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2 - Conventions of Beginning

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 March 2021

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Summary

FIRST MOVEMENTS

THE beginning of the first movement of a (Classic-era) work often stands as a reference point for the rest of the movement. Not only does it immediately set the tonality, meter, tempo, and mood of the movement, but it also establishes a boundary, a fixed point to which (in a sonata-form movement) the repeat of the exposition, the beginning of the development, the recapitulation, and the coda refer. But sometimes this first-movement beginning will become a point of reference in other movements as well. Haydn and Mozart sometimes created this kind of reference point. An example is the beginning of Haydn's String Quartet, Op. 50 No. 6 in D Major (see Example 3). The rhythmic profile – a long note, descending line, and ultimate resolution more than an octave lower – is echoed – a mite teasingly – in that quartet's finale at measures 49–56 and 177–92.

The same composer's String Quartet in F minor, Op. 55 No. 2, begins with a theme and variations – actually alternating themes in the minor and major modes – and the opening strain is laden with chromatic inflections. During the course of the whole work, both modal exchange and chromaticism are features of the music's flow, which exhibits a “long-range accumulation of chromatic tendencies.”

Of course, the whole first movement of a multi-movement work is also a beginning, and in this sense, therefore, the entire cycle of movements within a work can be said to have a beginning, middle(s), and end. The establishment of the key affects the atmosphere of the first movement and of the whole work. Floyd Grave and Margaret Grave have analyzed all of Haydn's string quartets, and they report a certain consistency of affect among works in the same key, often but not always echoing the qualities of key characteristics mentioned by eighteenth-century writers. Their observations are cautious, but they analyze the beginning thematic material of beginning movements, and as a result their findings are particularly relevant to this study. C Major is traditionally associated with straightforwardness and simplicity, and they find that beginning themes of C-Major quartets “often display qualities of textural lightness and simplicity at the outset.”

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2020

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