Double Expositions and the use of repetition in Classical Music

I’m teaching an Intro to Music class at Hunter College, and we’re currently discussing the classical period with an introduction to Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Personally I’ve never been a big fan of the first Viennese School, despite a fair amount of exposure to their music throughout my schooling. There’s always been plenty to learn from them, and I mean no disrespect, but music from the classical period hasn’t always been very compelling to me. Until now.

© Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz

© Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz

The trick for me is to attempt to recreate the listening relationship an audience member would have had with the music at the time it was written. This is music that relied on an interested and informed listener who would be paying attention the whole time. Going to a concert was a highly anticipated event, and there would not be music preceding and following the experience. Because there was no ability to hear the piece several times to let it sink in, composers had to write into the music a way to let things sink in to their listeners. Instead of doing an entire piece once through and then repeating the whole thing (which would be our typical orientation with an iPod: put the song on repeat), composers of this period decided to repeat sections within a piece. Hence, a double exposition repeats the first of four sections in sonata form (exposition, development, recapitulation, coda) before moving on to the development. This is, I believe, a very sophisticated solution to audience engagement for music that is experienced in real-time and is often not heard ever again. It also indicates a fairly nuanced approach to the demographics of the audience: educated and full of certain formal expectations (i.e. “ooh, that’s a nice second theme.”).

Since I don’t typically listen to this type of music by actively trying to determine how the piece maps onto a certain form, it has been an exciting experience to play the ‘what’s going on now’ game. Yay for music not being boring!

3 thoughts on “Double Expositions and the use of repetition in Classical Music

  1. admin Post author

    I did teach at Hunter College from Fall 2006 to Spring 2009, teaching Introduction to Music for (MUSHL 101) for four semesters.

    Can you be more specific about who your professor was and what context the Double Exposition came up?

  2. Pingback: Final Writeup on Classical Era Composition | Fikret's Music Blog

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