An Alternative Formal Function? James Webster’s Antiperiod and Classical Thematic Design

James MacKay


The antiperiod, which James Webster’s 1991 book, Haydn’s Farewell Symphony and the Idea of Classical Style: Through-Composition
and Cyclic Integration in His Instrumental Music, describes as ‘a period whose consequent cadences off the tonic and hence is more
“open” than the antecedent’, has received short shrift in the literature. This study seeks to remedy the antiperiod’s relative neglect,
proposing that this form-functional type, common ca. 1750 in a variety of designs at many different formal levels, influenced thematic-
tonal procedures through to at least 1800. The study identifies two basic models: the parallel antiperiod, wherein the two phrases begin
alike, and the contrasting antiperiod, where the second phrase develops from opening material or begins with new motivic content. The
antiperiod, unlike the standard periodic model, is dynamic and open-ended, much like the sentences and sentence-like hybrids identified
in Caplin’s 1998 book, Classical Form: A Theory of Formal Functions for the Instrumental Music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Its
harmonic plan, moreover, can expand to encompass larger formal regions (main theme or transition as a presentation phrase, for which
the subordinate theme acts as continuation).


Formenlehre, antiperiod, theme, Caplin, Webster

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