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3.3.4 Rotational Synthesis TR and Ballades 2 and 3 Next we come across the most idiosyncratic kind of TR to be found in Chopin’s output, the rotational-synthesis TR. In a rotational synthesis TR, two previously stated themes or textures are integrated into a passage of extraordinary energy-gain. This kind of TR tends to occur very late in a given movement, often before the coda. Importantly, these always lead to some sort of apotheosis, or emotional climax, be it negative or positive. We find examples of both in Chopin’s Ballades. A strong example of a rotational-synthesis that leads to a negative apotheosis is the TR near the end of Ballade 2. Conversely, an example of a rotational synthesis that leads to a positive apotheosis occurs in Ballade 3. In Ballade 3, this rotational synthesis is a large sequence, built of a model (presented in 3.9) and two transposed copies.
Clearly, this music is analogous to the classical development.
115 The obsession with the pitch and harmony E recurs throughout all of the movements of Piano Sonata No. 3. The second movement is set in that key and the finale juxtaposes b minor and Ethroughout.
themes, and increase in dramatic tension.”116 This not only brings the two themes into proximity, but also clarifies their close kinship. As Rosen says, “Chopin wants us to know that B1 is the inversion of A.”117 Also notice the intense focus on the pedal point (B, scale degree 5). Such pedal points are a notable aspect of Chopin’s rotational syntheses.
The opening portion of Example 3.9 presents the opening model and transposed copy of this synthetic sequence. We can clearly understand this section of music as bringing together the two disparate theme groups from rotation 1. These model and copy are synthetic: they also are made up of the two main themes. Example 3.9 also shows copies 2, 3, and a dominant-lock passage on E(mm. 205-213) which emphasizes the bass notes D and respectively. All of this leads to a new, climactic musical state, which is presented in as the last several measures of the example. Surely, this is a positive state of being as the Ballade 3 ends triumphantly in the tonic. The themes have been reconciled and the tonally problematic tonal area of F has been harnessed.
185 187 189 192 Copy 1 (mm. 194-201 194 197 Example 3.9: Rotational Synthesis in Ballade 3 (continued on next page)
this music. Here the combination of the two themes in the group is more subtle, but nonetheless just as powerful. Notice that the major textural/thematic material from P/S is divided between the hands: the right hand plays material from P while the left hand plays material from S. Here in the Ballade 2 however, the opening theme (theme S) reappears in a minor. Unlike Ballade 3, the rotational synthesis in Ballade 2 leads to a fully-realized RTC (HC:i) that is filled by juggernaut caesura-fill material.
space is notable because it exhibits characteristics of more than one TR paradigm. As such, this TR is a hybrid. A hybrid TR is one which is in dialogue with elements of two (or more) TR paradigms. The TR from the exposition of the Cello Sonata is in dialogue with two TR paradigms: the Unyielding-Tonic TR and the Multi-Key-Struggle TR.
Like the typical unyielding tonic TR, this TR features an overwhelming tonic presence. It features multiple cadences in the tonic and even involves a I:HC MC. The tonal struggle in this TR actually involves three keys: the home tonic (g minor), the subdominant (c minor), and the Neapolitan (Amajor).
Much of the inherent TR drama, including Neapolitan’s assertive impulse and the inflection of the subdominant, is actually foreshadowed in the opening theme itself, an expanded parallel period.118 Notice the inflection of the subdominant in m. 2 (presented in Example 3.11) and the pathos-filled rootposition Neapolitan chord in m. 3. This notable chromatic event will have important ramifications for TR in this movement.
It is not until the consequent (mm. 7-21) that these competing tonalities begin to truly challenge the hegemony of the tonic (Example 3.12). This is a theme that struggles to break free of its tonal constraints, cadencing in the subdominant two times!119 In Example 3.12, I have marked the several tonicizations that occur in the consequent (mm. 7-20) by placing them in boxes. Notice that the first phrase involves both the subdominant and the Neapolitan. The consequent (and the TR that follows) restates and expands upon these key areas.
