Sonata Form and Key Centres in Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen


  • Carlo Antonioli


This paper examines Richard Strauss’s late work Metamorphosen (1945) through the lens of James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy’s Sonata Theory and Richard Cohn’s neo-Riemannian theory. It argues that sonata form is self-consciously established partway through the piece as a result of tension between two distinct types of musical syntax: traditional tonal syntax and pan-triadic syntax, which favours parsimonious (smooth) voice leading. C major and C minor are used as their respective proxies, each vying for legitimisation as the global tonic in which the sonata is set. The resulting ‘sonata failure’ and collapse of tonal syntax occurs because of the artificial and self-constructed nature of tonality in the piece: its delusional affirmative rhetoric and the way in which the tonal secondary themes are constructed of fragments of the pan-triadic primary themes reveal that it is merely a dream fantasy. This interpretation is substantiated through analysis of key-centre relationships, motivic relationships and the way in which the sonata narrative plays out according to Hepokoski and Darcy’s teleological framework of sonata form.