a bulging-out;
genre theory, reader-response theory) but also,
perhaps the omission of an important proce-
metaphorically, from its usages in physics and
dure; perhaps the substitution of an unexpected
mechanics. Within the latter fields the term is
event for an expected one. In the case of musical
emphatically technical. The New Encyclopedia
norms the composer does not alter the genre it-
Britannica: Micropedia, 15th ed., vol. 3 (Chicago,
self through such deformations. Existing outside
1994), for instance, contains an entry under
the composition proper, the genre is that which
“Deformation and Flow,” one that even uses the
provides the guidelines for understanding what
verb “to deform” neutrally:
occurs inside the individual piece.
Within the humanities the notion of expres-
In physics, [deformation refers to the] alteration
in shape or size of a body under the influence of
sive alterations applied to a conventional model
mechanical forces. Flow is a change in deforma- (in our case, a highly complex one) is familiar.
tion that continues as long as the force is applied. Here one encounters the term “deformation”
. . . Under normal conditions . . . solids deform with some regularity, often as a technical term
when they are subjected to forces. Most solids ini- without a judgmentally negative connotation.
tially deform elastically; that is to say, they return In its individual appearances the term has signif-
to their original shape when the load is removed. icant, sometimes broad intersections with our
. . . Eventually, plastic flow will come to an end: use of it. Those appearances help to illuminate
deformation will ultimately tend to concentrate the history behind our selection of the term.
in one area, which will break. This ability of duc- But in the literature those intersections are not
tile materials to flow plastically under load is fun-
always total. It is also true that “deformation”
damental to their usefulness in engineering.
has sometimes been used to describe effects (or
to address issues) that are different from those
Here “deformation” is descriptive of a certain
that we have in mind in Sonata Theory. It can
state of a solid object—a change of shape, a de-
be helpful to remind ourselves of these usages.
parture from its original, normal, or customary
Some derive from the early-twentieth-cen-
state resulting from the application of force.16
tury tradition of Russian formalism and refer
No judgment is made that the deformation in
especially to the “enstrangement” or “defamil-
question (say, the bending of a steel bar, which
iarization” of ordinary language within po-
might be a desirable end) is a negative disfig-
etry—a concern that extends to the very defi-
urement or the result of a marring of the way
nition of art itself.
that the object in question ought really to be. If,
metaphorically, we wish to imagine the genre
The basic concepts of formalism—“transrational
of sonata form (or any portion thereof, such as language,” “deautomatization,” “deformation,”
a medial caesura or an EEC) as a solid object— “deliberately difficult form” . . . and others—are
such things are at least solid concepts governed merely negations corresponding to various indices

16. Cf. n. 7, defi nition 3. marily to extreme strainings of the norms, or to their
17. If the scientific metaphor were applied strictly to abandonment altogether—a situation sometimes similar
musical composition, every creative shaping of the ge- to the “breaking of plastic flow” in physics. One reason
neric norms, however minimal, would be considered a for this is that aesthetic norms are flexible concepts, re-
deformation. Such a metaphor could be sustained, but maining essentially “themselves” even while permitting
we prefer to use the term “deformation” to refer pri- much variation in their realizations.
620 Elements of Sonata Theory

of practical, communicative language. (Mikhail But the perception of those of a more conserva-
Bakhtin, 1928 [critical of Russian formalism]) 18 tive persuasion continues to be determined by the
Dynamic form is not generated by means of old canons; they will accordingly interpret any
combination or merger (the often-used concept deformation of these canons by a new movement
of “correspondence”), but by means of interac- as a rejection of the principle of verisimilitude, as
tion, and, consequently, the pushing forward of a deviation from realism. . . . [Thus in the “real-
one group of factors at the expense of another. In ism” debate one needs to consider the basic issue:]
so doing, the advanced factor deforms the subor- The tendency to deform given artistic norms conceived
dinate ones. The sensation of form is always the as an approximation of reality. . . . [Some anti-real-
sensation of the flow (and, consequently of the ists may take as an artistic principle:] I rebel against
alteration) of correlation between the subordinat- a given artistic code and view its deformation as a more
ing, constructive factor and the subordinated fac- accurate rendition of reality . . . [while critics may
tors. . . . Art lives by means of this interaction and argue:] I am conservative and view the deformation of
struggle. Without this sensation of subordination the artistic code, to which I subscribe, as a distortion of
and deformation of all factors by the one factor reality. . . . The conservative, of course, fails to
playing the constructive role, there is no fact of recognize the self-sufficient value of deformation.
art.” (Yuri Tynianov, 1924) 19 (Roman Jakobson, 1921) 21