118 Schmalfeldt, whose aim is to show “how the Cello Sonata responds to the German Sonata tradition in a language that was uniquely Chopin’s,” makes a similar assertion in her poignant analysis of the Cello Sonata’s first movement (Schmalfeldt 2011, 216). For her, the opening phrase acts as a Grundgestalt (basic shape) and anticipates “the long range tonal path of the 1st movement's exposition, its local progression into the core of the development, the overall i-III-V-I Bassbrechung that spans the whole movement, and Chopin’s original plan for the tonal course of the fourmovement sonata as a whole” (Ibid., 216).
119 Notice also that the subdominant here is also heavily colored by its Neapolitan, this time the key of D 83 1
As the Example shows, the passage in mm. 10-13 tonicizes the subdominant and its Neapolitan.
The next short passage (mm. 14-16) reverts back to the tonic however. After a failed dominant-lock in mm. 16-17, the music once again moves toward the subdominant and the home Neapolitan. The consequent ends with a i:HC.
As the consequent progresses, there is an increasing difficulty in the achievement of tonic cadences. Notice that in mm. 17-18, V actually leads to a “I7” instead of I. That is it leads to a g minor tonic triad. This is quite significant, for this chord actually resolves deceptively to an AI6 chord, the Neapolitan, and progresses to a i:HC at m. 21. TR (mm. 22-60, Examples 3.12—3.14) exhibits many of the symptoms of TR dysfunction. Probably the most obvious aspect of this TR from its very beginning is its inability to start the energy-gaining process. It takes a little too much time to get underway. In fact, one might say that the TR process begins much like a P module. This is the sort identity crisis that is typical of TR dysfunction.120 The first sign that there is some underlying TR impulse underneath the music occurs when the music seems to refuse to accept PACs in the tonic key in mm. 32-34.
120 Again, Schmalfeldt echoes this idea when she claims that this passage—what she calls MT2—“processually” becomes a transition. (Schmalfeldt 2011, 219).
This passage can also be characterized by the subdominant’s desire to break free from the constraints of the tonic. Notice the strongly articulated pseudo-arrival of the subdominant in m. 27. Even though the subdominant has not been articulated by a cadential arrival is it nonetheless crucial to the musical discourse.
more dramatic fashion. By this point, the process of energy-gaining is well underway. Notice the increased texture in the piano in m. 36. For a short time, it will take the lead. This passage starts in the key of c minor, but Chopin assiduously avoids confirming this key wth a strong cadence. The evaded cadence in m. 41 has much the same profile as a blocked MC. The chord in m. 42, a V4/2 chord in the key of Achord leads to a probable dominant in m. 43. What actually happens is a re-interpretation of the previous chromatic pitch, Das a C# makes the chord an augmented 6th, in which the bass (E) resolves down to D. The next short passage (mm. 44-5) suggests a failed dominant lock in the tonic.
This failure is at least partially due to a chromatic irritant, the pitch class DAs it was earlier in the TR, a strongly suggested arrival in the Neapolitan, A is unable to stick.
After all of this, the music finally procures a dominant lock in the tonic key (mm. 53-60). Even after all of this struggle, the TR process has proven unable to modulate. This is another example of a deenergizing TR in the music of Chopin. It is especially important to note that the music actually discharges its energy once the home dominant has been secured. This dominant lock passage leads to an MC (a second-level default I:HC) that is articulated quite strongly and obviously.
The next short passage (mm. 44-5) suggests a failed dominant lock in the tonic. This failure is at least partially due to a chromatic irritant, the pitch class DAs it was earlier in the TR, a strongly suggested arrival in the Neapolitan, A is unable to stick. This MC proposed in mm. 59-60 is inadequate, as it is followed not by an acceptable S but by another de-energizing TR (Example 3.15). Note that the second MC is actually a first-level default: it is a III:HC. At least at that moment, something has gone right. Notably, this is surely the most serene de-energizing TR to be found in Chopin’s output and the most peaceful moment in the entire movement.
