Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Cadential Formulas

A long time ago I put up a post on cadences. But there is more to be said about them. In fact, I believe that William Caplin, who wrote an excellent book on Classical Form, has also written one just on the cadence. You might say that the concepts of tonality, tonal function and goal-directed harmony all depend on the cadence.

Cadential formulas, those characteristic gestures that define cadences, come in melodic and rhythmic patterns as well as harmonic ones. Indeed, the origins of the cadence lie in the monophonic music of the early Middle Ages. The basic melodic cadence is from the supertonic down to the tonic: D to C, for example. With the addition of upper voices, these kinds of cadences were used:

In the Baroque era there is the adoption of the authentic cadence with the root movement of V to I and the half cadence which ends on V:

But we also see in both the Renaissance and Baroque eras a tendency to use hemiola at cadences to reinforce the sense of closure. A hemiola, which I talk about in this post, is a metric alteration where two measures of 3/4 become one measure of 3/2, thereby slowing down the beat. Here is an example from a flute sonata by Handel:

Click to enlarge
The continuo shows us the rhythmic pattern half note, quarter note. Then, in mm. 4 and 5, this changes to half, quarter, quarter, half so that these two measures become felt as a larger measure of 3/2, setting up the half cadence in m. 6.

In a future post I am going to look at some ways 20th century composers dealt with the problem of cadences when tonality was being dismantled.

Here is the Handel Flute Sonata that I quoted from above:

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