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"The 'secondary parametres' and their role in musical shaping: examining formal boundaries of Mendelssohn's C minor Piano Trio from the performer’s point of view."

Formal boundaries, at least when they are marked with an unequivocal cadence and followed by a new thematic material, are something that most performing musicians intuitively recognize while playing through the work. Indeed, if a musical work does not have a particularly exceptional formal layout, it is not usually problematized among performers per se. Rather, practical issues such as choosing tempo, trying out the balance, finding the right character, agogics, or intonation are more likely in the centre of performers’ attention during a typical rehearsal.

The situation becomes more complicated, however, when a formal boundary is somehow smoothed between two successive units, so that the motion from one unit to the next unfolds without a noticeable change in dynamics, texture, register or timbre, for example. These parameters, sometimes called as ‘secondary’ in analytical literature, are often presented as something additional in contrast to the ‘primary’: melody, harmony, rhythm, form, or in the case of Schenkerian analysis, harmony and voice leading. 

This paper explores ways in which secondary parameters affect and shape formal boundaries in the first movement of Felix Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in C minor (Op. 66), which is written in sonata form. I shall present how performers (in this case, my piano trio) approached the boundaries during rehearsals that took place at spring 2013. The analytical discussion, including methods such as Hepokoski and Darcy’s Sonata theory, metrical analysis and harmony and voice leading analysis, is thus initiated from performers’ insights; aspiring to incorporate the performer-based approach to a more theoretical context.

To conclude, the paper suggests that Mendelssohn’s late C minor trio indeed has come far from the classical sonata form practice with its many daring, unexpected deviations. Yet the ‘romantization’ of the work does not come only from formal anomalities; as the examination shows, it is rather the textural, metrical, dynamic and dramatic layers where we find Mendelssohn’s most original solutions in this work.

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