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Society for Music Theory

Structuralism and Musical Plot

Author(s): Gregory Karl
Source: Music Theory Spectrum, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Spring, 1997), pp. 13-34
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Structuralism and Musical Plot

Gregory Karl

Over the past few years the relatively new branchof music join subject and predicate."3Kramer does not question the
criticism which has come to be called musical narratology existence of a narrative dimension in music, only its cen-
has met with what could easily be mistaken for a challenge trality, warning that "anyone looking to narratology as a
to its foundations. In recent writing, Carolyn Abbate, Jean- means of illuminatingmusicalstructureand musicalunity had
JacquesNattiez, and LawrenceKramerhave arguedthat mu- better look somewhere else" because "narrativeelements in
sic has no narrativecapacityby any accepted definition of the music represent, not forces of structure, but forces of mean-
term. Abbate suggests that the notion of musical narrative ing."4 Moreover, he is inclined to locate these elements
manifests an irresistible, if sometimes misguided, human im- among the details of the musical foreground, so that even if
pulse to rationalize experience in narrative terms, claiming narrative descriptions are not superfluous, they are superfi-
that "musical works have no ability to narrate in the most cial, addressingthe surface rather than the fundamentalsub-
basic literary sense; that is, to posit a narratingsurvivor of stance of musical works.5
the tale who speaks of it in the past tense."' Nattiez believes Though helpful in defininglimits for the notion of musical
music incapable of the kind of specific extramusicalreference narrativity,these argumentsare nonetheless irrelevantto the
the term narrativeimplies and consequently, "any description narrativists'true concerns because, ironically, no major ad-
of [music's]formal structuresin terms of narrativityis nothing vocate of musical narratology actually maintains that music
but superfluous metaphor."2 He writes: "When I hear a narratesin any traditionalsense, and none believes that mu-
march in Mahler's second symphony, I imagine that it's got sical narrativitydepends on the kind of naive extramusical
something to do with a band of people, but I don't know
3Ibid., 244.
which people . . . the responsibility for joining character-
4LawrenceKramer, "Musical Narratology: A Theoretical Outline," In-
phantoms with action-shadows lies with me, the listener, diana Theory Review 12 (1992): 162 and 161.
since it does not lie within music's semiological capacities to 5In "Haydn's Chaos, Schenker's Order; or, Hermeneutics and Musical
Analysis: Can They Mix?" (19th-CenturyMusic 15 [1992]: 5), Kramercon-
trasts a musicalanalysisdealing with "faceless deep structures"and a herme-
neutics which must "pay attention to the foreground details of expression,
1Carolyn Abbate, "What the Sorcerer Said," 19th-CenturyMusic 12 representation, texture, and narrativeor lyric impetus from which analysis
(1989): 230. necessarily abstracts."Thus the narrativeelements of musical works are su-
2Jean-JacquesNattiez, "Can One Speak of Narrativityin Music?"Journal perficial phenomena far removed from the deep structureswhich comprise
of the Royal Music Association 115 (1990): 257. their fundamentalsubstance.

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14 MusicTheory Spectrum

reference Nattiez requires of it. After all, the mere fact of tinguished from 'meaning,' [is] vague and obscure."8 In a
borrowingcritical techniques, analyticaltools, and terminol- similar vein, Anthony Newcomb challenges one of its foun-
ogy from the field of narratology does not entail a commit- dations, the notion that structureand content can be distin-
ment to a narrative view of musical structure. On the other guished on the basis of their relative primacy or ontological
hand, studies mapping specific extramusical narratives onto status. In "Sound and Feeling," an essay on musical expres-
musical works, such as Owen Jander's "Beethoven's 'Or- sion which deserves to be better known, he argues persua-
pheus in Hades': The Andante con moto of the Fourth Piano sively that "formal and expressive interpretationare in fact
Concerto" are relatively rare in recent criticism.6In short, two complementary ways of understanding the same phe-
musical narrativity has little to do with narrative. From a nomena. Neither is intrinsicallycloser than the other to the
survey of the term's current usage one might, in fact, con- object."9 On a more practical level, Kindermanhimself has
clude that it is merely a misleading placeholder standing for noted that in some cases "study of the internal integrationof
an elusive sense of teleology in the expressive or dramatic pieces can hardly be separated from issues of artistic con-
unfolding of musical works. Nevertheless, I believe it would tent," while Leo Treitler has maintained that some crucial
be a mistake to dismiss the current debate out of hand be- "questions of motivation"-those addressing why musical
cause, as William Kindermanhas suggested, there is more at passages occur when and as they do-often yield only when
issue here than a difference of opinion on the vagaries of structureis conceived in dramaticterms.10Abbate, Nattiez,
musical teleology.7 Like Kinderman, I believe the contro- and Kramer, by contrast and in spite of their considerable
versy is motivated by opposing conceptions of the relation contributions to the study of musical meaning and signifi-
between musical structureand content, and so manifests ten- cation, endorse a formalist view on the issue of musical
sions with respect to fundamental aesthetic principles. The narrative-one in which "narrativecontent" is conceived not
position of the radical narrativistsis that structureis not an as part of the essential substance of musical works, but as a
aspect of music that can fruitfully be explored in isolation product of superfluous metaphor, rationalization, or super-
from content and meaning;that structureand meaning-form ficial focus on details of the musical foreground.
and expression-are indecomposable aspects of musical This article is aligned with the objectives of the narrat-
works. Fred Everett Maus, for example, questions the very ivists, whose enterprisemight be summarizedas the effort to
basis of this dichotomy, writing that "the received notion of integrate structural and semantic-expressiveaspects of mu-
musical 'structure,' as an aspect of music that can be dis- sical works in the act of analysis by developing concepts ca-
pable of functioningsimultaneouslyin both domains. Musical
plot, defined as the integrated formal and semantic content

619th-CenturyMusic 8 (1985): 195-212.

7WilliamKinderman, "NarrativeDesign in Beethoven's Last Sonatas," 8Fred Everett Maus, "Music as Drama," Music Theory Spectrum 10
meeting of the American MusicologicalSociety, Pittsburgh, 1992. I refer to (1988): 60.
this paper rather than the published version in Beethoven Forum 1 because 9Anthony Newcomb, "Sound and Feeling," CriticalInquiry 10 (1984):
in it Kindermanwas able to respond to newly published material by Nattiez 636.
and Kramerthat was not available before the published version had gone to 'OKinderman,"NarrativeDesign"; Leo Treitler, "To Worship that Ce-
press. lestial Sound:Motives for Analysis," Journalof Musicology1 (1982): 153-70.

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Structuralismand MusicalPlot 15

of a musical work, is the most inclusive concept of this kind: Only at the level of motives and phrases have the relations
the Ursatz of musical narrative, and a symbol of aspiration between formal and expressive qualities been explored sys-
toward a grandunified theory of musicalprocesses. The quest tematically, and this work has been carried out primarilyby
to formulate viable models of plot and so give shape to what philosophers.12
is as yet only an intriguing abstraction, is among the more This article sketches a model of musical plot based on
formidable challenges in contemporary music theory. The structuralistprinciples designed to account for the relation
burden for anyone attempting such a formulation on the between formal and semantic-expressive aspects of musical
premise that structure and content are indecomposable is to works from the level of motives to that of entire pieces. It
demonstrate how one might account for the integration of is not a universaltheory, however. Its purviewis instrumental
formal and semantic-expressive aspects of musical works music composed in the framework of Romantic-expressive
from the level of motives and phrases to that of entire move- aesthetics-mostly works of the nineteenth and twentieth
ments or works. centuries- and about many works of this era it will have little
While little progress has yet been made toward such a to say. The argumentcomprises a relatively brief theoretical
comprehensive model, the nature of musical plot itself has exposition and a longer practical demonstration, an analysis
been the subject of considerable speculation, much of it in- of the first movement of Beethoven's Piano Sonata in F
formed by structuralistliterary theory. Maus, for example, Minor, op. 57. Before beginning, however, two foundational
invokes Tzvetan Todorov's concept of the ideal narrativein issues must be addressedbriefly. First, what is entailed by the
describing the plot he hears in the first seventeen measures
of Beethoven's String Quartet in F Minor, op. 95; both An-
Century NarrativeStrategies," 19th-CenturyMusic 11 [1987]: 164-74; Treit-
thony Newcomb and Leo Treitler have compared the stan- ler, "Mozart and the Idea of Absolute Music," in Music and the Historical
dard formal patterns of music in the common practice period Imagination[Cambridge,Mass.: HarvardUniversity Press, 1988]: 176-214).
to paradigmaticplots of structuralistliterary theory, propos- The approachsharedby Wallaceand Newcomb identifiesplot types, including
sufferingfollowed by healing or redemption and struggle leading to victory,
ing that meaning is a function of deviations from these which are overly general (Newcomb, "Once More 'Between Absolute and
patterns; Robin Wallace and Anthony Newcomb, following Program Music': Schumann's Second Symphony," 19th-CenturyMusic 7
the lead of A. B. Marx and others, have located plots in [1984]:233-50; Wallace, "Backgroundand Expressionin the FirstMovement
sequences of mental states underlyingmusical structures;and of Beethoven's Op. 132," Journal of Musicology 7 [1989]: 3-20). Webster's
James Webster has used "the form of tragedy" as a model analysis includes descriptionsof extended non-dramaticscenes in which the
for musical plot in Brahms's TragicOverture-but all of these tragic hero is lost in reminiscences and visions; what the work captures,
therefore, is primarilythe inner experience of a tragic persona and not the
formulations, I believe, fall short of the idea's potential.t1 actualevents of a drama("Brahms'sTragicOverture:The Form of Tragedy,"
in Brahms, ed. Robert Pascal [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
l1Maus'sconception of plot in "Musicas Drama" is problematicbecause 1983]: 99-124).
it is applied to a short and palpably incomplete passage of a much larger 12PeterKivy's contour and convention theory of musical expression, cod-
movement, while Todorov's ideal plot structurewas devised to describe the ified in The CordedShell (Princeton:PrincetonUniversityPress, 1980), is still
minimumrequirementsfor plots in complete tales such as those in Boccaccio's a serviceable framework for discussions of these relations. Among recent
Decameron. The formulations of Newcomb and Treitler dilute the notion work, Jerrold Levinson, Music, Art, and Metaphysics(Ithaca: Cornell Uni-
of musical plot by equating it with the standard sequences of functional versity Press, 1990), particularlythe essay, "Aesthetic Supervenience," de-
events in musicalformal types. (Newcomb, "Schumannand Late Eighteenth- serves special mention.

