The Sonatas of Henry Purcell

June 2018
10 black and white, 77 line illustrations
280 pages
9x6 in
Eastman Studies in Music
University of Rochester Press
BISAC MUS020000, MUS041000, MUS006000

The Sonatas of Henry Purcell

Rhetoric and Reversal

Alon Schab

This pathbreaking study reveals Purcell's extensive use of symmetry and reversal in his much-loved trio sonatas, and shows how these hidden structural processes make his music multilayered and appealing.
Purcell's trio sonatas are among the cornerstones of Baroque chamber music. The composer himself unassumingly described them as "a just imitation of the most famed Italian masters." However, analysis of their underlying structures reveals that Purcell's modesty hides a highly original blend of Italian models, complex English traditional compositional devices, and his own near obsession with compositional and contrapuntal technique.

Alon Schab's pathbreaking Sonatas of Henry Purcell: Rhetoric and Reversal begins with an overview of the two sets of sonatas and their sources, their movement types, and some of the basic compositional and rhetorical procedures they demonstrate. The book's main part highlights several covert structures that are not necessarily heard but are consistent and played an important part in the compositional process. Symmetry, both temporal and spatial, governs much of these underlying structures. Beneath the surface of his studies in Italian style, Purcell created intricate correspondences between the micro and macro levels of the works, as well as unities of proportions and, above all, impressive mirrorlike structures.

Schab's book opens an important window to seventeenth-century compositional technique and offers further evidence of Purcell's use of advanced compositional techniques in works that aimed to be pleasurable for the amateur and excitingly thought-provoking for the professional.

Alon Schab is a lecturer at the University of Haifa.

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations
Note on the Musical Examples
The Examined Repertoire: Purcell's Trio Sonatas
Harmony and Counterpoint in the Service of Rhetoric
Indiscernable Structures
Proportional Symmetry and Asymmetry
Mirror Symmetry and its Implications
Double Fugue, Treble Fugue, and Commutatio
Ground Bass

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