Dr. Yoel Greenberg: “How Sonata Forms: A System-Oriented Approach to Sonata Form”

January 23, 2020, 4:00-5:30PM, RCMA 1-160

Abstract: The revival of sonata theory in the past two decades has harnessed powerful combinations of traditional Formenlehre and modern hermeneutic and linguistic theories, to provide a newly nuanced understanding of sonata form and the limits of its definition. At the same time, in fields other than music, the importance of “self-organizing” or emergent phenomena has been increasingly recognized in a wide-ranging array of fields of human activity, from economics to technology, and from linguistic grammar to the world-wide web. Evolutionary theorists and ecologists in the past decade have realized the potential in applying their methods to cultural systems, but little has been done to this end in the study of music. In this talk I will examine sonata form as an emergent phenomenon—one whose rise was the result of a process of self-organization. Viewed this way, I demonstrate how sonata form emerges not as a convenient and stable common practice, but rather as a dynamic and inherently problematic construct, the instability of which provides an important creative stimulus to the composers who participated in its historical unfolding.

Bio: Yoel Greenberg is a senior lecturer in the department of music at Bar-Ilan University and violist with the Carmel Quartet. An alumnus of the Hebrew University and Princeton University, his research interests include the evolution of classical form; the reciprocal influences of music and the arts in the early twentieth century; and computerized recognition of style. His research has been published in leading journals, including Music and Letters(2014, 2018),Journal of Music Theory(2017), Journal of Musicology(2012), Proceedings of the Association for Advancement of Artificial Intelligence(2015), Music Theory and Analysis (2018, 2019) and International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music(2017). His 2017 article in the Journal of Music Theory received the 2018 David Kraehenbuehl award, and was shortlisted for the SMT’s emerging scholar award. He is currently working on a book about the evolution of sonata form from a systems-theory perspective, under contract with Oxford University Press. Together with the Carmel Quartet, Yoel presents the critically acclaimed series of concert-lectures “Strings and More.” His work on sonata form and cadences in the pre-classical period is supported by the Israel Science Foundation. He is currently on sabbatical at UC Berkeley.