Beethoven Op 31 No 2 Analysis Essay

KEYWORDS: Ludwig van Beethoven, piano sonata, “Tempest,” musical form, formal functions, sonata form, exposition, Janet Schmalfeldt, Carl Dahlhaus, introduction, main theme, transition, subordinate theme, cadence, codetta, standing on the dominant

ABSTRACT: Janet Schmalfeldt’s formal reading of Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata (first movement) invites further considerations regarding the retrospective reinterpretation of formal functions. This essay, stimulated by her analyses, investigates three aspects of the exposition section: (1) the problem of the main theme in relation to a possible introduction and the subsequent transition; (2) the functionally ambiguous status of the “standing on the dominant” in the new key; (3) the difficulty of determining a final cadence for the exposition and the resulting confusion between cadential and post-cadential functions.

Recording and Score of Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata (Malcolm Bilson, piano)

[1] Any new form-functional interpretation of the first movement of Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata must begin in response to Janet Schmalfeldt’s masterful account, which focuses largely on how formal units within the piece exhibit a “process of becoming” (Schmalfeldt 1995). Schmalfeldt accurately identifies the component formal functions within the overall sonata form and reveals the formal ambiguities expressed by many of the passages within the movement.(2) She positions her views within a broad critical tradition leading back to Hegel and including Halm, Adorno, Dahlhaus, Schoenberg, and Schenker. Though Schmalfeldt’s analytical readings are thorough and convincing in most of their details, the first movement of the “Tempest” is, nonetheless, sufficiently intricate as to provide a springboard for further considerations of various form-functional issues. Stimulated by Schmalfeldt’s interpretations, this paper will thus investigate three aspects of the exposition section: first, the problem of the main theme in relation to a possible introduction and the subsequent transition; second, the functionally ambiguous status of the “standing on the dominant” in the new key (measures 41–54); and third, the difficulty of determining a final cadence for the exposition and the resulting confusion between cadential and post-cadential functions.

Example 1. Beethoven, Piano Sonata in D minor (“Tempest”), op. 31, no. 2, i, measures 1—42

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[2] Doubts about the functional status of the opening materials of the “Tempest” (Example 1) largely ensue from observations about the character of the music—it is harmonically unstable, erratic in tempo, rhythmically discontinuous, and stylistically dichotomous. In short, this is not the kind of music typically associated with the standard notion of main theme. Many critics have not found the music to be sufficiently “thematic” in nature to function as the true beginning of a sonata movement. Rather, they find it having a distinct introductory character. As Dahlhaus (1991, 117) has noted, “The beginning of the sonata is motivically loosely constructed, and both harmonically and syntactically open-ended, so that at first it seems to be an introduction, not the exposition of a theme.”(3)

[3] But such a reading begs the question of just where the main theme proper would then begin. The most likely candidate occurs at measure 21. Here, the music projects the stability of home-key tonic, a uniform rhythmic propulsion, and a powerful sense that the music is now really getting underway. Problematic, of course, is that the music does not remain in the home key for long but rather modulates to the subordinate key of A minor, thus ultimately fulfilling the function of transition.

[4] The ambiguities of formal expression resulting from the character of the music in measures 1–41 provide the basis for the “processual” interpretations of Dahlhaus and Schmalfeldt, both of whom emphasize the potential for an initial impression of formal functionality to be reinterpreted retrospectively. As Schmalfeldt would succinctly put it, an introduction “becomes” a main theme, and a main theme “becomes” a transition.

[5] These processual interpretations are compelling, yet it remains possible that the case for retrospective reinterpretation is somewhat overstated here. Let’s consider first the situation of an introduction becoming main theme. In my work on Classical form, I define two types of form-functional introductions: the first, a large-scale slow introduction and the second, a relatively local thematic introduction lasting a couple of bars (Caplin 1998, 15, 203–208).

[6] As its name implies, a slow introduction is entirely set in a slow tempo, one that is fully distinct from the faster-paced exposition that follows. I am unaware of any slow introductions that contain passages in the fast tempo of the exposition proper. Moreover, slow introductions are usually organized in a relatively nonconventional manner and normally close with a half cadence. Finally, a slow introduction is completely separate from the exposition section that follows. With these criteria in mind, we can find little in measures 1–21 of the “Tempest” that conforms to this kind of introduction: these bars do not stand apart from the exposition, for they are included when the exposition is repeated; their tempo is not distinctly different from the rest of the exposition (after all, most of the section is allegro); the formal organization of the section is a periodic hybrid (antecedent + continuation); and the harmonic goal is the home-key tonic underpinned by a perfect authentic cadence.

[7] As for identifying a thematic introduction at the start of the “Tempest,” the case is considerably stronger. Such an introduction is a short segment that precedes the structural beginning of a theme. The harmonic content of most thematic introductions is tonic, but dominant harmony may be used at times. The melodic content of a thematic introduction is kept to a minimum so that the impression of a genuine basic idea is not projected. The opening two-bar unit of the “Tempest” could thus plausibly be seen as a thematic introduction to the antecedent phrase of the main theme; analogously, measures 7–8 could serve the same function for the second phrase.(4) But if this is the type of form-functional introduction alluded to by Dahlhaus and Schmalfeldt, then there would be little grounds for dwelling on a retrospective reinterpretation of the formal situation, for the notion that an “introduction becomes main theme” would not apply: a thematic introduction is already embraced within the structural expanse of the theme it is introducing. There is really nothing to “reinterpret.”

