8. Expository and Developmental

In order to listen with a larger perspective of a musical work, it is important to distinguish between expository and developmental passages.

The function of an expository section is to establish identity. Its goal is to make a musical material memorable and recognizable. “My name is Bond—James Bond” is an expository statement.

The following are examples of expository statements:

Whereas an expository section shows what a musical material is, a developmental section shows what the material can do. Development sections are characterized by instability and rapid change; they postpone rest. 007 jumps from a plane and speeds down a mountainside on one ski, pursued by villains from every direction. This is an example of development.

The terms exposition and development are commonly used in classical music, to denote large sections where material is either introduced or rapidly transformed. However, the concept of expository or developmental may be generalized to any kind of music.

In the following excerpt from Beethoven: Violin Sonata No. 7, “Kreutzer,” which comes first—an expository passage or a developmental one?


Which comes first?

Developmental. The first portion of the excerpt is highly active and fast changing. This leads to an arrival point that is much more relaxed and stable. Therefore, a developmental section leads to an expository one.

In this excerpt from Arnold Schoenberg’s Fantasy for violin and piano, which comes first—the expository section of the developmental one?


Which comes first?

Developmental. Schoenberg’s musical language is far removed from Beethoven’s. However, the same distinction between expository and developmental exists. Just as in Beethoven, a mercurial, forward moving section leads to a calmer, more grounded one: A developmental section is followed by an expository one.

Distinguishing between the Expository and the Developmental

Stability facilitates recognition: That is why suspects in a police line-up are asked to stand still. In music, expository statements are usually “grounded” in some way: They are often repetitive; and they are often supported by a fixed, reliable accompaniment.

On the other hand, if a suspect is trying to escape, it is better to keep moving. In developmental passages, stability is undercut: Repetitions become more cursory and incomplete; fixed accompaniments are absent.

The opening of the fourth movement of Robert Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-flat Major is grounded by both extensive repetition and a steady accompaniment.

In the following developmental passage, Schumann’s theme is no longer anchored: The instruments enter in imitation, pushing the music towards new destinations. Notice that the original steady accompaniment is replaced by faster moving figures.


As in the Schumann example, the opening of the second movement of Bela Bartok’s String Quartet No. 2 is grounded by repetition and a steady accompaniment.

Once again, in the following developmental passage, the music becomes more mobile and unrooted.


As the above examples indicate, the pace of events speeds up in developmental passages. Thus, whereas expository passages allow the time for complete statementsdevelopment passages are characterized by fragmentationFragmentation enables the music’s progress to accelerate. When you travel, you can’t bring all of your belongings with you; instead, you bring just an overnight bag with a change of clothes. Similarly, you can’t afford to carry a whole theme with you during a developmental passage: Taking the time to play the theme in its entirety would slow you down. Instead, you must travel “light,” with just a fragment of the theme.

The Finale of Mozart’s Symphony no. 40 in g-minor begins with the following expository statement. Note how each half of the theme is repeated, increasing its stability.

Later in the movement, Mozart creates a developmental passage based entirely on the upward motion with which the theme begins. Only fragments occur; the complete theme is never stated.


The fourth movement of Dmitri Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 2 introduces a long, lyrical theme, played several times in its entirety.

In a subsequent developmental section, the theme is broken into fragments that get shorter and shorter: at one point, the theme is reduced to just two notes. As in the Mozart developmental passage, the complete theme is never stated.


Other musical features help to differentiate expository and developmental sections. In expository passages, the primary activity is often concentrated in one instrument or register. In development passages, multiple instruments and registers may trade the musical ideas back and forth, in dialogue or competition.

In the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in g-minor, the violins introduce the primary theme.

In a subsequent developmental section, the violins repeatedly play a fragment of the theme, gradually sinking in register. Suddenly, the music becomes far more turbulent as the fragment is traded between the violins and celli.


In the brief Intermède from Olivier Messaien’s Quartet for the End of Time, the main theme is initially presented fixed in register.

As the theme is developed, fragments of the theme shift in register:


Expository sections tend to be more predictable. On the other hand, development sections are often unpredictable and irregular, with abrupt changes of texture, dynamics, rhythm, etc.

For instance, the Finale of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 opens with a vivacious expository section, interrupted only by a few brief hesitations.

In a later developmental section, the hesitations are exaggerated and disrupt the flow of the music.


