The Mendelssohn of the eighteenth century: Tonal growth, functional fluidity, and formal complication in the first movement of the D major quartet, Op. 44 No. 1

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Abstract / Description of output

This article examines the elaborate compositional processes at work in the opening movement of Mendelssohn’s Quartet Op. 44 No. 1 (1838) in the service of taking forward and further refining the application of contemporary Formenlehre to nineteenth-century music. Most conspicuous of these features is the role taken by the key of F minor, iii of the tonic D major, which assumes increasing prominence over the course of the exposition, culminating in a curious ostensible secondary theme (b. 71) that appears initially to contradict the tonality of A major just confirmed. This harmonic argument runs alongside a fluid approach to phrase and interthematic structure, in which not only is the erstwhile first theme and transitional material subject to functional transformation but the latter further elided with potential secondary material, while no terminating cadence (or EEC) is present either. Current analytical approaches cannot fully elucidate the subtlety of Mendelssohn’s procedure (one might variously argue for an overridden Medial Caesura, a secondary theme starting in multiple places, a continuous or even a failed exposition), and yet clear precedents for individual elements of Mendelssohn’s design can nonetheless be found earlier in the music of Haydn and Mozart. Mendelssohn’s movement raises significant questions for recent approaches to theorising nineteenth-century form and its relation to classical precedents, not all of which can be easily answered.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-35
Number of pages33
JournalMusic Analysis
Volume43
Issue number1
Early online date29 Apr 2024
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Apr 2024

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