[8] If the case for identifying the entire opening 21 bars as introductory is weak, then just what accounts for so many critics hearing that formal quality at the start of the “Tempest” sonata? The answer lies, I suspect, in a general misunderstanding of the nature of main theme in the classical repertory. My sense is that earlier critics are not so much wedded to the idea that the opening really projects an introduction as they are discomfited by the fact that this opening does not behave as they believe main themes should. Because main themes are thought to be highly stabilizing formations, expressing a continuity of assertive, decisive, and dynamic gesturing—dare I say, particularly here, a “masculine character”—the hesitating, halting quality—the fits and starts—of this opening seems to belie the commonplace notion of main theme. And so critics are almost forced into finding an “introductory” aspect to the whole section, one that finds its goal only at measure 21, the “real” beginning of the main theme. For it is there that the music coalesces into an expression of powerful rhythmic and dynamic continuity, that the music seems to really march forward, that a driving, forceful expression comes fully into its own.

[9] But I would argue that these rhetorical characteristics, usually associated with a main theme, are actually more typical of a transition. A general survey of the classical repertory reveals that a good number of main themes feature discontinuities in durational patterning, marked contrasts in textural disposition, and a variety of dynamic markings. These qualities of many main themes work together to project an indecisiveness and lack of clear momentum; they give the impression that the music is not yet entirely launched, in short, they are “introductory” in nature. By contrast, transitions tend to feature continuity of durational patterning, uniformity of textural combinations, and relatively steady dynamic levels. And these parameters together project a more ongoing, directional quality, the sense that the music is finally moving forward.

Example 2. Beethoven, Piano Sonata in C, op. 2, no. 3, i, measures 1—16

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Example 3. Beethoven, Piano Sonata in C minor (Pathètique), op. 13, i, measures 10—30

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[10] A typical case in point can be found in the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in C, op. 2, no. 3 (Example 2). The opening two-bar basic idea includes within its texture five different durational values and is immediately followed by a rest, which breaks whatever rhythmic momentum may have been initiated. The continuation phrase brings somewhat greater continuity, but the sforzandos and syncopations work against the flow, creating a significant metrical dissonance (Krebs 1999). All of these destabilizing forces are immediately resolved by the fortissimo outburst of steady sixteenth-note activity within the transition (measures 13ff.), which brings a powerful sense of rhythmic drive and a more consistent, indeed simpler, textural homophony. If the main theme here is striving to find its momentum, the transition fully accomplishes the feat.

[11] I could cite many more cases of just this situation.(5) But it is also interesting to consider a clear counter-example, which arises in the first movement of the Sonata in C minor (Pathétique), op. 13 (Example 3). Here, the main theme (measures 11–19) begins immediately with a powerful forward thrust, continuous accompanimental patterning (a “murky bass”), and a uniform homophonic texture—traits that we have identified as particularly typical of a transition. The real transition that follows largely sustains the same basic rhythmic and textural content of the main theme. From the very opening of the exposition, both main theme and transition together contribute to a powerful sense of rhythmic drive and momentum. But the compositional logic here is clear, for this whole section (main theme and transition together) is not the literal start of the movement; rather, the exposition has already been preceded by a full-fledged slow introduction. Thus we can see Beethoven using a similar compositional strategy for both the Pathétique and Tempest sonatas. The difference is that, in the earlier C-minor sonata, he deploys the strategy over the course of a slow introduction and main theme, whereas in the later D-minor sonata, he deploys it over a main theme and transition. I suspect, in fact, that the Pathétique may be the model—as a lingering memory—for the way in which many critics hear the opening of the Tempest.

Example 4. Beethoven, Piano Sonata in D minor (Tempest) op. 31, no. 2, i, measures 39—66

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Example 5. Reconstruction of end of transition and beginning of subordinate theme 1, played by Janet Schmalfeldt

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Example 6. Beethoven, Piano Sonata in D minor (Tempest), op. 31, no. 2, i, measures 60—88

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Example 7. Analysis of second subordinate theme, from Schmalfeldt 1995, 66, ex. 4

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[12] I turn now to the end of the transition (Example 4), which, following classical convention, leads to a half cadence in the new key at measure 41. The music that follows is built over an extended dominant pedal lasting through measure 54. Such pedals typically support a post-cadential standing on the dominant, which marks the last unit of the transition proper before the onset of the subordinate theme, as signaled by tonic harmony in root position. Here, the dominant pedal yields at measure 55 to tonic in first inversion. This harmony is prolonged by neighboring Neapolitan harmonies and followed by a pre-dominant IV (measure 62), which quickly leads to a cadential dominant and a perfect authentic cadence in the new key at measure 63.

[13] As Schmalfeldt shows (1995, 67), we can identify a fully legitimate subordinate theme spanning measures 42–63. In particular, she demonstrates that measure 55, rather than marking the beginning of the subordinate theme as identified by many prior critics, functions instead as the cadential phrase of a broad sentential structure. The standing on the dominant of measures 42–54, then, serves as the initiating unit of the theme. To be sure, beginning with dominant harmony potentially confuses the situation, and the lack of an evident medial caesura makes it even less clear that a subordinate theme is beginning at measure 42.(6) But if, as shown in Example 5 (graciously recorded by Janet Schmalfeldt), we rewrite the passage by extending the transition with an even clearer post-cadential standing on the dominant and by emphasizing root-position tonic harmony to support an initiating presentation phrase, then we can see how Beethoven might have articulated distinct boundaries for the end of the transition and the beginning of the subordinate theme.