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16 MusicTheory Spectrum

term plot; second, the nature of the relationship between and action are broached. For example, the conception of
musical plot and human experience. music as stage drama suggests continuous action in objective
For the purposes of this article, the claim that a musical time undertaken by independent agents, perceived by lis-
work is organized by a plot means teners who watch from outside the frame of the work. Music
as psychologicalexperience, on the other hand, mandates no
(1) that some of its elements can be understood to rep- determinate relation between the time of the embodied ex-
resent quasi-sentient agents and their actions,13and
perience and the objective time in which it is performed and
(2) that the totality of such actions forms a complete and heard. The action takes place within a single consciousness,
coherent unity coextensive with and inclusive of the
and a listener may enter the frame of the work, imaginingthat
entire musical unfolding.
the experience it embodies is his or her own experience. In
Under the model of musical plot proposed here, these con- attemptingto narrow the field, a strict narrativeview of mu-
ditions emerge as functionsof music'sinternalrelations-that sical plot can be rejected because Abbate is correct in stating
is, without specific extramusical reference. Yet the precise that music has no narrativepast tense.'4 The notion of music
nature of musical agents and actions and their significance as stage drama, as I have argued elsewhere, is problematic
in human terms depends nevertheless on how one conceives as well, first, because what is metaphoricallycalled musical
the fundamental relation between musical plots and human space is fundamentally disanalogous to space in the extra-
experience. Are such plots like the plans of narratives, told musical world, second, because while musically embodied
in the past tense, in which themes, motives, and other units experience unfolds in the present tense, it is only rarely to
behave as characters;are they like plots of stage dramas in be understood as unfolding in the objective time of extra-
which musical agents act and interact in the present without musical action.15
the mediation of a narrator;do they comprise sequences of The view developed here, which in many ways parallels
experiential phenomena within a single consciousness- that formulatedby EdwardT. Cone in The Composer'sVoice,
mental states and impressions, active cognitive processes, or is that musical plots are dramas of mental life comprising
struggles of opposing forces and voices in a consciousness affective, perceptual, and cognitive impressions. These im-
divided; or do they relate to human experience in some al- pressions unfold in the present tense, though not in objective
together more abstract way? time, each musical moment embodying indeterminate but
Each of these views entails a very different notion of mu-
sical action and agency and of the relation of the listener to '4As I have argued in "The Temporal Life of the Musical Persona: Im-
the ongoing process, and this is why it is importantto arrive plicationsfor Narrativeand DramaticInterpretation"(MusicResearchForum
at a working model, at least, before specific issues of agency 6 [1991]: 42-72), however, a narrativeview of musical structure, even if it
must ultimately be rejected, captures the character of the temporal rela-
13Inusing the term agent in this context, I follow the example set by tionship between human experience and the musical unfolding embodying it
EdwardT. Cone in The Composer'sVoice(Berkeley: Universityof California better than accounts of music as stage drama.
Press, 1974), though without invoking the elaborate typology he develops for '5Karl, "The Temporal Life of the Musical Persona." Susanne Langer
this concept. I use the term in the most general sense to mean the source of discourseson the differencesbetween the kind of virtualtime at work in music
an action or utterance and, like Cone, do not suggest that multiple human and scientificor clock time in Feelingand Form (New York:CharlesScribner's
charactersare represented in musical works. Sons, 1953), 104-19.

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Structuralismand MusicalPlot 17

almost invariably longer spans of experience. The principal ferential features which [can] be defined in relational
musical ideas, usually themes and motives, are associated terms."18For the structuralists, then, the meaning of any
with forces and impressions of mental life and musical plots particularunit is determined primarilyby its relation to other
play out the interaction of such forces and impressions in units in a system and not by its intrinsic characteristics.Sec-
the manner of an allegory. Thus a particularcomposition will ond is the tendency to use a binary model in analyzing the
likely not correspond to any particularsequence of mental relations among phenomena in a system. As Jonathan Culler
events, either real or imaginary, but to an idealized fiction observes, "structuralistshave generally followed [Roman]
of mental life unfolding in the mind of an unspecified per- Jakobson and taken the binary opposition as a fundamental
sona.16How such fictions take on musical form can best be operation of the human mind basic to the production of
explained, I believe, in the terms of a diffuse intellectual meaning."19The principalsemantic unit proposed in this ar-
movement or approach to inquiry known as structuralism. ticle is a species of binaryopposition of the same logical form
as those linking characters and their foils in literature. This
species of opposition, by its very structure,I claim, is the key
to solving the fundamental problems of musical semantics
which any model of musical plot must confront. A brief
Over the last century or so, structuralistthinkers have sketch of the workings of literary foils, illustrated with an
made substantial contributions to the fields of phonology,
example from a novel by Dostoyevsky, introduces the binary
linguistics, anthropology, literary theory, and art criticism.17 pattern for which I claim such prodigious semantic potential.
The project of structuralistinquiryin each of these fields has For one character to act as a foil to another, three con-
been to map systems of meaning underlyingrelations among ditions must be met. First, there must be parallels in life
semanticallyrelevant units, whether phonemes, morphemes, circumstances, personal history, appearance, or the like
totemic classifications, or abstract narrative roles and func-
marking the relation between two characters for special at-
tions. In so doing, structuralistshave followed two guiding
tention, inviting readers to compare them critically. Second,
principles. The first is to "concentratenot on the substantive there must be differential features of their character, behav-
characteristicsof individual phenomena but on abstract dif-
ior, or fortunes-differentia-which the underlyingparallels
set in relief. Third, a certain semantic burden must be met;
16Thisconcept, first used and theorized in a musical context by Edward
T. Cone in The Composer's Voice, derives from the literary theory of the
examining differentiain light of the underlyingparallelsmust
have a payoff, yielding insight into the motivation of the
so-called New Criticalmovement. Cone defines the musical persona as "the
experiencing subject of [an] entire composition, in whose thought the play, principal character, the moral order of a given social struc-
narrative, or reverie takes place-whose inner life the music communicates ture, the ideology of the author, and so forth. In Dosto-
by means of symbolic gesture" (The Composer'sVoice, 1). I use the term in yevsky's Crimeand Punishment,Razumikhinis an apt foil for
the same sense, though I do not conceive the inner life of the persona as Rodion Raskolnikov because both are impoverishedstudents
closely analogous to a play, narrative, or reverie.
l7The literatureis simply too extensive to summarizehere. General sur-
living in squalor in nineteenth-centurySt. Petersburg. These
veys with comprehensive bibliographies appear in Jonathan Culler, Struc-
turalistPoetics (Ithaca:CornellUniversityPress, 1975) and TerrenceHawkes, 18Culler, StructuralistPoetics, 7.
Structuralismand Semiotics(Berkeley: University of CaliforniaPress, 1977). '9Ibid., 15.

