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Academic Title(s): 

James McGill Professor

Music Research
Music Theory
Contact Information
514-398-4535 Ext. 00279
Email Address: 
Rm E330

William Caplin completed undergraduate studies in composition at the University of Southern California and graduate studies in the history and theory of music at the University of Chicago (working with Leonard B. Meyer, Edward E. Lowinsky, Philip Gossett, among others). He pursued additional studies in musicology at the Berlin Technical University with Carl Dahlhaus. He has been teaching at McGill University since 1978; he was appointed James McGill Professor of Music Theory in January 2005.

Caplin specializes primarily in the theory of musical form. 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 of this work, Analyzing Classical Form, is in preparation and is due to be published early in 2013.

Caplin, along with James Hepokoski, and James Webster, has co-authored the 2009 book Musical Form, Forms & Formenlehre: Three Methodological Reflections (ed. Pieter Bergé), which includes the essays originally presented at the plenary session on Formenlehre at the 2007 European Music Analysis Conference in Freiburg, Germany, as well as newly written commentaries and responses.

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. Other studies on musical form have been published in Eighteenth-Century Music, Beethoven Forum, Musiktheorie, The Journal of Musicological Research, Tijdschrift voor Muziektheorie, and Beethoven's Compositional Process (ed. William Kinderman).

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 fuer Musiktheorie. New investigations in the domain of melodic theory appears in the chapter “Schoenberg’s ‘Second Melody,’ Or, ‘Meyer-ed’ in the Bass,” in Communicative Strategies in Late 18th-Century Instrumental Music, eds. Danuta Mirka and Kofi Agawu.

Recent papers presented by Caplin include “Chromatic Configurations in Haydn’s String Quartet in G, Op. 64, No. 1,” read at the festival “Haydn 2009: The Complete String Quartets of Joseph Haydn,” McGill University March, 2009, “Schoenberg’s Theories of Form: Innovations, Limitations, Amplifications,” read at the conference “Schoenberg’s Legacy on Form,” McGill University, May, 2008; and “A Mozartean Limerick: Some Thoughts on Form, Function, and Musical Time,” which was featured as the keynote address of the Annual Meeting of the Society for Musicology in Ireland, Limerick, 2006. He has given numerous workshops and guest lectures throughout North America and Europe.

Caplin served as President of the Society for Music Theory from November 2005 to November 2007.  He recently presented a twelve-hour course, “Introduction to Classical Phrase Structure,” at the Aula de Musica, Universidad de Alcalá (Madrid, Spain).  In March, 2008, Caplin was invited as 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." He serves on the editorial boards of Eighteenth-Century Music 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.

He 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.