Theorizing Sonata Form in European Concert Music, 18151914 (2019–24)

Principal Investigator: Steven Vande Moortele

This project contributes to the study of form in European instrumental music in the long nineteenth
century, leading more specifically to a better and more comprehensive understanding of nineteenth-
century sonata form. It will analyze a large and diverse corpus of 1300 sonata forms from different
geographical areas in Europe and spanning a variety of musical genres between 1815 and 1914. Works
analyzed come from three different genres that together represent both private and public music-
making in the nineteenth century: the symphony, the piano trio, and the piano sonata. The sample
includes music by more as well as less canonical composers (including “obscure” repertoire), ranging
from composers such as Beethoven and Schubert as well as Reicha and Kalliwoda early in the time
period to Mahler and Sibelius alongside Medtner and Enescu near the period's end. All movements will
be analyzed using a standardized analytical protocol (developed specifically for this project) and the
analytical information entered into a database. Based on these data, we will produce the following:
(1) a theory of sonata form in the nineteenth century. Reflecting the realities of the repertoire, this
theory will not be unified and monolithic, but instead take the form of a network of chronologically,
geographically, and generically more localized theories (“micro-theories”) of sonata form at different
times and places and in different genres;
(2) a series of case studies and comparative analyses of specific pieces or groups of pieces that will test
and demonstrate the theory;
(3) a study of sonata form in specific centres of musical activity (Paris, London, Leipzig, Vienna) that
parses the databases evidence with respect to its geographical distribution, in order to clarify the
relationship between formal practices and their contexts of production and dissemination.

This research project is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.