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18 MusicTheorySpectrum

parallels in life circumstancesset their contrasting outlooks more economical than the alternatives of inventing a new
and behavior (differentia) in special relief; Razumikhin re- term or using a cumbersome construction like "counterpart
mains irrepressiblyoptimistic and honestly employed while in a relation of mutually elucidating identity and contrast."
Raskolnikov sinks into depression and commits robbery and Organizing musical works in patterns of simultaneous
double murder. We only understandthis binaryopposition as identity and contrast like those linking charactersand their
that of a principal character and one of his foils, however, foils, I believe, is a first step in solving the most daunting
because the pairing is richly instructive;examining their out- semantic problem facing any model of musical plot: how the
looks and behavior in light of their shared circumstances relatively specific dramaticcontent implied by the notion of
yields insight into Raskolnikov'smotivation and the author's plot is to be ascribed to works of so-called absolute music
ideology.20Without the counterbalance of Razumikhin, the when the expressive and other semanticallyrelevant qualities
reader might, for example, be inclined to interpret Raskol- of their component passages, considered in isolation, can be
nikov's crime simplistically,as a response to his poverty and specified only in general terms. The secret is in the mech-
as Dostoyevsky's indictment of contemporary social condi- anism by which relations between foils, by their very form,
tions. The presence of a foil who optimistically meets the communicate meaning beyond that inscribed by the author
same conditions and prospers forestalls such conclusions, fo- or narrator,imbuing straightforwardand seemingly insignif-
cusing the reader's attention more profitablyon Raskolnikov icant traits of characterwith profound symbolic and ethical
as the victim of a misbegotten idea and his Napoleonic as- force. Razumikhin's optimism, for example, is, in and of
pirations. Thus we describe a character as a foil to another itself, no more than the unquestioningfaith of a simple na-
if there are objective parallels markingthe relation between ture. In the context of his relation of identity and contrast
them for special attention and if contrastingtheir character, with Raskolnikov, however, it becomes an object lesson in
behavior, or fortunes in light of their underlying identity the virtue of spiritualsimplicity, an indictment of our hero's
yields thematically significant inferences. world view, and an unwitting mockery of his self-absorbed
In the analysis below, the term foil is used to describe struggle "to get a thought straight."21And this semantic sur-
musical elements standingin meaningfulrelations of identity plus comes without a single extra word from the author and,
and contrastto other elements. My usage, however, does not indeed, without any specific verbal trace whatever; it is in-
wholly parallel the term's common usage in literarycriticism. ferred merely from the structure of the relation of identity
Specifically, the concept is extended to cover relations be- and opposition linking the two characters. Relations of si-
tween different versions of the same theme or motive, a prac- multaneous identity and contrast in music too possess, by
tice that is like describing the repentant Raskolnikov from their very form, a powerful semantic potential, though nec-
the end of Crimeand Punishmentas a foil to his former self. essarily restricted by the elusive significanceof the passages
However, this minor modification of a familiar concept is they unite. For the semantic and expressive qualities we can
reasonably attribute to passages of absolute music in isola-
20Actually,for the Russianreader, the foil interpretationis also suggested
by the names Raskolnikov and Razumikhinthemselves, for they are seman-
tically loaded in the same way that the proper names of many of Dickens's 21AlyoshaKaramazovuses this phrase in describinghis brother Ivan in
charactersare for English readers;in Russian the noun raskol means split or The BrothersKaramazov, trans. Constance Garnett, rev. Ralph E. Matlaw
schism while the adjective razumnij means reasonable or sensible. (New York: Norton Critical Edition, 1976), Book Two, Chapter 7.

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Structuralismand MusicalPlot 19

tion, arising from isomorphism with human expressive be- tions. Roles are idealized charactertypes, recurringfrom tale
haviors, conventional affective shadings of mode and chord to tale, which can be filled by a number of more or less
type, the evocation of "topics" or styles of functional music, interchangeablebeings. The role of villain, for example, may
analogies to dynamicphysical processes, intertextuallinks to be played equally well by a giant, a bandit, a witch, a step-
other works, and so on, are necessarily unspecific.22Never- mother, or some other unsavoryentity. The central elements
theless, when musical elements fixed with unspecific traits of of tales, those forming the structuralskeletons of plots, are
characterare broughtinto relations of identity and opposition functions. Propp describes a function as "an act of dramatis
with other equally indeterminate elements, the semantic po- personae, which is defined from the point of view of its sig-
tential of each of the parts may be immeasurablyenriched by nificance for the course of action of the tale as a whole . . .
its function in the opposition as a whole; for elements only Functions serve as stable, constant elements in folktales, in-
vaguely defined as to their intrinsic expressive qualities and dependent of who performs them, and how they are fulfilled
semantic potential may yet be defined with considerable pre- by the dramatis personae."24The function, villainy, for ex-
cision in relational terms with respect to other elements. ample, can take the form of a murder, an abduction, the
When such relations of identity and opposition are system- stealing of a magic agent, the throwing of someone into the
atically developed over the course of an entire composition, sea, or any numberof other dastardlyacts, but its significance
we have the stuff of which plots are made. in the course of the tale as a whole is independent of the
Exploring how musical analogs of foils and other oppo- details of its specificmanifestation. As a function it motivates
sitions are systematically developed as elements of plot re- the actions of the hero, who eventually, after intervening
quires two further constructs, roles and functions, drawn, functions, attempts to counteract it.
appropriatelyenough, from the structuralisttheory of plot. The notion of abstractroles requiresno introductionin the
Both are lucidly formulated in a pioneering work of struc- field of music criticism; it is a common practice to refer to
turalist literary theory, Vladimir Propp's Morphology of the the principaltheme of a movement, particularlya movement
Folktale (1928). In this study of one hundred Russian fairy in sonata form, as its protagonist, and nearly as common to
tales, Propp notes a "two-fold quality of the folktale: it is use the term antagonist or some equivalent to refer to ele-
amazingly multiform, picturesque, and colorful, and, to no ments at odds with the principalmaterial.25In my analysis of
less a degree, remarkablyuniform and recurrent."23The pic- the Appassionata I add one further role with less precedent
turesque and colorful details are superficialmanifestationsof in the critical literature. The real innovation in this article,
a small number of recurrent elements called roles and func-

22Adiscussion of musical expression as isomorphismwith human expres- 24Ibid.,20.

sive behaviorsappearsin Kivy, TheCordedShell. Discussionsof topics appear 25Studiesin which both roles are postulated include Patricia Carpenter,
in Leonard G. Ratner, ClassicMusic (New York: SchirmerBooks, 1980) and "Grundgestaltas Tonal Function," Music TheorySpectrum7 (1985): 15-38;
V. Kofi Agawu, Playing With Signs (Princeton: Princeton University Press, Philip G. Downs, "Beethoven's 'New Way' and the Eroica," in The Creative
1991). Worldof Beethoven,ed. Paul Henry Lang (New York: W. W. Norton, 1970),
23VladimirPropp, The Morphologyof the Folktale,trans. LaurenceScott, 83-102; and SusanMcClary,"SexualPolitics in ClassicalMusic," in Feminine
The InternationalJournal of American Linguistics24 (1958): 19. Endings (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), 53-79.

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20 MusicTheory Spectrum

however, is a system of musical plot functions indebted in a actions in the abstractundertaken by one agent with respect
general way to Propp's thinking and adapted to the theory to another, and the terms by which they are describedhere-
of musical actions.26 enclosure, disruption, subversion, counteraction, interruption,
In the analysis which follows, a distinction is made be- integration, divergence, withdrawal, realization, and trans-
tween two kinds of actions, the first not unlike common- figuration reflect something of their abstract character.
place actions of everyday life-outbursts, interjections, sobs, For now, only those encounteredin the Appassionataanal-
flights, hammer-strokes,slides, leaps, climbs, and other mo- ysis need be defined; the legend in Figure 1 can be consulted
tions and gestures of isolated agents. Actions in this category, for further clarification. Enclosure refers to a sequence in
which are the basis of Maus's theory of musical action as which an agent is, within a closed unit of structure, directly
developed in "Music as Drama," play a relatively minor role preceded and followed by material playing an opposing role
in this article, helping to characterizeagents cast in abstract or representing a contrastingstate; enclosures are often like
dramaticroles. Actions in the second category, defined much verbal exchanges between two parties in which the first to
as Propp defines functions, are the fundamentalunits of plots speak also has the final word, refuting or sweeping aside
like the one I describe underlyingthe first movement of the an objection interposed by an adversary. The opening of
Appassionata. Because they are defined as Propp defines Beethoven's Eroica is a paradigmexample of enclosure. The
functions, that is, "fromthe point of view of their significance enclosed element is the third clause of the principal theme
for the course of action of the [work] as a whole," actions (mm. 23-36), whose syncopated duple divisions have been
of this kind are, I believe, a more promisingbasis for analyses interpreted by several writers as an antagonisticforce in the
of plot at the level of complete movements than the everyday movement as a whole.28The principalmaterialof the theme,
actions Maus favors.27Called functional sequences, they are representing the thematic protagonist of the movement,
precedes this passage and then follows it with redoubled
26Most of my functions actually bear little practical resemblance to strength, enclosing the antagonistic element, establishing its
Propp's, sharingonly the principlesembodied in his definitionof the concept. own heroic character in the very act of confrontation and
Any attempt to adapt his actual system of thirty-one functions for use in reassertion. The term enclosure invokes the familiar spatial
musical analysiswould have been fruitless in any case because most of them
are simplytoo concrete (e.g., "XIV. The Hero Acquires the Use of a Magical metaphorof a work unfoldingfrom left to right, so that if one
Agent") and in the body of literaturehe analyzesthey alwaysoccur in a rigidly imagines the phrase structure of the opening of the Eroica
prescribedorder. diagrammed as A (mm. 1-14), A' (15-22), B (23-36), A"
27Thedanger in Maus's approach, if one can judge based on his analysis (37-45), the enclosure is visually apparent. The term dis-
of a seventeen-measurefragment, is that it can lead to an atomistic account
of plot. The three principalactions he hears in the opening of Beethoven's
ruption refers to a pattern resembling a failed enclosure in
Quartetin F Minor, op. 95, for example, are built from materialswhich recur
which the element to be enclosed proves uncontainable.Here
in variousguises throughoutthe movement, establishingcomprehensivepat- the first agent still has the final word but its attempt at ref-
terns of behavior with respect to one another and perhaps even dramatically utation rings hollow, betrays weakness, or ends in failure.
consistent roles. In his analysis, however, these comprehensivepatterns are The opening of the Appassionata,as explained in the analysis
not acknowledgedin explainingthe motivationsof agents within the opening.
Consequently,one must wonderhow the isolated actionsof the firstseventeen
measureswould be reconciled to the course of action of the work as a whole. 28Chapter2 of Scott Burnham, Beethoven Hero (Princeton: Princeton
The strategy is analogous to attempting to explain the motivations of char- University Press, 1995) discusses the long tradition of programmaticinter-
actersin a novel on the basis of informationrevealed in the firstchapteralone. pretations of this movement.

