Rotational Form, Sonata Hybridity, and Post-Tonal Boundary Sonorities in Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony

This paper examines Dmitri Shostakovich’s sonata-form movements—often framed as “sonata arch” or “reverse recapitulation” structures, wherein the primary- and secondary-zone themes return in reverse order after the development—through the lens of rotational form. Using methodology from Hepokoski and Darcy’s Elements of Sonata Theory (2006), I explore the “reverse recapitulation” in Symphony No. 4’s opening movement as part of a larger effect of sonata-form boundary blurring, manifest as a blending of double- and triple-rotational sonata-form types. This blurring effect is heightened by use of post-tonal boundary sonorities at moments of expected tonal closure.

I begin by outlining double- and triple-rotational sonata structures—layouts corresponding to Hepokoski and Darcy’s Type-2 and Type-3 sonata forms respectively. Analyses from Shostakovich’s Fourth and Fifth Symphonies illustrate his techniques of evoking triple-rotational elements within a double-rotational construction. Rotational form frames the referential thematic pattern—first established as an ordered succession at the piece’s onset—as a rhetorical principle rather than a tonal one. By featuring both primary- and secondary-theme elements at the moment of post-development tonic return, Shostakovich simultaneously elicits expectations of both sonata types, thus creating a kind of sonata-type hybrid, all while underscoring ordered rotational structures. Next, moments of formal demarcation in Symphony No. 4—including the MC, EEC, and ESC—postpone cadential closure in favor of post-tonal boundary sonorities. These post-tonal events displace tonal closure until the movement’s coda and form analogous transpositional and rhetorical correspondences across the movement.

Sonata Theory’s emphasis on thematic rotations presents a new way of understanding Shostakovich’s blurring of sonata-form boundaries—a particular challenge to existing analyses. In turn, Symphony No. 4 provides a fruitful landscape in which to examine the interplay between rotational, rhetorical, and tonal aspects of Sonata Theory and their application to polystylistic repertoire.

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