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Classical Form: A Theory of Formal Functions for the Instrumental Music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven
Classical Form: A Theory of Formal Functions for the Instrumental Music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven
by William E. Caplin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £50.00

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Much more than a 'form cookbook', 28 Feb. 2013
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I have quite a few music theory books in my library (that is, for a self-taught/amateur musician) and I have to say that this is probably the best of them. This book is so much more than just a 'form cookbook', it really provides incredible insight on musical composition, that is relevant not only on classical-period-style music, but whatever music you are interested in (be it, say, romantic or mainstream pop!).

As you may expect from such a book, all the prevalent forms of the classical period are discussed (sonata, slow-movement, minuet, rondo and concerto). However, and this is what makes the book great, explicit discussion on them is delayed for the last part of the book. This is because the author takes the time to first describe the common building blocks for all these forms, the so-called 'formal regions', namely 'tight-knit theme', 'subordinate theme', 'transition', 'development', 'recapitulation', and 'coda'.

Experienced readers will immediately recognize these regions as exactly the ones making up the sonata form. However, they are first presented without considering them as part of a larger form structure (such as sonata). Every formal region gets an extensive and more-or-less independent treatment in its respective chapter. The discussion is detailed, supported by numerous examples, and offers many insights on music composition in general. For example, one really understands issues such as how a (good) theme is build (melodic and harmonic wise), how to employ deceptive/evaded/abandoned cadences in making a looser theme structure, how to alter the original themes in a recapitulation and many more. These may seem overly technical but as one really understands them it is evident that they are constantly applied in all kinds of music (with the proper adjustments, of course).

After the formal regions are described, the author proceeds in explaining how these are combined to create larger forms. You might be surprised (as I was) to realize that a form such as the minuet, typically and elusively described as 'ABA', may actually contain all the above formal regions!

The book is certainly not an easy read and can sometimes get very boring. This is due to the attempt of the author to leave nothing unexplained, which, although valuable in the long run, can make reading difficult at first. Also, the analyses of the notated examples are, most of the time, not located on the same page, which can also become tiresome. However, these shortcomings are a small price to pay for the wealth of information one acquires after going through the book (which will probably take a while!)

P.S.: A new book by the author, Analyzing Classical Form: An Approach for the Classroom is due to publication in 2013 that may be a better choice in terms of readability.


The Study of Counterpoint: From Johann Joseph Fux's Gradus Ad Parnassum
The Study of Counterpoint: From Johann Joseph Fux's Gradus Ad Parnassum
by Johann Joseph Fux
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Outdated, 11 Jun. 2012
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I am surprised by the number of positive reviews for a book that I consider valuable only as a "historical item" and nothing much more. And the reason can be summarized in this sentence: It is outdated.

First, the contents. The book is apparently the first to provide a systematic approach for learning counterpoint, via the "five species" concept, which has been adopted more or less by every counterpoint book that followed. However, this is the only positive. The main problem is that the author deals with modal music, i.e., pre-Bach period. This means that the issue of harmonic progressions is not addressed at all. And, of course, this is of fundamental importance if anyone wants to compose tonal music (in the style of Bach, Mozart, e.t.c.).

Second, the presentation. First published about 300 years ago, you cannot expect the presentation to come close to today's standards in educational books. The author adopts a "dialogue" approach which, although sufficient for a "light read", does not allow for a systematic and disciplined study by the reader. Also, the language is sometimes odd and information is so spread out that the book cannot be used as a reference for a certain topic.

There are far better books on counterpoint (e.g., Kennan, Prout) that are excellent both in terms of practical utility (i.e., teach you how to compose tonal music) as well as presentation. If it so happens you are interested in modal counterpoint/music Jeppesen's book is great.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 4, 2015 2:52 AM GMT


Structural Functions of Harmony
Structural Functions of Harmony
by Arnold Schoenberg
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Romantic Harmony, 11 Jun. 2012
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Having self-studied harmony from excellent modern textbooks (e.g., Laitz, Kostka-Payne), I found myself unable to really comprehend what was going on harmonically in a piece of, say, Wagner. There were, seemingly, too many (random?) modulations, chromatic harmonies, e.t.c., that did not make sense as a practical procedure one would follow in composing.

Schoenberg's book provides a unifying theory on these "romantic harmonic issues". In his theory, the chords/harmonies that correspond to a single key are not confined to the so-called "diatonic" ones, but many more, of almost equal importance, are included, justified as "substitutes", "transformations", e.t.c. These, along with the concept of regions (which is what modern textbooks refer to as "tonicization") provide a large harmonic "space" out of which the composer can draw, remaining in a single key.

Suggestions (rules) concerning voice-leading and resolution of these "extra" harmonies are provided, with many examples and analyses from the literature (ranging from Bach to Strauss).

Clearly, the level of the book is advanced. You should be in a position to analyze a classical-period piece before attempting to read it. Also note, that the organization is not perfect, e.g., there are places where a concept is used in passing before it has been presented/explained. This makes a second (/third/fourth...) reading of the book a necessity.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in these topics!


Counterpoint: Strict and Free (Classic Reprint)
Counterpoint: Strict and Free (Classic Reprint)
by Ebenezer Prout
Edition: Paperback

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece, 11 Aug. 2011
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For some reason, the topic of counterpoint is somehow neglected by modern music theory textbooks. The only "standard" counterpoint book seems to be that of Kennan (Counterpoint), which is quite pricey. Driven by its praising reviews, I bought the inexpensive classic book of Fux (The Study of Counterpoint). Unfortunately, the book is disappointing due to the fact that the author deals with modal music (see my review). Looking for an alternative I stumbled upon this great book of Prof. Ebenezer Prout, written in 1890.

The author is a master of theory and a great educator. As the book deals with tonal music, the uttermost importance is given to the issue of harmonic progressions and how this is incorporated in the context of polyphonic/contrapuntal music. The discussion on counterpoint rules is the most extensive you could wish for, and the examples (some of them worked step by step) are most illuminating. The book is well organized and paced, making it ideal for self study and reference.

The quality of this particular print is far from the best possible, but still readable. However, for the price it is not a real issue.

P.S.1: If you are really into counterpoint I would also suggest Prof. Prout's books on Double Counterpoint and Canon and Fugue. These two books, along with this one, make for the best presentation of polyphonic composition I can think of. Also worth checking are his books on harmony, orchestration/instrumentation and musical form, although not a first choice.

P.S.2: **To the potential buyers of this book** When the book reaches the topic of free counterpoint, the author skips an extended discussion on how harmonies such as seventh chords are incorporated in a harmonic progression. Instead, he makes a passing reference on the concepts of "fundamental" and "diatonic discords", terms he uses and explains in his book on harmony. Since his harmony book is somehow old-fashioned and might confuse a novice I would recommend ignoring this point and just utilize seventh harmonies by the rules you already know from your harmony books/class.


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