[14] What he has actually written, however (see again Example 4), might raise the case for a processual interpretation along the lines of Dahlhaus and Schmalfeldt. For when we perceive the dominant pedal as a “first-time” listener, we would probably assume that it functions post-cadentially as the last part of the transition. Only upon hearing how this material leads so logically into the cadential unit of measures 55–63 do we understand that a genuine subordinate theme is already in the making. In other words, the standing on the dominant at the end of the transition “becomes” a presentation for the beginning of the subordinate theme. Curiously, Schmalfeldt does not raise this possibility in her discussion, a fact that I will return to at the end of this paper.

[15] From measure 55 to the end of the movement, Beethoven extensively employs the compositional technique of invertible counterpoint, a procedure common enough in polyphonic repertories but infrequently used in the more homophonic contexts of piano sonatas. As already discussed, measures 55–63 bring the final phrase of a subordinate theme. The same materials then appear, shifted into different voices, to begin a second subordinate theme (Example 6).

[16] In Schmalfeldt’s view (reproduced in Example 7), we first hear measures 63–64 as a two-bar codetta that sustains the tonic attained by the cadence, and the repetition of this codetta further supports the impression of post-cadential function. But when the idea begins to be repeated a second time at measure 67, its final note is broken off at the last moment, and entirely new materials signal a continuation function supported by model–sequence technique. The return to  in the middle of measure 72 initiates a cadential progression whose conclusion is highly problematic, as I will shortly discuss.

[17] Given the clear continuation and cadential functions that seem to follow directly upon a post-cadential section, Schmalfeldt proposes that the listener experiences another case of formal reinterpretation (Example 7, measure 63): what was taken initially to be a codetta (measures 63–64) can be understood retrospectively as a new basic idea. The subsequent repetitions of this new basic idea give rise to an extended presentation function, which logically initiates a new subordinate theme.(7)

[18] It could be questioned, though, how accurate it is to interpret the initial two-measure idea (measures 63–64) and its repetitions as codettas. The main problem, as I see it, is that the melodic component of these ideas opens up considerable space, not only in terms of scale-degree functions (with an emphasis on the third and fifth degrees), but more literally in the creation of an enormous registral expansion. In contrast, codettas tend to focus melodically on the tonic, often both beginning and ending with that scale-degree. And if a registral change is involved, codettas would more likely descend upon repetition, rather than ascend, in order to effect a closing down of the pitch space. In short, codettas normally do not give the impression that a new thematic process is underway. Here, the opening material of this theme seems to function immediately as a fully established basic idea, whose repetition creates a presentation. Contrary to Schmalfeldt, I am not encouraged to hear codettas following the cadence, and so the idea of any kind of retrospective reinterpretation becomes questionable.

[19] She is entirely correct, however, to recognize here the start of a new thematic unit—a second subordinate theme. But now we must ask just where is the cadence that closes this theme. Schmalfeldt (1995, 67–68) argues that the cadence is promised on the downbeat of measure 75 but is evaded multiple times. According to her, the actual cadence is delayed all the way until measure 87. This analysis, supported by the formal-reductive reading of Example 7, seems reasonable enough. After all, a series of evaded cadences is frequently used in subordinate themes as a means of heightening the listener’s expectations for the required cadential closure (Schmalfeldt 1992, Caplin 1998, 101-109).(8)

[20] But a closer look at the harmonic situation presented by measures 75–87 raises some concerns. According to Schmalfeldt, the entire passage up to measure 85 is built over a dominant pedal and thus presumably represents a prolongation of that harmony. But if we temporarily ignore the pedal, I believe that we can readily identify a tonic prolongation as the foundational harmonic activity of this passage (see again Example 6). If so, all of the dominant harmonies occurring on the second half of each bar would be simple neighbor chords that effectively prolong the tonic. It would therefore not be possible to identify a specifically cadential progression anywhere within this long stretch of music, especially not at measure 87, where the sense of tonic prolongation in the two preceding bars (85–86) is particularly strong.

Example 8. Reconstruction of cadence at measure 75, played by Janet Schmalfeldt

(click to enlarge and see the rest)

[21] In my view, there remains just one candidate for cadential closure—the downbeat of measure 75. For it is here that a genuine cadential dominant (measure 74) resolves to tonic, despite the fact that a literal tonic bass is not present at that moment. Of course, if a bass note A had appeared, then there would be no problem to discuss. And just as we reconstructed the beginning of a more normative first subordinate theme by adding a tonic bass, we could easily create a clear impression of cadence to end the second subordinate theme by changing the lowest voice from E to A, as shown in Example 8.

[22] If, as I suggest, the final cadence of the exposition arrives at measure 75, as obscured as this moment may be, then the formal function of the passage under consideration is obvious enough (refer again to Example 6): the passage is a post-cadential closing section made up at first of a four-bar codetta (measures 75–78), which is repeated as whole and then fragmented into one two-bar unit (measures 83–84), two one-bar units (measures 85–86), and finally into half-bar units, the octave A’s in measures 87–88. The content of these codettas is entirely appropriate for their function in that both their harmonic and melodic profiles center upon the tonic. The underlying tonic prolongation has already been discussed; the melodic motion consists of a rise from  to  and back again to .

