Volume 13, August 2021
Sperger's Cadenzas for his Contrabass Concertos: A Study of Compositional Techniques and Improvisational Strategies for Creating Cadenzas

by Renaud Boucher-Browning

1. Deducing Sperger's Cadenza Playbook

Before learning to imitate the musical style of Sperger's cadenzas, it is necessary to deduce the principles that guided his creative decisions by analyzing the extant examples. In theorizing musical style, Leonard Meyer asserts that "all the traits (characteristic of some work or set of works) that can be described and counted are essentially symptoms of the presence of a set of interrelated constraints" and posits that "the theorist/style analyst must infer the nature of the constraints—the rules of the game—from the play of the game itself."17 The purpose of this section, therefore, is to propose several stylistic constraints that are evident in Sperger's cadenzas. Meyer delineates stylistic constraints into three hierarchical categories: transcultural laws that describe pattern perception, intercultural rules that determine musical syntax, and individual strategies that represent creative decisions. In any given cadenza, Sperger employs a subset of possible creative strategies that conform to the prevailing stylistic rules.

Part 1 of this article reverse-engineers these stylistic rules from the sources and proposes a set of generative criteria to model the creative decision-making processes behind Sperger's first- and second-movement cadenzas for his own concertos. These criteria include the four-part form, harmonic progressions, motivic development techniques, and thematic quotation strategies that determine the structure and content of his cadenzas. Part 2 analyzes these criteria in selected cadenzas and identifies the stock formulas, recurring figurations, and harmonic progressions listed in the Appendices, thereby showing the development of Sperger's cadenza style.

The Function of Cadenzas within a Concerto and Sperger's Four-Part Cadenza Form

The cadenzas examined in this article correspond to fermata pairs in the closing ritornellos of first movements in sonata-ritornello form and in the codas of second movements in da capo aria form or Romance form in Sperger's contrabass concertos.18 Modern theorists have studied the cadential function that cadenzas fulfill as parenthetical insertions within concerto movements,19 basing their observations on treatises by Quantz, Türk, and Koch.20 Whereas these scholars took piano cadenzas by Mozart and Beethoven as their main models, this article analyzes Sperger's contrabass cadenzas as a separate set of examples that may imitate but do not necessarily match the harmonic scope, idiomatic figurations, or contrapuntal complexity of keyboard cadenzas.

Eva and Paul Badura-Skoda have observed a tripartite structure in many of Mozart's first-movement cadenzas for his piano concertos with three sections: opening, middle, and closing.21 Robert Levin has proposed an alternative model that consists of an optional introduction, a first section that quotes from the first theme group, a second section that quotes from the second theme group, and a conclusion.22 In contrast, most of Sperger's cadenzas exhibit a tetrapartite structure in which thematic quotation, if present, most often occurs in the opening. Adapting from these Mozartian models, I have named the four sections in Sperger's cadenzas based on their rhetorical function: opening, continuation, contrasting middle, and closing. These labels reflect Sperger's frequent reliance on motivic development and iterative variations as generative strategies in the continuation, along with the change in register, motive, or rhythmic subdivision that demarcates the contrasting middle. These three models of cadenza form appear in Table 1.1.

Table 1.1. Three models of formal structure in cadenzas by Mozart and Sperger.

Mozart: Badura-Skodas' Model Mozart: Robert Levin's Model Sperger: Four-Part Hybrid Model
Opening: virtuoso or thematic Introduction: optional passagework Opening: sometimes thematic
First section: first theme group Continuation: developmental
Middle: reminiscence theme Second section: second theme group Contrasting Middle: abrupt change
Closing: passagework before trill Conclusion: closing flourish and trill Closing: ascent to V64 and trill

Chord Progressions, Stock Formulas, and Recurring Figurations in Sperger's Cadenzas

In keeping with Mozart's practices, Sperger's cadenzas elaborate the cadential progression V6453-I, while his lead-ins prolong V or V7.23 Sperger's cadenzas may delay the inevitable final trill and the expected resolution to the tonic with anticipatory predominant harmonies built upon chromatic neighbor tones to scale degree 5, including the secondary dominants V7/IV, V7/V, and vii°7/V. These progressions result in basslines that include scale degrees 3-4-#4-5, ♭7-6-♭6-5, #4-5-♭6-5, or ♭6-5-#4-5. This last chromatic encirclement of the dominant is called the le-sol-fi-sol schema.24 Upon arriving at a dominant pedal point, Sperger alternates between the cadential six-four chord and V7, with occasional detours to IV. Sometimes Sperger resolves V7/IV to a scalar outline of ii, ambiguously implying deceptive motion. In these instances, Sperger prioritizes resolving tendency tones like sevenths rather than explicitly playing roots.

