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3 - Unconventional Beginnings

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 March 2021

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Summary

BEGINNINGS TO CONFOUND

SOME beginnings involve a deliberate feint towards a wrong key, so that the arrival of the right key comes accompanied by freshness and surprise. We can see this in the slow introduction to Beethoven's First Symphony, where the first sound is a V7 chord: C7 moving to F. But the second measure gives us a G7 chord that again defeats expectations, since it moves deceptively to A minor. Next, a measure of D Major crescendos to cadence on G. With constant underminings (the G chord is followed by a short phrase containing both G# and F§!), the real tonic of the movement is considerably delayed, being confirmed only at measure 8. It takes twelve measures of this Adagio molto introduction before a further definitive cadence onto C heralds the clear arrival of the Allegro con brio and its principal theme, now insistently affirming the tonic. After its first phrase, however, this tonic moves up a step to a statement on the second degree before returning home. This is a move that became a favorite of Beethoven’s, being found again in the Scherzo of the String Quartet, Op. 18 No. 1, the Prometheus overture, the String Quintet, Op. 29, and the String Quartet, Op. 59 No. 3. Moves to the flat-second degree, the Neapolitan, occur in the “Appassionata” Piano Sonata and the String Quartet, Op. 59 No. 2, and – forcefully – in the Op. 95 String Quartet. Here in the symphony, the slow introduction acts as an alert for harmonic excursions, however brief, to come.

The beginning of the finale of Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto in G (see Example 54) is in the wrong key. (It also is irregular in phrasing, with two ten-measure phrases.) It insists on C Major with a half-cadence in G; and the piano repetition of the orchestral opening phrase (an octave higher) is played over a C drone. (Both have only very sudden cadences to G.) And here also this wrong key is advance warning, in this case for a long-range modulation from the slow movement's E minor (which leads attacca to the finale) to the G-Major “right” key of the rondo: E minor (= G Major vi) – C (IV) – D (V) – G (I). The modulation takes place over forty measures and across movements, but it has an inexorable logic, as do all of Beethoven's harmonic surprises.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2020

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