One of the most prominent characteristics of Johannes Brahms's approach to sonata form is the return to the tonic at the start of the second section (or “rotation”) for a restatement of the exposition's primary theme. Well-known examples include the finales of the First and Third Symphonies, the opening movements of the G-minor Piano Quartet and Fourth Symphony, and the Tragic Overture. This common basic principle can nevertheless underpin a variety of formal typologies. Ostensibly a three-part sonata form with developmental double return would be most likely labeled a sonata rondo (type 4 in Hepokoski and Darcy's sonata theory), while a two-part design is so typical of Brahms's practice that it has become known as a “Brahmsian deformation” (expanded type 1). Yet numerous cases exist in which neither reading above is permitted—most notably, three-part sonata forms with developmental double return used as opening movements. In these cases sonata theory is left classifying these designs as a conventional type 3 sonata with an expositional repeat feint. There are some serious problems, however, with this interpretation. First is the sheer number of pieces in which this double return occurs; in fact, after 1878 Brahms is more likely to “feign” a repeat than to provide one. Second, how the primary theme returns is hardly ever identical to its opening appearance and can rarely be confused with an exposition repeat (the op. 25 Quartet and Fourth Symphony are exceptions in this sense). Exploring these works, the author proposes a new subtype of the type 3 sonata to classify Brahms's mature practice, called “type 34.” Ultimately, though, these findings may lead to questions regarding the efficacy of a classically oriented typology confronted with late nineteenth-century practice.

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