A variety of stock formulas and recurring figurations appear in Sperger's cadenzas. Arpeggiated or scalar forms of the cadential six-four chord and V7 are ubiquitous in his cadenzas. Another common technique is the waveform scale, in which each quarter-note beat alternates between descending and ascending sixteenths, thereby outlining triads. Bariolage harmonic progressions, dominant pedal-point patterns, and double-stop scales in thirds appear in multiple cadenzas, some reproduced exactly, others with variations. Sperger also employs the rhythmic devices of diminution and augmentation to insert stock formulas from one cadenza into another.

Motivic Development Devices and Thematic Quotation Strategies in Sperger's Cadenzas

Table 1.2 shows four strategies that Sperger employs to develop thematic fragments, motives, and figurations from the movement in his cadenzas. He transposes thematic fragments using the model-sequence technique to dissolve thematic quotations and to make transitions within the cadenza. In a strategy that I term the motivic-development schema, Sperger states, restates, and then develops a motive by spinning it out, either punctuating the end with a rest or transitioning directly into the next idea. In a related strategy that I call the triple-statement launch schema, Sperger repeats a bar-long dominant-pedal pattern three times before launching into another idea, often scalar figurations that ascend to the final arpeggiation of the cadential six-four chord in the high register. Though Sperger occasionally builds constructions resembling antecedent and consequent pairs that imply either half and authentic cadences or dominant-tonic alternation, his cadenzas rarely articulate formal cadences. Internal cadences in a cadenza are rare, since cadenzas normally generate suspense by delaying the resolution of a movement's final cadence.25 Whereas Mozart's piano cadenzas include homophonic textures and multi-voiced chords, Sperger favors monophonic textures, double-stops, or bariolage passages in his cadenzas.

Table 1.2. Motivic development devices in Sperger's cadenzas with examples labeled as Concerto.Movement.

Motivic Development Device Definition Examples
Model-Sequence Technique Transposed quote creates sequence 2.I, 3.I, 11.I
Motivic-Development Schema State, restate, then develop a motive 2.I, 2.II, Z1.II, 7.I, 8.I, 8.II, 12.I, 13.I
Triple-Statement Launch Schema State, restate, restate, launch or ascend 2.I, 10.I, H3.II, 12.I, 12.II, 16.I
Antecedent-Consequent Pairs Parallel phrases imply HC-IAC or V-I 3.I, 8.II, 12.I

Table 1.3 lists the diverse strategies that Sperger employs to quote themes in his cadenzas. As an opening or closing gambit,26 Sperger may begin or end a cadenza with a memorable thematic incipit that he develops using the model-sequence technique. Motivic citation refers to the quotation of a short musical motive, usually one that appears during the recapitulation or the transition to the cadenza.27 Varied recall occurs when Sperger quotes a previously heard theme with new variations. Sperger sometimes anticipates themes from the next movement or recollects themes from the previous movement. Sperger transposes themes originally heard in a non-tonic key into the tonic or places them over a dominant pedal. He occasionally transforms a theme's character from lyrical to dramatic by changing from the tonic major to the parallel minor key.

Table 1.3. Thematic quotation strategies in Sperger's cadenzas with examples labeled as Concerto.Movement.

Thematic Quotation Strategy Definition Examples
Opening or Closing Gambit Exact thematic quotation opens or closes the cadenza 2.I, 2.II, 3.I, 3.II, 11.I
Motivic Citation Use of a motive from the transition into the cadenza 7.I, 8.I
Varied Recall Quotation of theme or figuration with new variations 3.I, 7.I, 13.I, 16.I
Anticipation/Recollection Quoting material from next or previous movement 3.II
Transposition Secondary theme quoted in tonic key 2.II
Transformation Character change from major to minor or vice versa 8.II, Z1.II, 12.I, 16.I

Manuscript Fermata Embellishments as Evidence of Sperger's Performance Practices

The manuscripts in Part 2 contain evidence of Sperger's performance practices, which will form the basis of the discussion about learning to improvise cadenzas in Part 3. Sperger's cadenzas traverse the Viennese violone's four-octave range, employing harmonics and stopped notes in the highest octave and only one G# below the low A string. Sperger often notates several different embellishments for the same fermata in the solo part and/or on the cadenza page, which provides evidence of the evolution of his musical ideas. Sperger uses notations that resemble Coda and Dal Segno symbols to show corrections, insertions, and multiple beginnings or endings in his cadenzas. Sperger's use of false ending trills in cadenzas that contain a second iteration of the four-part form recalls Danuta Mirka's conception of the cadenza as a witty game between the soloist and the orchestra.28 These double cadenzas show Sperger subverting gestures that usually cue the ensemble to reenter. The next section analyzes selected cadenzas from Sperger's estate.