[23] Admittedly, it is hard to imagine a “first-time hearing” of a cadence at measure 75; the lack of true bass at that moment largely hinders that perception. And it is reasonable to assume, following Schmalfeldt, that many listeners will want to hear an evaded cadence there, with additional evasions following. But a highly skilled listener will eventually discern that the expected authentic cadence never materializes and will understand—very much in retrospect—that measure 75 remains the only viable location for cadential closure of the ongoing subordinate theme. In other words, we again confront a situation of retrospective reinterpretation along the lines that Dahlhaus and Schmalfeldt develop throughout their analyses of the “Tempest.” Interestingly, Schmalfeldt does not identify the cadential situation now under discussion as participating in a “process of becoming,” yet the idea of “evaded cadences become codettas” is a highly attractive option for the complexities identified here.

[24] Indeed, it is striking that Schmalfeldt and I consistently disagree on the various places within this exposition where a processual interpretation should apply. To conclude this paper, let me summarize these differences. In the course of her analysis, Schmalfeldt identifies three moments of retrospective reinterpretation: (1) an opening introduction becomes the main theme (measures 1–21); (2) a main theme becomes the transition (measures 21–41); and (3) codettas following the first subordinate theme become a presentation for the second subordinate theme (measures 63–68). As discussed already, I take issue with each of these three readings. The idea of a slow introduction, though perhaps suggested for a bar or two, largely fails to materialize sufficiently to warrant genuine formal reinterpretation. More likely is the notion that the opening two bars are a thematic introduction to the main theme proper. I further cast doubt on our hearing a main theme at measure 21, suggesting instead that the structure and rhetoric of transition are entirely evident from this bar forward. And, finally, I hear the melodic profile of measures 63–68 as significantly opening up registral space in a way that is typical of a formal initiation, not of codettas.

[25] Yet, while disputing Schmalfeldt’s readings in these cases, I am motivated to follow her lead in proposing two cases of retrospective reinterpretation that she does not identify: a post-cadential standing on the dominant of a transition “becoming” an initiating presentation of a first subordinate theme (measures 42–49), and a series of cadential evasions within a second subordinate theme “becoming” a post-cadential closing section. That our interpretations of these critical formal junctions of the exposition diverge—despite our working from the same basic theoretical premises—bears witness to the endlessly fascinating complexities offered by the Tempest sonata.

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William E. Caplin
Schulich School of Music, McGill University
Department of Music Research
555 Sherbrooke Street West
Montreal, Québec
Canada H3A 1E3
caplin@music.mcgill.ca

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Works Cited

Caplin, William E. 1998. Classical Form: A Theory of Formal Functions for the Instrumental Music of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. New York: Oxford University Press.

Caplin, William E. 1998. Classical Form: A Theory of Formal Functions for the Instrumental Music of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. New York: Oxford University Press.

Caplin, William E. 2009. “Beethoven’s Tempest Exposition: A Springboard for Form-Functional Considerations.” In Beethoven’s Tempest Sonata: Perspectives of Analysis and Performance. Ed. Pieter Bergé, co-eds. William E. Caplin and Jeroen D’hoe, 87–125. Leuven: Peeters.

—————. 2009. “Beethoven’s Tempest Exposition: A Springboard for Form-Functional Considerations.” In Beethoven’s Tempest Sonata: Perspectives of Analysis and Performance. Ed. Pieter Bergé, co-eds. William E. Caplin and Jeroen D’hoe, 87–125. Leuven: Peeters.

Dahlhaus, Carl. 1991. Ludwig van Beethoven: Approaches to His Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Dahlhaus, Carl. 1991. Ludwig van Beethoven: Approaches to His Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Hepokoski, James. 2009. “Approaching the First Movement of Beethoven’s Tempest Sonata through Sonata Theory.” In Beethoven’s Tempest Sonata: Perspectives of Analysis and Performance. Ed. Pieter Bergé, co-eds. William E. Caplin and Jeroen D’hoe, 181–212. Leuven: Peeters.

Hepokoski, James. 2009. “Approaching the First Movement of Beethoven’s Tempest Sonata through Sonata Theory.” In Beethoven’s Tempest Sonata: Perspectives of Analysis and Performance. Ed. Pieter Bergé, co-eds. William E. Caplin and Jeroen D’hoe, 181–212. Leuven: Peeters.

Krebs, Harald. 1999. Fantasy Pieces: Metrical Dissonance in the Music of Robert Schumann. New York: Oxford University Press.

Krebs, Harald. 1999. Fantasy Pieces: Metrical Dissonance in the Music of Robert Schumann. New York: Oxford University Press.

Misch, Ludwig. 1953. “The ‘Problem’ of the D Minor Sonata.” In Beethoven Studies. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Misch, Ludwig. 1953. “The ‘Problem’ of the D Minor Sonata.” In Beethoven Studies. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Schmalfeldt, Janet. 1992. “Cadential Processes: The Evaded Cadence and the ‘One More Time’ Technique.” Journal of Musicological Research 12: 1–51.

Schmalfeldt, Janet. 1992. “Cadential Processes: The Evaded Cadence and the ‘One More Time’ Technique.” Journal of Musicological Research 12: 1–51.

