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Marpurg's Galant Cadence: Theoretical and Formal Perspectives on a Specific Cadential Scheme

In the second volume of his Kritische Briefe (1759-1763), Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg treats, among other theoretical issues, the so-called "Lehre von der Cadenz". Although Marpurg's approach is rather conventional, at least one specific topic can be scrutinized as an interesting novelty. More precisely, in his letter N° 66 from 1761, Marpurg mentions "eine besondere Art von ganzer Cadenz", which he considers to be typical for "[d]er galante Styl". This cadential schema features a dominant 6/4-chord with the first scale degree in the top voice. Contrary to conventional expectations, the resulting 'dissonant' fourth (considered against the bass), does not resolve by a descending diatonic semitone, but instead moves up a whole tone before coming to a final resolution into the tonic chord. The distinctive voice leading pattern in the melody thus consists of 1-2-1.  

In this paper, I want to stress the significance of this apparently completely overlooked cadence type, both from a music theoretical and a formal analytical point of view. First, I introduce 'Marpurg's galant cadence' by discussing the peculiar theoretical description Marpurg utilizes. In two of his other theoretical writings, the second volume of his Handbuch (1757) and his critical edition of Sorge‘s Anleitung (1760), Marpurg states that the (dissonant) fourth in a cadential 6/4-chord can resolve upwards. I compare this innovative perspective with the views of some of his contemporaries, e.g. Mattheson  (1713) and Heinichen (1728). After that, I illustrate Marpurg's cadential schema with examples from a considerably wide range of repertoire, including Hasse, Pergolesi, Mozart, Schubert and Wagner.  This overview shows both its development and its versatile (stylistic) realizations. Finally, I suggest that Marpurg’s galant cadence is a convincing harbinger of definite formal closure, more than other realizations of perfect cadences.  This view is supported by, on the one hand, my hypothesis of the theoretical origins of Marpurg’s galant cadence (shortened notation of the cadenza) and, on the other hand, a repertoire study of Mozart’s string quartets.

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