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Structuralism and Musical Plot 21

Figure 1. Graphic summary of plot, Beethoven, Piano Sonata in F Minor, op. 57/i
O M O '0 [x
C N In O 0%
- - 0 In If 0 rN
mm. o
In) ro.0 - N C"
-4 -@ I)
- ,O
co -O
4 N
- cv


EI(A) j R- O FA)R r -R -N--D

t tC(
E ,J-
-n C(P) K E

Roles: OtherSymbols: In theexamplean antagonisticelementdisrupts

(] - Protagonist <- Reaction to or against a preceding one in therole of protagonist.
function,condition,or agent Subversion - Indicatedas follows:
( - Antagonist - Indicatescausation.Forexample,a
(G)- Goal State counteraction executedby anagentin the
role of protagonistyieldinga goal state
Changesin thefortunesof agentsareindicatedby wouldbe represented as follows:
bold type,lowercase,andtheadditionof plusand
minussigns.The followingrepresentsthefortunes -- Herean elementin the role of protagonistis
C(P) subvertedby an antagonisticone.
of a protagonistin a continuumfromgoodto ill,
the middletermrepresenting a neutralor starting ( ) Parenthesesareusedin attributing an Counteraction - Reactionto or againsta
condition: actionto a particularagent.In theabove precedingfunctionoragent Indicatedby a
example,the counteraction is attributed
to backwardarrow:
an agentin the role of protagonist.
Additionalplusandminussignsmaybe added. The Graphing of Functions: Withdrawal - A backward arrowis directedat
Enclosure - Elementsin an enclosureare thatwhichmotivatesthe withdrawal:
Functions: bracketedas follows:
E - Enclosure <- W
D - Disruption E
S - Subversion Interruption - The roleof the interrupting
C - Counteraction agent,antagonistin this case, maybe indicated
W Withdrawal Disruption - Indicatedby brokenbrackets,an parenthetically:
I - Interruption arrowindicatingcausation,anda changein the -
fortunesof the disruptedagent I(A)
R - Realization -
Realization Bringingabouta goal stateor
carryingouta threat
'D: --.? S
R ) or

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22 MusicTheory Spectrum

below, exemplifies the function of disruption. Here the ele- promising nexus for interpretation. The restatement makes
ment to be enclosed, the four-note motive descending from a special point of preserving each measure of its foil intact
Db to C sounding first in m. 10, sets in motion a series of and at a restraineddynamic level, and this apparent attempt
events through which the element that would enclose it, the to recapture the composure of the opening is cast in special
principal phrase returning at m. 17, is rendered nearly in- relief by the violence of the three ff outburstsinterruptingits
coherent. Subversiondescribes the undercuttingof the char- progress (mm. 17-18, 20, and 22). But the full significance
acter or expressive qualitiesof one agent due to the influence, of this treatmentof the opening phrase is only apparentwhen
superimposition, or ascendancy of an agent in an opposing the contrastingaspects of the model and restatement are ex-
role. Counteraction,the only function proposed here with a amined in light of their underlyingidentity. Consideredapart
direct counterpart in Propp's system, describes a measure from its foil, the restatement is an oddly timed passage
taken to counter the effects of a prior enclosure, disruption, marked by striking dynamic and textural contrasts, features
or subversion. Realization is the bringing about of a desired suggesting extreme expression and a tendency toward dis-
state or the fulfillment of a threat. Withdrawalrefers to an continuity. Consideredin relation to its foil, however, it takes
introversivecounteraction-a retreat from conflict; interrup- on a far more specific significance:in this context it is a well-
tion is self-explanatory. I believe that functional sequences balanced four-measure phrase mangled or dismembered.
enacted by musical agents cast in abstract dramatic roles Soundingjust seventeen measuresfrom the opening, this bru-
reflect a fundamental mode of organization in works like talizationof the principalphrase is enigmatic-an outrageous
Beethoven's Appassionata, while providing the basis for a effect in search of a cause, inviting the listener to search for
typology of musicalplots with broad implicationsfor the crit- an explanationor causal agent. I suggest that the explanation
icism of nineteenth- and twentieth-centurymusic and the his- is in the intervening measures and that the cause is the in-
tory of style in this era. The analysiswhich follows shows how tervention of an antagonisticforce embodied in the four-note
roles and functional sequences can be heard to arise from descending motive from Db to C (henceforth, motive X)
interlocking patterns of binary oppositions akin to literary which first sounds in m. 10. (This statement is made from the
foils, and how a series of functionalsequences might be linked point of view of the fictional world of the work. It would be
to form a complete and coherent plot. closer to the truth to say that the structuralfunction of the
passage is to focus the listener's attention on motive X in
order to mark it for a particularstructural-expressiverole in
the overall plan. The illusion of causation is thus exploited
In examining the opening of Beethoven's Appassionata, to achieve a structuralgoal.) A detailed examination of the
one is confronted with a number of binary oppositions that passage focusing on how motive X is introduced and how it
might be analyzed as musical-dramaticelements and their interacts with the other elements of the theme-designated
foils. This analysis begins with the relation between the first collectively as the thematic protagonist-supports this inter-
four measures and their thrice interrupted restatement in pretation.
mm. 17-23, because in a passage replete with striking ex- Before proceeding, however, it is necessary to explain
cesses and extravagant gestures, this restatement of the carefullyhow the ascriptionof dramaticroles like protagonist
opening phrase is the most extravagant of all, and hence a and antagonist to the movement's themes and motives is to

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Structuralismand MusicalPlot 23

be reconciled with the overriding conception of the work as capacityit creates a high level of expectation for an inevitable
a dramaof mental life unfoldingin the experience of a unitary resolution. Integratingthese observationsyields a sinister and
persona. First and foremost, these roles do not represent single-minded agent promising an unavoidable outcome-in
independent characters,but should be understood as abstract other words, a threat or warning. The first time the malev-
personifications of opposing forces, impressions, and struc- olent message is stated, in m. 10, it goes unheard-the pro-
tures within the psyche of the persona. The terms protagonist tagonist continues in self-absorbed dalliance with the trill
and antagonist were chosen because of their precedent in motive. With the second statement in m. 12 the protagonist
music criticism and because they are relatively neutral labels hears, but either does not understand or requires clarifica-
for the elements of such a dramaticopposition. The element tion: it repeats the antagonist's words with a rising, ques-
designated as the protagonist embodies the persona's will to tioning inflection. To be absolutely sure the threat is under-
action and the seat of its identity, and for this reason it is the stood, the antagonist slows its speech (the poco ritardando
element to which the fortunes of the persona are most closely of mm. 12-13) and pronounces the fateful words once again.
linked. It is largely true, therefore, that as the protagonist The protagonist understandsthis time, repeating what it has
fares, so too fares the persona. The two terms are not in- heard and responding with a violent outburst in mm. 13-14.
terchangeable, however, since the persona's experience en- Whether this gesture and the subsequent fragmentation of
compasses all of the work's forces and actions both fair and the thematic protagonist express rage, fear, defiance, grief,
foul, while the term protagonist denotes only the material of confusion, or some other emotion or state is impossible to
the principaltheme (exclusive of motive X). The antagonistic know at this point.30For now it is enough to recognize that
motive might be understood as the persona's mental repre- the threat or warning has had a disruptive influence on the
sentation of an extrapersonal force or as some aspect of protagonist, performing the function of disruption in the
the self perceived as foreign or inimical to the persona's in- structuralistsystem proposed here.
terests.29 Of course, the interaction described above is only a sim-
Motive X, then, enters in m. 10 as a foreign element in ulation of dramaticdialogue, and in fact there is no need to
the texture, a distinct second voice differentiated from the ascribe specific meanings to the voices. The function of the
protagonist'svoice by its register, its strong rhythmicprofile, passage is fulfilled merely by its structuralsimilarityto a dra-
and its dialogic relationshipto the principalmotives. It is well matic dialogue, and it is this similaritywhich is exploited in
cast for an antagonistic role. Its low register and semitonal
descent lend it an ominous or sinister quality, and its gravity
and inflexible insistence in its three repetitions signal author- 30IfA. B. Marx is right in hearing rage in this passage ("Derselbe Satz
ity and elemental power. Equally important is its role in de- wiederholtsich, wiederleis' anhebend, aber mit schmetterndemEinschlagder
fining the root of a lengthy dominant elaboration, for in this Harmonie dreimal mit Wuth unterbrochen"(Ludwig van Beethoven: Leben
und Schaffen, Vol. 2 [Berlin: Verlag von Otto Janke, 1863-64], 27), I would
suggest that it is rage of a special kind. It is like a storm one raises in one's
own mind to drownout unwelcomethoughts, in this case the warningor threat
29Forthis strategy I am once again indebted to Cone, who in The Com- of motive X. Perhaps it succeeds-after all, motive X is not heard in the
poser's Voice uses it in accounting for some of the vivid details of Berlioz's restatement-but if so, the success has had a price; the persona's peace of
Symphoniefantastique. mind has been shattered.