Schmalfeldt, Janet. 1995. “Form as the Process of Becoming: The Beethoven-Hegelian Tradition and the Tempest Sonata.” Beethoven Forum 4: 37–71.

—————. 1995. “Form as the Process of Becoming: The Beethoven-Hegelian Tradition and the Tempest Sonata.” Beethoven Forum 4: 37–71.

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Footnotes

1. This paper is excerpted from Caplin 2009; readers interested in a fuller form-functional analysis of the Tempest exposition are encouraged to consult that work, which also includes a discussion of performance issues related to my analysis. I thank Peeters for giving permission to publish this excerpt here. Research for this paper was supported by funding provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
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2. Schmalfeldt’s form-functional terminology and annotation practice largely derives from a theoretical and analytical methodology later codified in Caplin 1998. The preface to this study acknowledges the richly collaborative working relationship that I have had the privilege of enjoying with Schmalfeldt throughout my entire academic career. This essay must be read in counterpoint to her brilliant and highly influential article.
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3. The notion that the movement begins with an introduction, or the semblance of one, has a long analytical history. Misch 1953 provides a useful summary of views concerning the status of the opening bars.
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4. I have not, however, encountered other cases in the classical repertory in which the second phrase of a theme is preceded by a thematic introduction.
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5.Caplin 2009 discusses, for example, op. 10, no. 1, measures 1–37.
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6. The absence of a medial caesura prompts James Hepokoski (2009) to deny the presence of a subordinate theme, seeing instead a “continuous” exposition for this movement. It is especially interesting to compare his reconstruction of a more normative medial caesura option (see Hepokoski 2009, ex. 7.2) with the one offered in my analysis (see Example 5).
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7. Example 7 corrects an obvious misprint in the original, whereby the annotation “codettas ⇒ pres.,” which appears at measure 65, is moved back to measure 63, as described in Schmalfeldt’s text (1995).
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8. Most unusual for an interpretation of evaded cadence here, however, would be the presumed “backing up” to a cadential six-four following the evasion. Such a situation is quite rare: evaded cadences normally bring a return to an initial tonic or, less often, a pre-dominant.
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This paper is excerpted from Caplin 2009; readers interested in a fuller form-functional analysis of the Tempest exposition are encouraged to consult that work, which also includes a discussion of performance issues related to my analysis. I thank Peeters for giving permission to publish this excerpt here. Research for this paper was supported by funding provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Schmalfeldt’s form-functional terminology and annotation practice largely derives from a theoretical and analytical methodology later codified in Caplin 1998. The preface to this study acknowledges the richly collaborative working relationship that I have had the privilege of enjoying with Schmalfeldt throughout my entire academic career. This essay must be read in counterpoint to her brilliant and highly influential article.

The notion that the movement begins with an introduction, or the semblance of one, has a long analytical history. Misch 1953 provides a useful summary of views concerning the status of the opening bars.

I have not, however, encountered other cases in the classical repertory in which the second phrase of a theme is preceded by a thematic introduction.

Caplin 2009 discusses, for example, op. 10, no. 1, measures 1–37.

The absence of a medial caesura prompts James Hepokoski (2009) to deny the presence of a subordinate theme, seeing instead a “continuous” exposition for this movement. It is especially interesting to compare his reconstruction of a more normative medial caesura option (see Hepokoski 2009, ex. 7.2) with the one offered in my analysis (see Example 5).

Example 7 corrects an obvious misprint in the original, whereby the annotation “codettas ⇒ pres.,” which appears at measure 65, is moved back to measure 63, as described in Schmalfeldt’s text (1995).

Most unusual for an interpretation of evaded cadence here, however, would be the presumed “backing up” to a cadential six-four following the evasion. Such a situation is quite rare: evaded cadences normally bring a return to an initial tonic or, less often, a pre-dominant.

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Prepared by Sean Atkinson, Editorial Assistant



Sophia Gorlin

Beethoven's "The Tempest" Sonata

by Sophia Gorlin

It is widely recognizable that “Beethoven is the towering figure in the history of the sonata” (Miles Hoffman), and, in my opinion, his piano sonata No. 17 in D minor, op. 31, No. 2 (hereinafter defined as the Tempest Sonata), composed in 1802, can be considered the “towering” work in the history of the sonata form.  This unique and ingenious creation also indicates the beginning of the so called “middle period” of Beethoven’s life, which lasted until about 1813.  During this period, “Beethoven… attained the highest order of productivity and creativity” (Solomon).  This period is usually called a “heroic” decade, since the creation of the most significant works in this period was influenced by the Napoleonic wars and reflected the composer’s state of mind which was affected by an invasion of some European countries including Austria (Vienna was invaded in 1809) by the French army.  Such magnificent works as the “Eroica” Symphony (No. 3), the Fifth Symphony, the opera “Fidelio”, the Third and Fifth piano concertos, the Music to Goethe’s “Egmont”, the piano sonatas “Waldstein” (No. 21) and “Appassionata” (No. 23), the “Kreutzer” sonata for violin No. 9, and many others were composed during this period.  Most of Beethoven’s innovations in various forms and genres (and especially in the sonata form) also took place during this period.