In the fourth movement of Bela Bartok’s String Quartet No. 4, each player takes a turn playing the plucked theme. Occasional chords underlie the theme’s presentation.

In a subsequent developmental passage, the chords are brought to the fore, becoming more forceful and abrupt. These and silences irregularly disrupt the music’s flow. Only fragments of the theme are played, and the instruments alternate more rapidly.


In expository sections, there is usually only one theme or musical idea presented at a time. In developmental sections, multiple themes may be presented simultaneously.

Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice tells the story of a wizard’s assistant (played by Mickey Mouse in Disney’s “Fantasia”) who, rather than clean his master’s lair himself, furtively casts a spell that rouses the mops, pails and brooms.

As each tool is wakened, Dukas introduces a new theme:

Unfortunately, the apprentice isn’t able to command the tools. As chaos ensues, Dukas combines the two themes, creating a developmental pandemonium:


In Alban Berg’s annotated score of the “Lyric Suite,” the composer describes the second movement as a domestic scene in which his married love interest, Hanna Fuchs-Robettin, is playing with her two children. Each family member is given a theme:

Hanna’s theme:

Her son, Munzo:

Her daughter, Dorothea, was known by her nickname, Dodo. Since “Do” is a singing syllable for the note “C” (as in “do a deer, a female deer” from The Sound of Music), Dodo is represented by repeated c’s in the viola.

The peak of the movement is an argument between Munzo and Dodo that gets out of control. To depict this, Berg wrote a developmental passage that combines aspects of all three themes: Hanna’s lyrical melody is in the upper violin; Munzo’s dance-like theme and Dodo’s repeated notes are below. By the end of the excerpt, Hanna has finally quieted the children down:


In conclusion, expository sections tend to be more straightforward and direct: one musical idea is usually presented at a time; the idea is presented in its entirety; it is usually played in a single instrument or register; the music’s progression is more predictable. In contrast, development sections are more mercurial and complex: multiple ideas may be presented simultaneously; ideas may be broken into fragments and shift rapidly between instruments and registers; changes and interruptions may be more abrupt and extreme.


The Balance Between Expository and Developmental

Some music may be almost exclusively expository. Bartok’s brief Romanian Folk Dance no. 1 consists of an expository statement in two halves, each of which is repeated.


In contrast, some music may be almost exclusively developmental: The music undergoes constant motion and transformation.


The balance between the expository and the developmental is a crucial expressive feature. If you want a restful vacation, you’ll plan to stay put as much as possible and minimize the time spent on the road. On the other hand, if you’re up for an adrenaline rush, you’ll plan some high-flying travel. Similarly, the greater the time spent in exposition, the greater the music’s stability. The greater the time spent in development, the greater the music’s unrest.

What if an exposition is highly charged? Will its development be calmer? The answer is “No:” Developmental passages always “up the ante.” Someone fleeing from peril typically faces even greater dangers to escape. Similarly, the development of a highly charged material will tend to be even more intense.

For example, the fifth movement of Alfred Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso No. 1 introduces a frantic interplay between the two violin soloists, accompanied by the harpsichord. The string orchestra responds with a developmental passage that is even more animated and fervent. Soloists and ensemble alternate twice, dramatizing the contrast between the expository and the developmental.


Thus, no matter what the particular mood or haracter of a work, the balance of the expository and the developmental is a revealing expressive feature.

The balance between expository and developmental helps to create strong contrasts in Beethoven’s Bagatelle, opus 126, no. 4. [See also: Musical Form] The A-section begins with a brief expository statement; but development soon predominates: The A-section is constantly roving, with abrupt silences and sudden changes in texture.

In contrast, the B-section is almost exclusively expository: It is grounded throughout and very repetitive.

In the end, Beethoven establishes a relative equilibrium between the expository and developmental by playing each section twice.


Expository and developmental passages are similarly contrasted in the second movement of John Harbison’s Four Songs of Solitude. In the end, does Harbison tip the balance in favor of exposition or development? How does this contribute to your emotional reaction to the movement?


When you are studying the itinerary for a trip, you want to know how long you will spend at your destinations compared to how long you will spend en route. Similarly, in the first few hearings of a work, try to identify expository versus developmental passages. How long does each type of passage last? The greater the amount of exposition, the more stable, simple and direct the music. The greater the amount of development, the more the music is restless, complex and ambiguous. Directing your attention to these structural features, rather than to fleeting details, will help you build a more comprehensive understanding of the music.