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18 - Schooling the Quintjäger

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 September 2020

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Summary

Writing about the perfect fifths that begin the first movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Donald Francis Tovey made the following observation:

Half the musical miseducation in the world comes from people who know that the Ninth Symphony begins on the dominant of D minor, when the fact is that its opening bare fifth may mean anything within D major, D minor, A major, A minor, E major, E minor, C sharp minor, G major, C major, and F major … A true analysis takes the standpoint of a listener who knows nothing beforehand, but hears and remembers everything.

The Allegretto from Beethoven's Symphony no. 7 in A Major, op. 92 (1811–12), remains one of his most popular works—an instantaneous “hit” ever since its first public performance in Vienna's University Aula on December 8, 1813, evidenced by the audience's demand for an immediate encore. The same reaction greeted the Allegretto at its second performance, an event that took place one week later. The reasons for this movement's popularity are, it would seem, self-evident. To begin with, it is relatively short, clocking in at anywhere from approximately seven to ten minutes, depending on what tempo is chosen by the conductor. Its brevity alone is an especially interesting feature given the immense size of the movement that precedes it and those that follow. Its A-minor modality, beginning with a simple, but oddly unsettling, second-inversion chord in the winds, is followed by a staccato theme in the lower strings, with a rhythmic profile comprising dactyls and spondees. Together these create a hypnotic effect. The legato counter-theme, first introduced in measure 27 in the cellos, adds an attractive new element of seductive sensuality and exoticism, created in part by its Schleifer (grace-note slides) and the subtle chromatic inflections in the counter-theme's second half. Finally, the two contrasting episodes in A major bring a welcome contrasting element of lyricism, calm, and warmth. The unveiling of its opening theme with its monotone repeated notes on the dominant of the central tonality of A minor (E), unfolds as if to suggest that we are experiencing a theme and variations form. The movement's macrostructure ultimately presents itself as a five-part rondo, although it deviates slightly from the strict definition of the form.

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Chapter
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The New Beethoven
Evolution, Analysis, Interpretation
, pp. 437 - 447
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2020

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