Some principles and techniques of the innovative motivic development first used in the Tempest Sonata were later applied to the other works of this period.  (For example, it would be quite interesting to compare two sonata forms—the first movement of the Tempest Sonata and the first movement of the “Appassionata” written two years later, in 1804.)

The appellation “Tempest” comes from a report by Beethoven’s secretary Anton Schindler, who, having asked Beethoven for the “key” to both the “Tempest” and the “Appassionata”, received the reply, “Read Shakespeare’s “Tempest”.

The major innovations in the first movement of the Tempest Sonata can be presented as follows:

  1. Employing a “peculiar type of motivic development (Timothy Jones).  Please note that the term “motivic development” itself shows a major distinction from previous works in sonata form (composed in the high-Classic era by Haydn, Mozart and early Beethoven), which were based on thematic development.  Motivic development is the most peculiar characteristic of the new Beethoven's style, and the analyzed work is a perfect example of that characteristic.

    The principal theme of the first movement consists of three contrasting motives, which are deployed one after another in the first six measures of the movement.  The first motive (Largo) is formed by an arpeggiated dominant six chord (D6) (hereinafter defined as the arpeggio).  The second motive (Allegro) is formed through a sequence of four suspensions (hereinafter defined as the lamentation).  The third motive (Adagio) is a melismatic phrase (hereinafter defined as the turn) which forms an authentic half cadence (A Major triad) with an anticipation of A (dominant). “The summation of these three motives forms the thematic pattern of the whole sonata” (Rudolph Reti).  See Example 1.

  2. Deploying the “unstoppable transformation process (Timothy Jones) based on three major motives. For instance, the arpeggio, first exposed as a slow and soft broken chord, is later transformed to take on the aggressive belligerence of a battle in the transition section (hereinafter defined as the battle episode).  The second and the third motives (the lamentation and the turn) are significantly transformed as well.  It is important to note that the transformation process reveals the similarity between the lamentation and the turn (which both create a major contrast to the arpeggio). Both motives are based on a stepwise motion.  Both, being “weak” and “pathetic” at the beginning, gradually become more and more active and passionate. The turn is transformed into the spinning “storming” motion in the secondary theme and becomes a melodic implementation of a Neapolitan chord consisting of all chromatic half tones (first closing theme).  See Examples 3 and 4.

  3. Beethoven revolutionarily modifies the sonata form, transforming itinto a multi-stage drama through the innovative motivic development indicated above and, as a result, through ambiguity of formal functions of almost all the sections of the sonata form.  “The sonata cycles of Mozart and Haydn were musical analogues of the comedy of manners. Beethoven was the first who fully merged the tempestuous, conflict-ridden heroic style with the sonata principles.” (Salomon)

Example 1. Three basic motives of the exposition.

ArpeggioLamentationTurn

As was mentioned before, the major contrast (conflict) in this movement is between the first and second motives.  As can be seen in Example 1, the first and second motives areseparated by a long fermata (measure 2, between “Largo” and “Allegro”); the second and third motives are actually combined together in one four-measure phrase (“Allegro” and “Adagio”).  Thus, a “question-answer” structure is created (the arpeggio is a question, the lamentation and the turn are the answer).  The second phrase of the principal theme restates the conflict between the arpeggio and the lamentation (the turn is not restated though!)  But it is not just a restatement - lamentation immediately turns into an “aggressive” ascending development involving large leaps supported by the dissonant harmonic functions (diatonic and chromatic diminished seventh chords), climaxing in measure 13 (cadential six-four chord) and then falling down from F6 to A3 within the next four measures and whirling around the dominant pedal point.  This ultimately means that the conflict first exposed in the opening phrase is turning now into a battle. Thus, the principal theme of the exposition is not just the exposition of three basic motives (as would be expected in standard classical sonata form), but the exposition of the first stage of a drama, which will be continued in the following sections of the exposition.  In terms of structure, the principal theme also breaks all the “classical” laws.  For instance, the first complete cadence comes in measure 21, andthis is the first appearance of a stable tonic function in this movement.

By employing the “off-tonic” and “off-cadence” tendencies, Beethoven avoids any tonal, structural, and cadential standards and regularities in this sonata – this creates not only the sense of an “unstoppable transformation process,” but also the sense of ambiguity of formal functions in almost every section of this sonata form.

For instance, music critics still debate whether the beginning thematic material in this movement is introductory or the principal theme.  Some of the critics suggested that the opening section bear the character of an improvisational introduction. As was shown above, the first 20 measures do comprise the principal theme of the exposition (since this is the only section that does expose the three basic motives of this sonata).  It is not surprising, however, that the following section (transition, measure 21) rouses numerous debates – with the exception of the modulation process, it shows no sign of being a transition.  It appears to be more stable than the previous section (starting with the long-awaited tonic). Indeed, this section actually presents two basic motives (the arpeggio and  the turn) in a face-to-face conflict for the first time – the typical characteristic of a development section in sonata form. See Example 2.  Thus, the transition is actually the next stage of the drama.

Example 2. Elements of the “transition” – “development”.

TurnArpeggio

The developing function of this section can be demonstrated by repeating it again in the actual development (the only difference between the two episodes is their key). The dualistic nature of the formal function in this section (“transition” – “development”) follows a pattern, which was first employed in the opening section (“introduction” – “principal theme”) and, as will be further shown, can be identified in almost all the following sections of this sonata form.