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24 MusicTheory Spectrum

accomplishinga crucialstructuralgoal. The causal link drawn is that it representsa state of the work's persona diametrically
between the entry of motive X and the disruption of the contrasting with that embodied by its foil, and if this is so,
principalideas that follows in mm. 17-23 create distinct and then we have once again been set an enigma. Like the relation
ultimately stable dramatic roles for two principal thematic of varied restatement and opening phrase examined above,
elements, establishing an antagonist-protagonistopposition the expressive gulf separatingthe two principalthemes, cast
which becomes one of the principalsubjects of development in relief as it is by their underlyingidentity, stands as an effect
throughout the movement.31 in search of a cause. One must explain what has happened
The second theme can be heard as a foil to the firstbecause to console or restore the composure of the persona, given the
it is derived from the movement's opening motive in a way chaos that had so recently prevailed in the opening theme.
that is clearly audible, and yet diametricallycontrastswith the As above, clues can be found in the intervening material.
firsttheme in a numberof its formal and expressive qualities. The transitional phrases connecting the two principal
The rhythmicsimilaritiesconnecting the themes are obvious, themes (mm. 24-35) elaborate a single harmony, V/III, while
as are the shared emphasis on tonic (of their respective keys) maintaining an unwavering pulse in eighth notes. The first
arpeggiation and neighbor motions-but the contrasts are two evenly-balancedfour-measurephrases echo the dramatic
more striking. The first theme, as discussed above, is volatile conflict embodied in the first theme. Each culminates in its
and active, quite literally the protagonist confronting an an- third measure with a sforzando on the flatted-sixthscale de-
tagonisticforce. The second is serene, emerging only after all gree of the new key which descends in the final measure to
echoes of conflict have faded. It is contemplative and unified the fifth degree, recallingthe 16-5 motion of motive X. Over-
in effect ratherthan active and divided among multiple agents all, however, the contour of the passage is a gradual dimin-
like its counterpart-thus, a soliloquy or lyricalmood picture uendo and descent to a lower register and level of tension-a
rather than a dramatic scene. It is set off from the turmoil softening and broadening that settles in m. 35 into a deep
of the first theme area and from the agitated closing that and quiescent pool of mediant major. The action taken in
follows by a parenthesis of transitionalmaterial and because the transition, then, is a turning inward-a withdrawal-and
it is the only hint of the mediant major in an exposition finally, a submersion into thoughts or impressions sheltered
dominated by the minor mode. What is the significanceof its from the threats and chaos of the opening scene. The role
relation to the first theme? The most obvious interpretation played by the second theme might therefore be described as
an ideal, contemplative state of the persona.
What is the nature of the ideal state embodied in the
31RobertHatten explores the notion of a thematic opposition acting as
second theme? By examining some of its salient formal and
a theme for development in an analysisof the firstmovement of Beethoven's expressive features-that is, those thrown into relief by its
String Quartet, op. 130: "If issues of rhythmicambiguity . . . and thematic/ foil, the first theme-one can narrow the range of interpre-
textural/tempooppositions are, in the best Classicalsense, significantthemes tations. Perhaps in highest relief is its major-modal colora-
of the movement, then their workingout may involve strategiesthat, in their
tion. It is the only extended passage of the exposition in the
tonal/structuralconsequences, go beyond the basic expectations of the style
("Aspects of Dramatic Closure in Beethoven: A Semiotic Perspective on major mode, which, given conventional affective interpre-
Musical Analysis via Strategies of Dramatic Conflict," Semiotica 66 (1987): tations of the modes, invites interpretations at the brighter
200.) end of the expressive continuum. Also in sharp relief is the

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Structuralismand MusicalPlot 25

passage's near stasis. The three two-measureunits with which persona, signaling a return to reality through its move to the
it begins are rhythmically identical and firmly centered on mediant minor, the key of the closing. The first step in this
the mediant harmony;its melodic structure(A, A', A) might return, the note Fb, is the flatted-sixthscale degree in the new
be described as three repetitions of the same shape with the key-the degree defining the antagonistic motive X which is
barest minimum of internal contrast, or as an oscillation soon to reappear prominently at the climax of the closing
between two nearly identical statements. In anthropomorphic theme as Fb moving to Eb. The allusions to the antagonist
terms, one might say that it manifests no impulse to change which cut it short, along with its brevity, suggest that the ideal
-to move beyond the single image which is its subject or the state of the second theme is not contentment with a tangible
single harmony groundingit-and therefore, no sense of for- reality in the experience of the persona, but ratheran ephem-
ward motion or striving. Integratingthese observationsyields eral vision.
a general interpretation: the opening clauses of the second If the transitionpreceding the second theme was a turning
theme are pleasurableand static, suggestinghumanstates like away from the outside world leading to immersion in a fleet-
restfulness, peace, or contentment. But this interpretationis ing dream state, the closing which follows is the return jour-
incomplete, for it fails to capture a cruel irony defining the ney, a re-emergence into the real world of conflictintroduced
theme's role in the plot as a whole; that is, the very features in the first theme. Moreover, this symmetrical contrast of
creating its restful and contented impression-its harmonic immersion and emergence is underscored by parallels in
and rhythmic stasis, its oscillation between two nearly iden- structureand content and so stands as another illustrationof
tical statements-also render it unsustainable. The theme is the role foils can be heard to play in the structureand mean-
simply too static and repetitive to invite a broader exposition. ing of the exposition. Like the transition, the closing material
In any event, the pleasant, if short-lived, impression of the (mm. 51-66) begins with two four-measure phrases, each
second theme is cast in a new light by events set in motion culminating in an allusion to motive X, followed by a fore-
in m. 42. shortening(or liquidation)in subsequentphrases. But instead
The descending third Fl -Db, in m. 42 cuts short the pre- of the transition'srelativelycalm eighth-note pulse and fading
vailing serenity of the second theme by echoing the last mo- echoes of motive X, in the closing we find a frenetic pace and
tive of its principal clause in the minor mode and at forte. motive X at fortissimo surging out of the depths on the crest
Now it is part of the nature of states like contentment and of a rising arpeggiationof vii?7. In addition to its relation to
serenity that they require time to be savored. A flash of rage, the transition and motive X, the closing material also recalls
a twinge of wistfulness, a moment of ecstatic joy; these are the protagonist through its emphasis on the submediant and
unproblematic, but fleeting contentment is nearly a contra- Neapolitan harmonies. Thus, one could say that it exhibits
diction in terms. The essence of contentment can only be the kind of simultaneous multiple agency characterizingthe
experienced as an enduring phenomenon, and it is for this sonata's opening. What then is the role of the closing in the
reason that the interruptionof the nascent contentment in m. plot of the exposition? It confirmsthe conflict of protagonist
42 is essential to the second theme's meaning. The isolated and antagonist as the primary issue of the drama and, by
descending third of m. 42, appended as it is to a pattern of cutting short the contented impressionsof the second theme,
more complete statements, sounds like an uneasy after- confirms that the ideal envisioned by the persona is an iso-
thought or doubt, foretelling a change in the fortunes of the lated and seemingly distant hope. The action it performswith

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26 MusicTheory Spectrum

respect to the second theme is enclosure;it encloses the single creating an effect of heightened tension. The motive passes
hopeful moment in a structuredominated by impressions of from hand to hand, beginning in the left hand in mm. 79-80
turmoil generated by the influence of motive X. and then continuing in the right hand in mm. 81-82, in this
So by the end of the exposition three abstract dramatic way covering a span of more than four octaves over the course
roles-protagonist, antagonist, and goal state-have been of four measures, while the accompanyingfiguration, which
taken by its themes and motives, and two problems moti- crosses it in a descending direction, covers nearly three. By
vating the rest of the movement's action have been posed. this hand-over-handgrappling(metaphorically,that is; not on
First is the threat of motive X, which, after its introduction the part of the pianist), the protagonist extricates itself from
in m. 10, occupies the thoughts of the musical persona more the tonal netherworldof Fb minor, moving through a mod-
or less continuously throughoutthe exposition. Second is the ulating sequential pattern by minor sixths until it arrives on
unrealized ideal envisioned in the second theme. The rest of firmer ground, the dominant of Db, in m. 91. It is tempting
the movement explores these dramatic problems, which to ascribe a special significanceto this pattern of modulation
prove to be related. Throughoutthe movement, the principal by a chain of submediantrelations, given that the key of the
concern of the persona is to bring into tangible and enduring submediant itself, Db, holds a certain symbolic status in
reality the ideal state envisioned in the second theme. Each the sonata as a whole. It is in the key of the submediant, for
attempt to do so, however, is thwarted by the intervention example, that the persona twice attempts unsuccessfully to
of motive X, which grows in power and influenceas the move- project the goal state envisioned in the second theme: the first
ment progresses. attemptis in the development beginningat m. 109, the second
The exposition has ended in the key of Ab minor, the is the parallel passage in the coda in mm. 210ff. Moreover,
mediant minor of the movement's tonic, with the antagonistic the second movement, the serene Andante con moto, unfolds
element, motive X, in a position of power attained through entirely in the key of the submediant, establishingDl major
its disruptionof the thematicprotagonistand enclosure of the once and for all as a realm of the ideal. Finally, the antagonist
second theme into a larger structure in which it is the dom- can be interpretedin light of this symbolism as well, since its
inant factor. In the development, however, the protagonist semitonal descent from Db perenniallydrags the submediant
challengesits position. The development begins (m. 67) in the back into the conflicted axis of dominant and tonic. Nowhere
tonal netherworldof Fb major, spelled enharmonicallyas E is this more apparent than in the transition from the second
major, a region far removed from the movement's tonic and movement to the finale, where D b as tonic suddenlybecomes
one beholden to the Ab minor established as part of motive Db as the submediant of F minor and is then pulled down
X's sphere of influence in the closing. (Fb major arises as to C in an expansion of motive X, setting the tragic finale in
the submediantof Ab minor.) All of the materialin Fb major motion. Given these symbolic associations, it is singularly
comes from the first theme, though the opening arpeggiated appropriatethat the immediate tonal goal of the protagonist's
motive sounds only in the firsttwo measures. When the open- first counteraction in the opening movement, the key of the
ing motive returnsin m. 79, however, performingthe function submediant, should itself be reached by a strainingspiral of
of counteraction,the struggle is begun in earnest. There is a submediantrelations. By this ingenious escape from the tonal
sudden change to a forte dynamiclevel, a sudden increase in netherworld of Fb, the protagonist counteracts the tonal ef-
rhythmicactivity, and a sudden move to the minor mode, all fects of the antagonist'sdominanceof the exposition, winning

