The Importance Of Function Over Form In The Classical Concerto

1558 words - 6 pages

In the 18th century, the concerto was transformed into a viable instrumental genre to both demonstrate virtuosity as well as a cohesive character that embodied the natural. Though the series of changes from the Baroque concerto grosso to the Classical concerto were gradual and cannot be attributed to a single composer, the Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor K. 466 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is a skillful representation of the genre in that era. Of particular interest in this concerto is the treatment of sonata form in the first movement. When compared to other instrumental genres of that era, there is a tangible divide between the sonata form of the concerto and that of other instrumental genres such as the symphony. To understand this categorization, one must look past the boundaries of genre and form, and focus upon the function of each individual work. As Charles Rosen suggests, “Treating the sonata not as a form but as a style – a feeling for a new kind of dramatic expression and proportions – we may see how the functions of a concerto are adapted to a new style.” It is with this interpretation hat I intend to explore how the functions of a concerto, including the exhibition of virtuosity and contrast of two types of sound, render the first movement of K. 466 with the potential to eclipse any attempt of categorization with other genres of the Classical Period that use sonata form.
Sonata form, according to the Oxford Companion to Music, is the most important musical form of the Classical period. The form is composed of three distinct sections, the exposition, development and recapitulation. In genres such as the symphony or string quartet, sonata form did not stray from this general template. The Classical concerto, however, especially the concertos of Mozart, have a very different approach to this form. The Classical concerto, including the first movement of K. 466, is a synthesis of both sonata form and the Baroque ritornello principle. In this concerto, for example, the opening orchestra tutti is not a “first exposition,” because it remains in the tonic throughout and does not contain the complete compliment of themes. Thus, this tutti serves as preparation for the soloist, who enters with a novel theme in measure 77. After the completion of the exposition in both D-minor and F-major by soloist and orchestra, there is a short transition (mm. 174-192) based upon the opening material leading into the tonally unstable development. The remainder of the first movement retains much of this format. As W.H. Hadow states, “the form of the soloist’s portions are thus comparable to sonata form, but the form of the whole is still governed by the ritornello.” The different manifestation of sonata form in the genre of the concerto may lead one to believe that the form of the Classical concerto developed independently of other genres that exercise this form. In fact, K. 466, with its ritornello principle, bares close resemblance...

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