Or, as explained in an overview of such thought A similar position vis-à-vis the “art” question
by two more recent writers (and extended here has been taken in reader-response criticism, for
to include the idea of narrative, which brings us instance, in the work of Wolfgang Iser (tak-
close to Sonata Theory concerns): ing off, here, from a related idea that he wishes
to adapt and improve upon, E. H. Gombrich’s
The many Formalist studies in this tradition [plot well-known principle of “schema and correc-
studies, narratology] describe how narratives are tion”).22 In this case Iser’s remarks, both in their
“made” by “deforming” everyday narrative much content and in their general tone, are close in-
as poetry is “made” by deforming everyday lan- deed—virtually identical—to the concepts that
guage. They developed an arsenal of techniques underpin our sense of deformation:
and concepts that are by now familiar: fabula, siu-
zhet, repetition, parallelism, morphology, substi-
Thus [in Gombrich’s view] the act of represen-
tution, motivation, and baring the device. (Gary
tation is seen as a continual process of modify-
Saul Morson and Caryl Emerson, 1990) 20
ing traditional schemata, the correction of which
provides an ever more “suitable” representation
In the 1920s Roman Jakobson applied the term of the world. . . . What is important for our pur-
“deformation” to the larger issue of the validity poses, however, is the fact that the correction vio-
of anti- or nonrealistic representation. His argu- lates a norm of expectation contained within the
ment on behalf of the “deformation” of “artistic picture itself. In this way, the act of representa-
norms” also comes close to serving as a clearer tion creates its own conditions of reception. . . .
precedent for the (perhaps more limited) way in [The observer of a work of visual art] is guided
which we use the term: by the correction to the extent that he will try

18. P. N. Medvedev/M. M. Bakhtin, The Formal Method 21. Jakobson, “On Realism in Art” [orig. 1921] in Read-
in Literary Scholarship: A Critical Introduction to Sociological ings in Russian Poetics: Formalist and Structuralist Views, ed.
Poetics [1928], trans. Albert J. Wehrle (Baltimore: Johns Ladislav Matejka and Krystyna Pomorska (Ann Arbor:
Hopkins University Press, 1978), p. 87. Cf. pp. 89, 97. Michigan Slavic Publications, 1978), pp. 41, 43.
19. Tynianov, The Problem of Verse Language [orig. 1924], 22. E.g., in Gombrich, Art and Illusion: A Study of Pic-
ed. and trans. Michael Sosa and Brent Harvey (Ann Ar- torial Representation (Oxford: Phaidon, 1960; 5th ed.
bor, Mich.: Ardis, 1981), p. 33. 1977); and The Image and the Eye (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell
20. Morson and Emerson, Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of University Press, 1982).
a Prosaics (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990),
p. 19.
Terminology: “Rotation” and “Deformation” 621

to discover the motive behind the change in the What is more, this deviation may come into
schema. play on every level, in relation to the types, the
It is in this sense that the concepts of schema genres, even to the formal principle of concordant
and correction have a heuristic value as regards discordance. The fi rst type of deviation [“types”],
the strategies of literary texts. . . . Herein lies the it would seem, is constitutive of every individual
particular function of the literary schemata [“the work. Each work stands apart from every other
repertoire of social norms and literary conven- work. . . . Rule-governed deformation consti-
tions”]—in themselves they are elements of the tutes the axis around which the various changes
text, and yet they are neither aspect nor part of of paradigm through application are arranged. It
the aesthetic object. The aesthetic object signal- is this variety of applications that confers a his-
izes its presence through the deformations of the tory on the productive imagination and that, in
schemata, and the reader, in recognizing these de- counterpoint to sedimentation, makes a narrative
formations, is stimulated into giving the aesthetic tradition possible. (Ricoeur, 1983) 24
object its shape. . . . It is here that the strategies
play their part, in laying down the lines along Sonata Theory, too, is concerned with “rule-
which the imagination is to run. (Iser, 1976) 23 governed deformation,” and, with Iser, we af-
fi rm that the text’s “reader”—in our case the
Also close to our use of the term is a passage listener to the composition, the analyst, the in-
from Paul Ricoeur. terpreter—needs to be familiar both with so-
nata norms and with the standard principles and
Innovation remains a form of behavior governed strategies of their deformation. As for the term
by rules. The labor of imagination is not born
“deformation,” it has both a solid and an hon-
from nothing. It is bound in one way or another
to the tradition’s paradigms. But the range of so-
orable history within several disparate fields in
lutions of vast. It is deployed between the two the twentieth century. For us, no substitute for
poles of servile application and calculated devia- it (“transformation”? “alteration”? “variant”?)
tion, passing through every degree of “rule-gov- carries as historically rich—or, more impor-
erned deformation” . . . . tantly, as proper—a connotation.

23. Iser, The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Re- 24. Ricoeur, Time and Narrative [orig. 1983], trans.
sponse [orig. 1976] (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univer- Kathleen McLaughlin and David Pellauer (Chicago:
sity Press, 1978), pp. 91–92. University of Chicago Press, 1984), 1:69–70.