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Structuralismand MusicalPlot 27

a respite in which the persona pursues the ideal envisioned out in mm. 130-33. Whatever threat or warning the antag-
in the second theme. onist had delivered at its first appearance is abundantlyful-
The second theme as it sounds in the development (m. filled in this catastrophe, and the effects on the persona are
llOff.) derives its meaning from its relation to its foil, the soon indexed in the treatment of the principal theme in the
original statement in the exposition, a relation which might recapitulation.
be describedas a compound irony. While in the originalstate- Before proceeding to the recapitulation, however, a few
ment the very features creating a restful and contented im- prefatorywords are necessary. Recapitulationsand other ex-
pression are precisely those renderingit unsustainable,in the tended formalrepetitionshave posed a perennialdilemmafor
development, the features allowing it to be sustained beyond narrative and stage-dramaticaccounts of musical structures
its originallength undercutthe restful and contented qualities because the architectonicrequirementsthey satisfy in music
which were its expressive essence. Preserved is the pattern of have no counterpartsin narrative literature or drama. Con-
oscillation between rhythmically-identicaltwo-measure units sequently, musically satisfying repetitions are often found to
followed by a foreshortening on the final motive. But this be dramaticallysuperfluous, and have been discounted, ra-
familiarpattern is subvertedby new features undercuttingthe tionalized, or simply left unacknowledged in interpretations
theme's placid impression, including a modulating progres- of musical plot. Perhaps the most familiar rationalization is
sion with an accelerating harmonic rhythm and an overall one Philip Downs used a quarter of a century ago in his
dynamic contour which could be described as a series of dramaticanalysis of the first movement of Beethoven's Ero-
increasinglyintense crescendos. The dilemma of the persona ica. That part of the movement for which Downs was unable
is captured perfectly by the interaction of these two sets of to identify an integral dramaticrole, including extended pas-
features. In the exposition, the theme had to be cut short sages in the exposition and development and most of the
because its static pattern of oscillation would have been un- recapitulation and coda, was dismissed as serving a purely
tenable had it continued longer than the cycle and a half musical function. The function of the coda, for example, he
(three units) it in fact completed. In the development, how- found to be "virtuallyentirely formal," merely fulfilling the
ever, restless harmonicmotion allows it a longer life. As the "sonata principle of recapitulation."32Needless to say, this
oscillation continues and is followed by its foreshortening, tactic is dangerously arbitrarybecause it allows one to dis-
more potent harmonic solutions, including the move to B count any passage impeaching the author's interpretationas
minor begun in m. 113, are offered to counteract the inertia a concession to formal requirements.33
of continued repetition. After two and a half cycles-which
is about as far as harmonic variation alone can sustain the
32PhilipG. Downs, "Beethoven's 'New Way' and the Eroica," in The
pattern of repetition-the liquidation begins in m. 120 with Creative World of Beethoven, ed. Paul Henry Lang (New York: W. W.
an acceleration of harmonicrhythm. The restatements of the Norton, 1970), 86.
final motive which follow are like a desperate effort to hold 33CarolynAbbate, in discussing the narrative interpretationof Ducas's
L'Apprentisorcier, characterizesa similarstrategyas an "interpretiveescape
ground-to sustain the ideal state in the face of increasing route," observing that "when a motif's appearance seems contradictoryin
opposition. In m. 123 the image is shattered, the shards and terms of its symbolic force, it will be stripped of its symbolic meaning. Its
sparks thrown upward in the arpeggiation of vii?7 and then recurrence is written off to the exigencies of purely musical logic" ("What
showeringdownwarduntil motive X is ferociously hammered the Sorcerer Said," 224).

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28 MusicTheory Spectrum

It is an open question, however, whether those who have account of exact repetitions, I believe that it nevertheless has
confronted the problem more directly have had greater suc- considerablemerit in the interpretationof varied repetitions,
cess. Edward T. Cone, in a hermeneutic study of Schubert's including the recapitulationof the opening theme in the first
Moment musical, op. 94 no. 6, meets it head-on, offering a movement of Beethoven's Appassionata.
comprehensive strategy for interpreting formal repetitions. Continuing the analysis: After the catastrophe of the re-
According to Cone, the opening section of this ternarywork transition,the Appassionata'sopening scene is replayed mea-
embodies a tragic sequence of events, dramatizing "the in- sure for measure in the right hand beginning in m. 136, and
jection of a strange, unsettling element into an otherwise it is this part of the texture which I interpret as the persona's
peaceful situation. At first ignored or suppressed, that ele- reconstruction of earlier events. Why reconstruction rather
ment persistentlyreturns.It not only makes itself at home but than mere repetition? The reason is the nature of the relation
even takes over the direction of events in order to reveal between this passage and its foil in the exposition. In the
unsuspected possibilities."34 recapitulation nearly every aspect of the theme's subtly-
In explaining why this dramatic sequence is repeated da nuanced expression is undercut by the addition of a single
capo after the Trio, he suggests that in the mind of the work's new feature, the pedal point underlyingthe first period, and
persona, "the memory of the original course of events is as a result, the original course of events, though followed
bound to recur," an interpretationreflectinghis general view step by step, is stripped of its immediacy and emotional con-
that "formal repetitions are often best interpreted as repre- text. Among the seemingly contradictoryqualities subverted
sentations of events rehearsed in memory."35As a strategy by the pedal point are, on one hand, a sense of calm self-
for interpretingexact repetitions, this all too convenient so- possession arising from the theme's deliberate and careful
lution is problematicin at least two respects. First, to accept unfolding (in mm. 1-8) and stabilityand solidity proceeding
it is to accept that in some cases the rehearsal in memory of from its root-position harmonies (first F minor and then Gl
a sequence of events is indistinguishablefrom the actual ex- major) and squarely symmetrical phrasing; on the other, a
perience of living through it-something we know to be un- certain willfulness and elusiveness revealed in sudden, un-
true in everyday life. Second, if one accepts Cone's expla- preparedshifts to distant tonal terrain, and a fragmentaryand
nation with respect to Schubert'sMoment musical, then one halting impressioncreated by its frequent pauses. In the re-
must be willing to accept that all dramatic ternary works capitulation, the agitation of the incessantly reiterated pedal
ending with exact repetitions of their opening sections rep- tone shatters the calm, overshadowingthe deliberate motion
resent sequences of events followed after a digressionby their of the right hand while welding the formerly fragmentary
precise and vivid rehearsalin memory. The problem with this scene into a single curve of force. The stability and solidity
interpretive strategy is that while it may be plausible as an of the opening phrases are undercut because the pedal point
account of an isolated work, it is bound to seem fetishistic grounds the last half of a lengthy dominant prolongation
applied to ten. But however one rates Cone's solution as an (mm. 122-51), transformingwhat was a firm tonic harmony
in the first measure of the sonata into a mere neighbor chord
34EdwardT. Cone, "Schubert'sPromissoryNote: An Exercise in Musical within a prolonged dominantat the onset of the recapitulation
Hermeneutics," 19th-Century Music 5 (1982): 239. (m. 136), thus destabilizing the entire first period. In the
35Ibid.,240. exposition, the willful and elusive character of the thematic

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Structuralismand MusicalPlot 29

