Commentators have traditionally judged Schumann’s sonata forms negatively, despite recent positive reassessments. In the response to Schumann’s expositions, even two of his most insightful advocates, Linda Correll Roesner and Anthony Newcomb, portray Schumann’s designs as “structurally insignificant shells of traditional forms.” Reevaluation of Schumann’s expositions reveals both the genuine connections he forges with eighteenth-century practice and the integral role this creative appropriation plays in his distinctive compositional voice. A positive reassessment emerges via comparison between Roesner’s interpretation of the outer movements of the String Quartet in A minor as examples of deficient two-part expositions and readings of them instead as instances of the continuous type. The first movement of the Second Symphony illustrates that the tonal pairing of the A-minor Quartet is hardly the only motivation for Schumann’s continuous expositions. Contra Newcomb, conventions of continuous exposition create a compelling musical narrative across the symphony’s three-key design. The presence of tonal polarity in this exposition highlights the need to interpret Schumann’s sonata forms on a case-by-case basis with the same urgency as with his classical precursors. Even in a two-part exposition like that of the finale of the Piano Trio in F major, Schumann finds effective means to merge classical conventions with dialectical tonal strategies.
Peter H. Smith; Schumann’s Continuous Expositions and the Classical Tradition. Journal of Music Theory 1 April 2014; 58 (1): 25–56. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00222909-2413571
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