The secondary theme comes in measure 41.  But, unlike the “classic” secondary themes, it does not bring any rest and does not contrast with the first theme (there is no need for the contrasting theme here, since the major contrast (and conflict) in this sonata form is between the arpeggio and the lamentation, on one side, and the arpeggio and the turn, on the other side.)  Thus, the secondary theme is just a new stage of the ongoing drama. There is no cadential closure or any other kind of a rhythmic or melodic indication of the break between the previous and the new section of this form-as-process (Carl Dahlhaus).  The secondary theme is made up of the combination of transformed basic elements (all three of them, but with a prevalence of the turn in bass and the lamentation in soprano).  See Example 3.  This theme of the exposition is the least contrasting (since the turn and the lamentation do not really contrast with each other).  Similar to previous sections, this theme has its own “local” climactic area in measures 50 – 52 (reaches the same F6 note as in the first section).  Again, this section is functionally dualistic, being based on a dominant pedal point (e in the bass – V/V), thus carrying some features of a closing theme (“secondary” – “closing”).

Example 3. Elements of the secondary theme.

Lamentation

The actual closing section starts in measure 55 and introduces some contrasting elements.  First, the rhythmic changes take place (from an unstoppable movement of eighths to quarter notes), creating a slight slowing-down effect. However, the sense of relaxation is immediately overpowered by harmonic tension (Neapolitan chord) and syncopation (created by an accented and prolonged Neapolitan chord).  In the first closing theme, we can clearly identify the turn (doubled in soprano and tenor), and in measure 59, it turns into an inverted (rising) the lamentation.  See Example 4.

Example 4. The first theme of the closing section.

Lamentation (inverted)

Then the turn appears in bass and, after being repeated three times (six measures), is followed by a 6-measure bridge (with an easily identified lamentation in the upper voices), which in measure 75 turns into the second closing theme with a dominant pedal point in bass, the lamentation of thirds in tenor, and the arpeggio in soprano.  As can be seen from Example 5, the contrapuntal imitation is masterfully employed here in the two-layer texture: soprano and bass (based on the transformed arpeggio and lamentation, accordingly) exchange their roles.

Example 5. The second theme of the closing section.

ArpeggioLamentationArpeggioLamentation

Based on this analysis, one can conclude that the closing section evidently holds some “development” functions as wellit is a very important stage of the drama exposed in this movement.

The exposition (the largest part of the form) ends with the two breve notes (a and g), and smoothly (again, without stopping) flows into the actual development section of this sonata form (measure 93).

The actual development is mostly restating the major stages of the drama shown in the exposition (which is unique for sonata-allegro forms).  It is unusually short, consisting of the three small sections.  The first section carries some “transition” functions (a modulating bridge that clearly restates the arpeggio from the opening section of the movement).  There are three arpeggiated chords – the D Majorsix chord, the diminished seventh chord and the F# Majorsix-four chord.  The modulation into a distant key is accomplished through the secondary diminished seventh chord (VII7/V) being resolved into F#I64.   The second section (measure 99) is a restatement of the “battleepisode” (“transition”) of the exposition, but now is in the key of F# minor (mediant chromatic relationship to the home key). This highly conflicting and dramatic episode now modulates back into the home key (retransition).  The following short section is based on the turn with syncopation created by the sforzando.  It obviously belongs to the group of themes in this movement, which can be identified as a “storming group” and can be easily recognized by the employment of a dominant pedal point and the relentless whirling motion around this pedal point. (Because of this unique usage of a pedal point, all themes of the “storming group” carry some closing formal function - in this case, it is the closing of a development section). This section stops in measure 133 on the dominant (not on the tonic again!). The actual pedal point and a stepwise melody in octaves gradually lead to the recapitulation section (Largo, measure 143) – the last stage of the ongoing drama.

Therecapitulation in this movement most poignantly demonstrates the uniqueness of this modified sonata form.  This section, again, follows a pattern of dualistic formal functions (a combination of “development” and “recapitulation”).  The first theme of the recapitulation is another example of the improvisational nature of many episodes in this sonata form. Beethoven inserts here two highly expressive recitatives, which transform and replace the lamentation as it was shown in the primary theme of the exposition. The second recitative serves as a tonal and melodic transition to the new episode in measure 159, which serves, in turn, as a transitionto the secondary theme (defined here as the transition episode). The transition episode is fully based on the arpeggio and rhythmically (in its usage of different rhythmic groups) is of improvisational nature as well.  This episode also features the key of F# minor for the second time in this movement (the first time it was used in the development section in the “battle episode”) and clearly shows the connection between the two episodes (the arpeggio is a leading component in both).  The transition episode is comprised of three 4-measure phrases (12-measure structure!) – the second phrase is in the key of G minor (sequential modulation) and the third phrase is a modulating bridge (again through the diminished seventh chord) to the secondary theme. The transitionepisode replaces here the transition section (the battle episode) from the exposition.  (Absence of the battleepisode in the recapitulation is quite self-explanatory, since it has been already exposed twice in the previous sections).  Thus, the formal functions of primary theme and transition are not really recapitulated, but are replaced with new inserts (recitatives and the transition episode).  In my interpretation, the recapitulation in measure 143 can be considered a “false” recapitulation.  Thus, the actual recapitulation of this movement starts in measure 171 with the restatement of the secondary and closing themes in the home key.