The TR in the Cello Sonata is well worth the close look that I have provided. It is important for several reasons. First is its involvement with the unyielding tonic TR paradigm that, as I have shown, is Chopin’s most common. This TR paradigm is dealt with in a most sophisticated way here. It is much more fully realized than its counterparts in earlier works such as the Piano Trio. It fulfills nearly all of the generic expectations of an “unyielding tonic” TR, such as the setting up and evasion of several cadences, a reluctance to get underway, and a failure to modulate. It does so in a uniquely fascinating way that is dramatically appropriate to the work as whole.
It dialogues with another TR type as well: the multi-key-struggle type. Clearly, this TR is driven by an impulse to expand its boundaries, to cross the Rubicon, so to speak. Radically, this impulse for expansions involves not two keys, a tonic some other competing key, but a tonic and two other keys.
There is no other TR that is comparable in Chopin’s output. It is important to note that the TR here
set up to fail in this movement.
It will be useful to understand how the musical narrative that is presented in the TR relates to the overall dramatic trajectory of the movement. This particular movement, like so many others in Chopin’s output, centers around the issue of failure and rejection. Nearly all of the expected generic processes in this movement are doomed to fail. The music is unable to overcome the minor mode, is unable to uphold its implied arrivals in newly suggested major keys, and is unable to produce a fully satisfactory MC at any point.
These failures are foreshadowed in the TR process in the exposition. Here we have a TR that is unable to modulate, unable to produce any successful dominant locks on any key, and seems unsure of just what direction is to take. As I have posited, most of Chopin’s failed TRs harbor some kind of snare or glitch that virtually guarantees failure. Also, in Chopin’s practice the de-energizing TR is a negative thing, a less than ideal event, where a strongly articulated caesura in the second key area is a more acceptable structural goal. The non-modulatory TR in the exposition of the Cello Sonata is no exception to this rule. I view this uncertainty of tonal orientation to be the musical snare that assures the failure in the TR process and the movement as a whole.
Chapters 1—3 have probed the analytical literature on Chopin’s Ballades and have considered his practice of writing sonatas. I will now show that Ballades 1, 2, and 4 can be explicated via a multivalent hermeneutic that invokes Sonata Theory, TR (transition) dysfunction, and embodiment. 121
4.1 Hearing the Musical Narrative in Chopin’s Four Ballades: The Three-Phase Narrative Trajectory, Rotational Configuration, and Sonata Rhetoric 4.1.1 Chopin’s Ballades and the Pseudo-Transcendence Meta-Narrative Much has been written about the narrative impulse in the Ballades.122 These works do, in fact, unfold narratives that need not invoke a correspondence to actual written tales but can best be understood in relation to their dialogue with the 18th-century sonata, the issue of TR dysfunction, and Brower’s schemas for musical plot. In this chapter, I will discuss the three minor-key Ballades, since they unfold similar musical stories. Their narrative trajectories, even though they are played out in different ways, are guided by a single meta-narrative or overarching plot paradigm: the establishment of a negative state of being, its pseudo-transcendence, and tragic return to the original state (Example 4.1). Example 4.1 requires some explanation. Notice that I have parsed the overall action content of the work into three distinct phases, each marked by a different kind of action. By using the term “action,” I am referring to the specific, goal-directed musical activity inherent in each phase. In phase one, the main action is the establishment of a flawed musical state. This can be portrayed in various ways, but it generally appears in a very specific guise in Chopin’s Ballades. Most often, an imperfect musical state is presented as the overdetermined tonic-minor.123 Usually, in phase one of the narrative, the music attempts to overcome 121 I shall treat Ballades 1 and 4 together because they are the most outwardly similar of the four works. I will examine Ballade 2 by itself as it involves an exceptional formal process: rotational synthesis. I shall consider Ballade 3, the most problematic piece in the group, in Chapter 5 122 See my discussion of Klein 2004 and 2009 and Berger 1996 in Chapter 1.
123 I interpret the minor mode as a troubled condition, as does Sonata Theory. I also see the impulse to overcome this condition as a central force in the formal structure of these works. Not only do I consider the tonic minor a