Watch my video podcast below to find out how to use the Sonata Type Tree for Sonata Theory pedagogy and some of the ways it can be developed for analysis. This video was created for the Society for Music Analysis’s ‘Teaching Music Theory in the Digital Age’ Study Day, 26 Mar 2021.
Find out more about the study day and watch more video podcasts on digital music theory here.
The Sonata Type Tree is an interactive tree diagram that I have created to visually represent James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy’s rotationally-defined Sonata Types 1, 2, 3 and 4, as theorised in Elements of Sonata Theory: Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late Eighteenth-Century Sonata. The Tree can be used as a pedagogical or research tool to investigate the alternative trajectories of each type including the points that they converge and diverge. Musical time is represented from the top to the bottom of the diagram with tonic and non-tonic keys represented by black and white circles, respectively. This particular use of space allows for different ‘pathways’ through the types to be represented simultaneously as forking ‘branches’ of the tree. It differs from the use of diagrammatic space in Elements of Sonata Theory, where musical time unfolds horizontally, with tonal space aligned with vertical space (see p. 16).
I hope this diagram might be used as an introduction to the Sonata Types for students, musicologists, and anyone else who is interested in musical form.
A trial version of the Sonata Type tree can now be found here!
What it is not: some disclaimers
It should go without saying, but I will say it anyway: my Sonata Type Tree is merely a visual representation of the first four sonata types defined by Hepokoski and Darcy. It does not account for the whole gamut of norms, defaults, or deformations discussed in the book or anywhere else. The tree is also a representation of a theory, not an analysis, and should be approached with the same critical eyes and ears as any other music theory that makes generalising claims. The diagram is not a concrete depiction of how the types manifest in individual works or a definitive guide to how a sonata form should be constructed or heard. And it’s certainly not ‘the answers’.
What is more, there are plenty of other convincing sonata theories out there, and plenty of theorists that raise convincing criticisms of the four sonata types. While it is beyond the scope of this post to consider such criticisms in detail, a few worth noting include an apparent lack of statistical evidence to support the existence of norms and types; a bias towards the music of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven in the examples that support these claims; and the conceptual unavailability of sonata types to these composers other than Type 3. I have included some of the reviews that raise these concerns in the bibliography below.
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‘Introduction to the Sonata Type Trajectory Tree’, Klang! A Music Theory + Analysis Blog
Drabkin, William, ‘Mostly Mozart’, Reviewed Work: Elements of Sonata Theory: Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late-Eighteenth-Century Sonata by James Hepokoski, Warren Darcy, The Musical Times, Vol. 148, No. 1901 (Winter, 2007), 89-100.
Galand, Joel, Reviewed Work: Elements of Sonata Theory: Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late-Eighteenth-Century Sonata by James Hepokoski, Warren Darcy, Journal of Music Theory, Vol. 57, No. 2 (Fall 2013), 383-418.
Hepokoski, James A.. and Darcy, Warren, Elements of Sonata Theory: Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late-Eighteenth-Century Sonata (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2006, rev. ed. 2011).
Horton, Julian, ‘Bruckner’s Symphonies and Sonata Deformation Theory’, Journal of the Society for Musicology in Ireland, 1 (2005), 5-17.
______, ‘Criteria for a theory of nineteenth-century sonata form.’, Music Theory and Analysis, 4 (2) (2017), 147-191.
Hunt, Graham G., Reviewed Work: Elements of Sonata Theory: Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late-Eighteenth-Century Sonata by James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy, Theory and Practice, Vol. 32 (2007), 213-238.
Monahan, Seth, Mahler’s Symphonic Sonatas (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).
Wingfield, Paul, ‘Beyond “Norms and Deformations”: Towards a Theory of Sonata Form as Reception History’: Reviewed Work: Elements of Sonata Theory: Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late-Eighteenth-Century Sonata by James Hepokoski, Warren Darcy, Music Analysis, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Mar., 2008), 137-177.