Functional Analysis at the fin-de-siècle: Genre, Compositional Process and the Demonic in the Rondo of Elgar’s Second Symphony

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Colleges, School and Institutes


The most interesting recent developments in formal function theory have tested its application on nineteenth-century repertory. Hitherto, however, functional analysis has touched only lightly on the post-Wagnerian symphonic repertory of the decades around 1900. When music analysis addresses this repertory today, it is usually by means of the approaches that have become ‘Sonata Theory’. Functional analysis brings different insights, switching the focus to syntax and local formal process. The third-movement ‘Rondo’ from Elgar’s Second Symphony (1911) exemplifies the progressive Romantic repertory in its challenges to analysis. While functional analysis can illuminate the syntax and formal processes of this music, it must be applied with an ear to shifting and overlapping functional meanings. The Rondo manifests parallel ambiguities at the levels of paratext and genre. The syntactic continuity and instability foregrounded by functional analysis resonate directly with the movement’s thematisation of the demonic and the uncanny through paratext, topic, cyclic reminiscence and generic ambiguity. This article uses the concepts of functional theory to open and discuss questions of genre and compositional process and to reframe the Rondo’s programmatic themes from an analytically informed perspective.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)310-338
JournalMusic Analysis
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 9 Oct 2018