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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: September 2011

4 - Analyzing music theory


A sonata is a metaphorical representation of a perfect human action. It is a narrative “action” because it drives through a vectored sequence of energized events toward a clearly determined, graspable goal, the ESC [essential structural closure]. It is “perfect” because (unless artificially blocked from achieving the goal) it typically accomplishes the task elegantly, proportionally, and completely.

A sonata is a linear journey of tonal realization, onto which might be mapped any number of concrete metaphors of human experience. Since a central component of the sonata genre is its built-in teleological drive – pushing forward to accomplish a generically predetermined goal – the sonata invites an interpretation as a musically narrative genre.

Astonishing words for 2006. They come from the latest addition to theories of sonata form, namely Hepokoski’s and Darcy’s Elements of Sonata Theory: Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late-Eighteenth-Century Sonata. As can be seen from the above two paragraphs, the norm according to Sonata Theory remains a one-sided masculinist view of “human experience,” which, moreover, is characterized as the “perfect” human experience. While the authors promised to provide a fresh perspective on sonata form, they reassert the privileged teleological, masculine paradigm that has been the subject of sustained feminist critique. Why are we still being presented with an apparently old-style version of sonata form?