protagonist, apparentin its sudden shifts to and from the area 151) in terms of abstract functional sequences-specifically,
of the Neapolitan, depends on an element of surprisethat is subversion and enclosure. Of course, the subversion of the
lost in the recapitulation. The shifts at the beginnings of the thematicprotagonisthas alreadybeen describedin detail-all
second and third phrases (mm. 4-5 and 8-9), for example, that is left is to ascribe the act itself to an element playing
come after silences which obscure any sense of linear con- an opposing role. This is easy enough since the pedal point,
nection, the protagonist simply appearing in will-o'-the-wisp the subversive agent, proceeds directly from the final pitch,
fashion in new regions. In the recapitulation, however, the C, of motive X in the retransition-its incessant knelling thus
move to the Neapolitan is anticipated by the ascent of linked linearlyand psychologicallyto the antagonisticmotive.
the pedal point to Db in m. 139, while the move back to the This linkage, however, could be more or less direct. One need
dominant is given away by the B in the bass in m. 143.36It not, for example, conceive the pedal as a direct extension of
is by undercutting all of these expressive qualities and im- the antagonist in order to implicate the antagonist in the act
parting its more or less uniform agitation to the entire first of subversion. A more plausible interpretation is that the
period that the pedal point stripsthe passage of its immediacy pedal represents an agitated state of the persona precipitated
and emotional context, homogenizing or flattening its ex- by the preceding catastrophe, and that it is this agitated state
pressive contours. It is as though the events of the earlier that is directly responsible for subvertingthe expressive qual-
drama are remembered clearly, but monochromaticallycol- ities of the thematic protagonist. On this view, then, there
ored by the intense affective experience of a later time in is a chain of causation: the antagonistic force brings about a
which they are recalled, the effect very much like the dis- state of agitation in the persona which in turn colors the
tancing we sometimes experience when reconstructing a memory of past events.
scene in our imaginations. Note, however, that it is only the The protagonistis also enclosed in a largerunit of structure
persona's impressions of the past which are subject to emo- (the dominant prolongation in, mm. 122-51) controlled by
tional distancing. The persona's experience in the present is the antagonist. Its return in m. 136 is preceded by the ca-
of unprecedented vividness. tastrophe in which its fondest dreams were crushed by the
A good way to integrate these observations is to describe antagonist's thunderous hammering, and followed in mm.
the passage from the climactic retransition (m. 130) through 145-48 by the reconstructionof the passage in which motive
the recapitulation of the principal theme's first period (m. X had first delivered its warning.
It is now possible to interpret this passage and its role in
the plot of the movement. Only after the catastrophe of the
36The addition of the B transformswhat in the exposition had been a
submediantharmonyinto a more dominant-directedchord of the diminished retransition does the persona fully realize the magnitude of
third (B, D6, F, Ab in m. 143). Although this change might be interpreted the threat that had been posed by the antagonist. Having
superficiallyas a mere concession to correct voice-leading, since the B in the suffered dearly for underestimating its adversary, it is in a
bass replaces Db to avoid parallel octaves, what is crucial here is the way state of extreme agitation that the persona attempts to re-
Beethoven, like any great artist, turns a mere necessity to aesthetic account. construct the sonata's opening scene in order to ascertain
By giving away the move to and increasingthe gravitationtoward the dom-
inant, the B serves the same function as the anticipationof Db four measures
what went wrong. Should the magnitude of the threat have
earlier, standing as an integral part of a comprehensivestrategy to make the been recognized when it was first delivered? What, if any-
pedal point an agent of irresistible drive and inexorable purpose. thing, had been done to precipitatethe threat and what might

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30 MusicTheory Spectrum

have been done to neutralize it? These are the likely ques- development, the choice to attempt it again must be under-
tions occupying the persona. The subversion and enclosure stood, if not as a direct challenge to the controlling position
of the protagonist in this passage indicate a downturn in the of the antagonist, then at least as the most reckless tempting
persona's fortunes and a commensurateadvancement of the of fate. But perhaps the persona has learned from its mis-
antagonist'sposition, a shift in power with consequences for takes; at any rate, the pattern of phrases and foreshortening
the varied restatement following in m. 152. Here the torment is altered in the coda, and the new solution initially seems
of the persona is considerably more protracted than in the more successful than its counterpart in the development.
exposition-five outburstsat fortissimo ratherthan three dis- Here, as in the earlier episode, the theme is borne upward
rupt the passage's progress-a development thoroughly con- and foreshortened until a point correspondingto the original
sistent with its declining fortunes. breaking point (m. 123) is reached in measure 218. In the
There is little to say about motivation in the nearly literal coda, however, it seems that the crisis is weathered. When
recapitulation of the transition and second theme, for it is the texture fragments into wide-ranging arpeggiations, the
perfectly naturalafter its recent misfortunesthat the persona fragments do not plummet catastrophicallydownward as in
should again wish to submerge itself in consoling dreams or the development, but continue to soar over an ascendingbass
hopeful visions. Nor is it remarkable that these ephemera line until reaching the dominant in measure 233.
should take forms nearly indistinguishablefrom their earlier What fuels the tension of the passage to this point is the
manifestations-or indeed that they should be lost once more expectation that motive X will enter as a violently disruptive
in the return to reality. These repetitions present no special force, just as it does in the initial statement of the opening
difficulties for an interpretation of the work as an abstract theme and at the climax of the development. Indeed, the
fiction of mental life because, unlike dramatic scenes or sit- coda's construction in parallel with the development seems
uations in literary narratives,dreams are wont to recur. This specifically calculated to raise and exploit this expectation,
is why the nearly exact repetition of the second theme is sustainingthe movement's tension and forwarddrive through
unobjectionable, while an exact re-enactmentof the dramatic dramatic means long after its major tonal issues have been
scene embodied in the first theme would have been intol- resolved. But because a point corresponding to the initial
erable. It is even possible that the very repetition of the crisis point is allowed to pass uneventfully, this expectation
second theme and closing has a special significance,marking is frustrated,and when motive X is quietly intoned in m. 235,
the fleeting dreams of contentment and rude awakenings the persona seems to be asking what the listener must be
they contain as perennial, immutable facts of the persona's wondering as well: Has the threat been forgotten; will an-
existence-the default conditions of its soul. other catastrophebe averted? A sudden explosion of motive
Only in the coda does the persona once again make the X (m. 239) is the answer, setting the final scene in motion,
effort of will required to overcome this psychic inertia and another desperate assertion of second theme, this time in the
to advance the plot. Like the development, the coda begins tonic minor (mm. 240ff.). It is quickly swallowed up by ma-
on the principaltheme and proceeds (without a transitionthis terial derived from motive X (the motion between Db and
time) to tie main action, another attempt to project and C in mm. 251-56) and in the brief moment before it is con-
sustainthe persona's ideal state in the key of the submediant. sumed it bears little resemblance to its former self. The per-
Now given that just such an action led to disaster in the sona's vision of an ideal state has withered in the face of harsh

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Structuralismand MusicalPlot 31

reality and in the final measures the protagonist falls pow- realization) the goal state envisioned in the second theme.
erless, spent or despairing. The attempt is unsuccessful (hence lower case g followed by
A graphic representation. It is possible to summarize the a minus sign, m. 110); the goal state proves unsustainable,
plot of the movement graphically, and though such an ex- and A interrupts (m. 130), fulfilling the threat delivered in
ercise is not an indispensable step in a structuralistanalysis, m. 10. During the recapitulationof the first theme A is in a
it has two potential benefits which I believe make it worth controllingposition with respect to P, enforced through func-
the effort. First, it contributes to clarity of interpretationby tions of subversion, enclosure, and disruption(mm. 130-51).
forcing one to conceive an entire movement as a unified hi- Its stronger position relative to that of P is indicated by bold
erarchy of dramatic events. Second, it can be useful in lo- type (A). Mm. 163-204 mirrorpassages from the exposition,
cating dramatic strategies shared with other works. Fig. 1 and only with the persona's second counteractionto A's con-
(p. 21) demonstrates an approach to graphic notation that trol (m. 205) is the plot advanced. A second attemptto realize
serves to represent the roles, functions, and larger dramatic the persona's goal state initially meets with success (G, m.
sequences in the first movement of the Appassionata. Read- 211), but soon A enters (m. 235), disruptingthe goal state,
ing the figure roughly from left to right: At m. 10 the an- subsuming(enclosure) its last desperate echo (g--, m. 240ff.),
tagonist (A) enters, drawingthe protagonist(P) into dialogue and crushing the protagonist's hopes (p--, 257).
on a topic it dictates (subversion, S), and, through a threat
it delivers, exerts a disruptiveinfluence (disruption,D) which
is indexed in the mangled transformationof P beginning at SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
m. 17. This compromised transformation is indicated by
lower case (p), while the forward pointing arrow indicates The plot sketch above raises more questions about the
causation, in this case, that the misfortune befalling P is the meaning and expressive content of the first movement of the
result of actions (disruption and subversion) undertaken by Appassionatathan it attemptsto answer, and what it does say
A. In the transition (mm. 24ff.) the persona responds to the about its significance in human terms is rather general. Ac-
preceding events (a response to a preceding event or function cording to this sketch, the movement is best understood as
is indicated by a backwardarrow) by withdrawing(W), sub- a record of mental impressions, the internal experience of a
mergingitself in contemplation of an ideal condition to which persona in pursuit of an ideal destined to be crushed by an
it aspires (goal state, g). Lower case is used because the goal inscrutableand intractableantagonisticforce. It is about shat-
state is imagined but as yet unrealized. A nagging after- tered dreams-not particulardreams, but dreams in the ab-
thought interrupts(I) the contemplative mood in m. 41, pav- stract. It is not the embodiment of any discrete ten minutes
ing the way for another scene of conflict in which elements of the personals mental life, but an idealized fiction captur-
of A and P are intermingled(Ap). A is the dominantelement ing the essence of the persona's experience with respect to
in this conflict and so the exposition closes with the antagonist external and psychological phenomena-experience gained
in control (enclosure, E), the brackets extending back to the over an indeterminate period of time, perhaps even a life-
first entrance of A indicatingits sphere of influence. Early in time. The musical agents are like allegoricalpersonifications,
the development (m. 79), P launches a counteraction (C), not only of phenomena in the mind of the persona, but also,
allowing a respite in which the persona attemptsto realize (R, in a sense, of divisions of the psyche itself. The protagonist,

