Brief Biography

William Caplin (b. 1948) completed undergraduate studies in music composition (1971) at the University of Southern California and graduate studies in the history and theory of music (MA, 1975; PhD,1981) at the University of Chicago (working with Leonard B. Meyer, Edward E. Lowinsky, Philip Gossett, among others). He pursued additional studies in musicology (1976–78) at the Berlin Technical University with Carl Dahlhaus. He has been teaching at The Schulich School of Music at McGill University since 1978; he was appointed Distinguished James McGill Professor of Music Theory in 2019 following fourteen eyars as a James McGill Professor. In 2011, he was awarded a two-year Killam Research Fellowship from the Canada Council for the Arts for the project “Cadence: A Study of Closure in Tonal Music.” In 2015, Caplin was elected a Fellow in the Royal Society of Canada (Academy of Arts and Humanities).

Caplin specializes in the theories of musical form and musical cadence. His extensive investigations into formal procedures of late-eighteenth-century music culminated in the 1998 book Classical Form: A Theory of Formal Functions for the Instrumental Music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven (Oxford University Press), which won the 1999 Wallace Berry Book Award from the Society for Music Theory. A textbook version, Analyzing Classical Form: An Approach for the Classroom (Oxford University Press), was published in November 2013.

Caplin positions his theory of formal functions in relation to the “Sonata Theory” of James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy in Part 1, “What are Formal Functions?” of the co-authored book, Caplin, Hepokoski, and Webster, Musical Form, Forms & Formenlehre: Three Methodological Reflections (ed. Pieter Bergé, 2009), along with the co-authored article, Caplin and Martin, The ‘Continuous Exposition’ and the Concept of Subordinate Theme,” 2016. He has published other studies on musical form in Eighteenth-Century MusicBeethoven ForumMusiktheorieThe Journal of Musicological ResearchTijdschrift voor Muziektheorie.

Caplin’s article “The Classical Cadence: Conceptions and Misconceptions,” appeared in the Spring 2004 issue of The Journal of the American Musicological Society and was awarded the 2006 Prix Opus for Article of the Year from the Conseil québécois de la musique. He is currently completing the book Cadence: A Study of Closure in Tonal Music, which has been accepted for publication by Oxford University Press. Two articles, extracted from the book, have appeared in Music Theory Spectrum (“Beyond the Classical Cadence: Thematic Closure in Early Romantic Music”) and Music Theory & Analysis ("Cadence in Fugue: Modes of Closure in J. S. Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier”).

Caplin has extended his theories of formal functions and cadence into the allied domains of topic theory (“On the Relation of Musical Topoi to Formal Function,” 2001), schema theory (“Harmony and Cadence in Gjerdingen’s ‘Prinner,’” 2014), melodic theory (Schoenberg’s ‘Second Melody,’ Or, ‘Meyer-ed’ in the Bass," 2008), and music perception and cognition (“Perceiving the Classical Cadence,” 2014).  

Caplin has also undertaken research in the history of music theory. His most notable study in this area, “Theories of Musical Rhythm in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries,” appears in The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory, ed. Thomas Christensen. He has published other essays on the history of theory in Music Theory Spectrum, Journal of Music Theory, Theoria, and Zeitschrift für Musiktheorie

Recent presentations by Caplin include “The ‘Reopened’ Half Cadence: A Striking Cadential Anamoly,” paper read (in absentia) at the Nineth European Music Analysis Conference, Strasbourg, France, July, 2017; “The Finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony: Its Form Reexamined,” workshop presented at the conference “Form Forum III: ‘Romantic Form’ and Beyond,” University of Toronto, February, 2017; A three-day workshop on “Cadence and Closure” at the Royal Conservatory of the Hague, 2018. He has given numerous workshops, seminars, and guest lectures throughout North America and Europe.

Caplin’s research work has been honoured by two Festschrift publications: (1) Formal Functions in Perspective: Essays on Musical Form from Haydn to Adorno, eds. Steven Vande Moortele, Julie Pedneault, and Nathan John Martin (Rochester: Eastman Studies in Music, 2015); and (2) “Contemplating Caplin,” a Festschrift issue of Intersections: Canadian Journal of Music 31/1, 2010.

Caplin served as President of the Society for Music Theory from November 2005 to November 2007. In April 2018, he was the  Housewright Eminent Scholar at the School of Music, Florida State University. In March, 2008, he was Visiting Professor at the University of Rome-Tor Vergata.  He co-chaired the 2004 Mannes Institute of Advanced Theoretical Studies, where he led a workshop on "Exposition Structure in Beethoven's Piano Sonatas: A Form-Functional Approach." Caplin serves on the editorial boards of Indiana Theory Review and Eastman Studies in Music.

Caplin’s research has been supported by major research grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and by the Canada Council for the Arts.

Caplin regularly teaches courses in tonal theory and analysis, nineteenth-century analysis, tonal composition, history of theory, as well as various seminars and proseminars in music theory.

© William Caplin 2021