Phrase structure in Prokofiev's piano sonatas

Date of Completion

January 2003






Many twentieth-century composers combine traditional approaches to phrase structure with more contemporary approaches to tonality. The piano sonatas of Sergei Prokofiev are models of such synthesis because they are organized within traditional formal designs and clear tonal structures, despite their twentieth-century harmonic vocabulary. Therefore, by studying these works it is possible to proceed naturally and seamlessly from an understanding of common-practice styles and formal techniques to the exploration of more recent music. ^ The challenges presented by twentieth-century music include non-traditional compositional and stylistic techniques and idiosyncratic harmonic practices that vary from one composer to another, much of which has been explored in the scholarly literature. What is lacking in earlier studies of this repertoire, however, is a focus on compositional commonalities among different works based on strategic modeling of basic formal units used in earlier periods of music history. ^ This study reflects on phrase structure as discussed in Classical-period treatises as well as in modern treatises by William Rothstein and William Caplin, and places these descriptions within a discussion of the neoclassic aesthetic. The reconciliation of Classical phrase structures with Prokofiev's language produces a methodology for examining other aspects of Prokofiev's compositional process. The resultant analytic approach is relevant as well to other music of this period that relies on tonal centers and the principles of sonata form, such as selected movements by Maurice Ravel, Igor Stravinsky, and Paul Hindemith. ^