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32 MusicTheory Spectrum

as observed above, represents the seat of the persona's iden- First, by conceiving a sequence of plot functions per-
tity; that which directs the focus of its consciousness. The formed by agents cast in abstract dramatic roles as one de-
second theme embodies a state to which the persona aspires terminant of formal relations in the Appassionata and other
constructed as an ideal image of the protagonist which the works, a frameworkemerges for answeringthe kind of ques-
persona attempts unsuccessfullyto project upon the world in tions Leo Treitler has called "questions of motivation"-
the development and coda. The antagonist, which thwartsthe those addressing why particularmusical events occur when
realization of the persona's ideal state, might be unassimi- and as they do.37Why is the varied restatement of the prin-
lated matter within the mind of the persona, perceived as cipal theme mangled; why is the second theme derived from
foreign and inimicalto the persona's aspirations,sense of self, the first; why is motive X thundered out in the climactic
or world view. It could represent mental impressions of a retransition; why is the closing in the mediant minor; why
threatening extrapersonal force, deadly contradictions the does the first half of the coda parallel the structure of the
persona has failed to resolve in its characteror beliefs, nag- development? These features, which are among the cardinal
ging fears or doubts, feelings of guilt, or voices of societal formal, expressive, and semantic facts of our analytical sub-
condemnation lurking on the periphery of consciousness. ject, do not lie comfortablyin the focus of traditionaltheory;
From the array of alternatives offered above it should be a structuralistapproach, on the other hand, comprehends
clear that this structuralistmethod is not intended to generate them accordingto their function within a single, unified dra-
specific claims about the meaning or expressive content of matic plan. The utility of structuralistanalysis in accounting
the work. Rather its purpose is to uncover the abstract dra- for motivation in individualworks is matched by its utility in
matic plan in which the movement's expressive coherence locating common threads among works with seemingly little
consists-for the movement is not expressively coherent be- in common. Just as Vladimir Propp's structuralistanalyses
cause it embodies a specific meaning or tells a particular reveal recurrent patterns underlying the amazingly multi-
story, but because its abstract dramatic plan possesses an form, picturesque, and colorful surfaces of Russian fairy
inner logic capable of suggesting any number of stories of a tales, so structuralistanalyses of musical plot reveal common
particulartype without telling any of them. But this sugges- patternsof dramaticconstructionin works remarkablyvaried
tive ability, I maintain, is the essence not only of the work's in tone, expression, and formal detail. The opening move-
expressive coherence, but of its formal coherence as well, so ments of Beethoven's Appassionata,Eroica, and StringQuar-
that in formulating the abstract structure of the movement's tet, op. 59 no. 3, for example, while exemplifying three
expressive-dramatic unfolding in structuralist terms, we in- different genres and the three diametricallycontrasting ex-
evitably create an account of the semantic-expressive deter- pressive poles of the tragic, the heroic, and the comic re-
minants of the movement's formal structure. By focusing on spectively, are nonetheless organized by a common plot
these two complementary aspects of musical works, a struc- strategy: in each an unassimilated or antagonistic element
turalistaccount of plot bringsa kind of structuralexplanation enclosed in or disruptingthe principaltheme later runs amok,
to bear on issues of content and semantic-expressiveinter- dominatingthe climacticpoints of both the development and
pretations to bear on problems of structure.This article con- coda, subverting or disrupting the thematic protagonist. In
cludes by suggesting the kind of work to which each mode
of inquiry might be put. 37"ToWorship that Celestial Sound."

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Structuralismand MusicalPlot 33

the Eroica, the antagonistic element, the syncopated duple Stalin and the Stalin years. The second part, the scherzo, is
pattern of the third phrase (mm. 23-36), occupies exactly the a musical portrait of Stalin, roughly speaking."38 Since ma-
same position within the principal theme as motive X in the terial related to that of the alleged Stalin portrait appears in
Appassionata, though, unlike its counterpart,it is at first suc- each of the symphony's movements, one might explore the
cessfully enclosed by the protagonist. In the climacticpassage authenticity of these statements by analyzing the work in
of the development (mm. 248ff.), however, the antagonist structuralistterms to see if the abstract roles and functions
rages for 31 measures at fortissimo, culminatingin a sharply fulfilled by this material are consistent with statements at-
dissonant voicing of the Neapolitan 6/5 of E minor (m. 276- tributed to the composer. First, does it play the central and
79). The immediate consequence of this crisis is the so-called presumably antagonistic role one would expect of material
new theme of the development, which is in fact a subverted associated with the figureof Stalin in a work about Stalin and
form of the protagonist. In the comic (or semi-serious) first the Stalin years composed from Shostakovich'sperspective?
act of the Quartet in C, op. 59 no. 3, the antagonisticelement Is it, for example, cast in an opposing relationship to Shos-
is the conspicuously trivial two-note motive opening the al- takovich's signaturemotive (D, El, C, B) which appears late
legro vivace (mm. 30-31); the crisis of the movement is the in the work in the role of a principal protagonist, and does
final section of the development (mm. 150-76) in which this it appear at critical junctures in the symphony's dramatic
motive runs amok, nattering incessantly in rhythmic canon plan? The answers to these, admittedly, carefully chosen
and working itself to a crescendo; its consequence is the mys- questions might tend either to support or cast doubt on the
tification of the first section of the principal theme in the authenticity of statements about the work's content in Tes-
recapitulation. Indeed the kind of dramaticmotifs and func- timony. As it happens, I believe they support it. In the de-
tional sequences noted in this analysis of the Appassionata velopment section of the finale the principal theme of the
can be heard in other works with sufficientfrequency to sug- movement's allegro (first heard at reh. 153 + 2) is gradually
gest that their manipulationwas a central aspect of Beethov- subverted until it comes to resemble music of the Stalin
en's art and one well worth the effort of systematic study. portraitand at the climax of the movement, the denouement
The complementary approach, conceiving content as the of the symphony's dramatic plan, a quotation of the Stalin
abstractstructureof a work's expressive-dramaticunfolding, theme (reh. 184 - 8) emerges from this subverted material,
can guide writers engaging biographical, political, gender, threatening an enclosure on the grand scale. In the retran-
and other content-centered issues in constructing internally sition, however, it is violently interruptedby Shostakovich's
consistent narrative interpretations of musical works and in signature motive sounding in orchestral unison at fff (reh.
evaluating the consistency and validity of such interpreta- 184). These events are at least consistent with the content
tions. Two brief examples will indicate the range of issues described in Testimony, and the irony of Shostakovich con-
which the structuralistanalysis of plot might help to clarify. signing Stalin to oblivion by a mere signature is too delicious
First, consider the political slant put on Shostakovich'sTenth to dismiss lightly.
Symphony by statements attributed to the composer in Tes-
timony, a book of memoirs whose authenticity has been the 38DmitriShostakovich, Testimony:The Memoirsof Dmitri Shostakovich,
subject of heated debate for nearly two decades. In it the as related to and edited by Solomon Volkov, trans. Antonina W. Bouis (New
composer is reputed to have said that the work is "about York: Harper & Row, 1979), 141.

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34 Music Theory Spectrum

Or suppose, to cite another example, one wished to in- amples and others like them, the structuralist account of plot
terpret the first movement of the Appassionata according to outlined above does provide a conceptual framework in
Susan McClary's narrative paradigm for sonata-allegro move- which they can be focused and fruitfully debated.
ments of the common-practice period, that is, as a drama in In interpreting works of the nineteenth and twentieth cen-
which an antagonistic feminine Other embodied in the second turies, an era in which music's essence and aesthetic function
theme threatens the identity of a masculine protagonist in- were often defined in expressive terms and in relation to the
habiting the first.39 The structuralist analysis above would internal life of its composers, critics exploring issues of con-
indicate consistent patterns of behavior, interaction, and re- tent and theorists pursuing models of musical teleology have
lationship among the movement's agents that would have to increasingly recognized the need to integrate structural and
be addressed in making such an interpretation internally con- semantic-expressive accounts of musical works in the act of
sistent. Among these, one would have to explain the deri- analysis. A structuralist model of musical plot is one way in
vation of the second theme from the first as well as the tragic which this can be accomplished without indulging the ex-
fate the two themes share. More important, one would have cesses of programmatic interpretation and without divorcing
to justify carefully the ascription of an antagonistic role to the the notes themselves from the expressive and dramatic con-
second theme given that, as in works by Beethoven, Schu- ceptions that may well have determined their existence and
bert, and Tchaikovsky which McClary has specifically claimed disposition in the act of composition.
as exemplars of this paradigm, it seems clearly to be upstaged
by an antagonistic force within the principal theme or tonic ABSTRACT
area.40 While no approach to interpretation can resolve con- An analyticalmethod based on structuralistprinciplesis developed
for the exploration of an abstract and specifically musical form of
clusively the complex issues of content raised by these ex-
dramaticorganization, called musical plot, underlyingworks of the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The fundamentalsemanticunits
39McClary,"Sexual Politics in Classical Music," in Feminine Endings of musical plots are binary relationships akin to literary foils and
(Minneapolis:University of Minnesota Press, 1991), 68-69; and "Narrative
functionalsequences,standardpatternsof interactionamong musical
Agendas in 'Absolute Music'," in Musicology and Difference, ed. Ruth A.
Solie (Berkeley: University of CaliforniaPress, 1993), 326-44. units, usually themes and motives, cast in abstract dramatic roles.
40Theworks in question are the first movements of Beethoven's Eroica, The firstmovement of Beethoven's Piano Sonata, op. 57, is analyzed
Schubert's "Unfinished," and Tchaikovsky'sSymphony No. 4. On the first by this method as a drama of mental life in which an antagonistic
two, see "Sexual Politics in Classical Music," 69; the first movement of the force within the first theme underminesthe interests of the work's
Tchaikovskyis the principal subject of the same essay. persona.

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