There is a short coda (measure 217), the role of which is a prolongation of the tonic function (as a compensation for the off-tonic development of the entire form), and a temporary relaxation before the coming stages of the ongoing drama (in Movements 2 and 3).  It is fully based on the transformed arpeggio and gradually “fades away.”

As a summary, the ambiguity of formal functions in this movement can be presented as follows:

  1. first section of the exposition (measures 1–20) - “introductory”, “primary theme” and “developing” (transforming “lamentation” element in the second phrase) functions.

  2. second section of the exposition (measures 21-40) - “transitional” (modulating) and “developing” (transforming major elements – “arpeggio” and “turn”) functions.

  3. third section of the exposition (measures 41-54) - “secondary theme”, “developing” (transforming major elements – mostly “lamentation” and “turn”) and “closing” (dominant pedal point) functions.

  4. fourth section of the exposition (measures 55-92) - “closing” (dominant pedal point) and “developing” (transforming major elements) functions.

  5. first section of the development (measures 93-98) – “transitional” (modulating from D Major to F# Major) and “introductory” (similar to the opening section) functions.

  6. second section of the development (measures 99-120) - “restating” (restates the “battle” episode from the exposition in another key), “transitional” (modulating back to home key) and “developing” functions (see No. 2 above).

  7. third section of the development (measures 121-142) – “developing” (transforming major elements – mostly “turn”) and “closing” (dominant pedal point) functions.

  8. First section of the recapitulation (measures 143-158) – “restating” (major elements), “exposing” (inserting new episodes), “transitional” (modulating to F sharp minor) and “developing” (transforming major elements) functions.

  9. Second section of the recapitulation (measures 159-170) – “developing” (transforming “arpeggio” into a new episode in F# minor) and “transitional” (modulating) functions.

  10. Third section of the recapitulation (measures 171-184) – “secondary theme” and “developing” functions (see No. 3 above).

  11. fourth section of the recapitulation (measures 185-217) – “closing” and “developing” functions (see No. 4 above).

Thus, the intensive transformation process makes the development a transcendental formal function in this movement, transforming it into a multi-stage drama (which eventually will be continued in the finale of this sonata).  The first movement of the Tempest Sonata is a perfect example of “form-as-process” (Janet Schmalfeldt) (widely presented in many other of Beethoven’s instrumental and symphonic works of the “middle period”), in which all sections are deployed as stages of dramatic development.

A synopsis of the most important style components (harmony, rhythm, structure, texture, dynamics) which together contribute to the uniqueness of this sonata form can be presented as follows:

  1. The dominant function eventually takes precedence over the tonic function (thus creating the dualism of the major harmonic functions as well).  This can explain the usage (in two very important episodes) of the key of F-sharp Minor, which is distant from the home key of D minor (mediant chromatic relationship), but is a relative key to A Major (harmonic dominant).

  2. The dominant pedal point (mostly based on the transformed “turn”), normally used in the closing sections (codas) for the prolongation of the dominant function, is uniquely used for creating the spinning, “tempestuous” effect in all the “storming group themes” (the secondary theme and first closing theme of the exposition and recapitulation, the “closing” section of the development).

  3. The Neapolitan chord (Beethoven’s favorite in minor keys) in the first closing theme is masterfully used as the “stopping” factor (enhanced by syncopation and the transformed “turn” element) – the obstacle on the path of the “unstoppable” development process.

  4. The diminished seventh chord and its inversions are frequently used as a bridge in the modulation process (for instance, the first section of the development).

  5. Non-harmonic tones are effectively used to enhance motivic expressiveness (suspensions in “lamentation”, anticipation of A in the first exposure of the “turn”, neighboring tones in the transformed “turn”, etc.)

  6. Usage of different rhythmic groups for creating the “storming” effect: triplets in the “battle” episodes (in exposition and development), triplets and sixtuples in the “transitional” F# minor episode in the recapitulation, etc.

  7. Syncopation is widely used to intensify the tension of the dramatic development (especially in the “closing” sections, thus enhancing their “developing” functions – a very unique characteristic of these sections compared to “classical” sonata forms.)

  8. Usage of 6-12 measure structures instead of the typical “classic” “question-answer” 4-8-measure periods (in most cases, a 4-measure phrase is repeated 3 times instead of the standard 2, creating 12-measure periods).

  9. Contrapuntal technique is masterfully used for extending the texture density and ranges, as well as intensifying the dynamics and motivic development (the “battle” episode, the second “closing” theme). Also, phrase reduction is used to create a “stretto” effect (analogous to the polyphonic “stretto”).  See the “battle” episode (4-measure phrases are gradually reduced to 2-measure phrases, creating a sense of acceleration).

  10. Dynamics are a very important “dramatic” component in this work.  Beethoven uses both “classical” contrasting, “subito-like” dynamics for creating a deeper contrast between the major contradicting motives, and “building-up” dynamics for climactic areas which are strong but short (there are several “local” climactic areas in this movement, rather than one major climax). The short coda is a soft” climax in this piece, presenting a long-awaited tonic function which gradually “fades away.”

The resulting summary of the most unique characteristics of the first movement of the Beethoven’s “Tempest” sonata can be presented as follows:

  1. Peculiar type of motivic development – three major motives govern the entire form

  2. Unstoppable transformation process based on three major motives (form-as-process)

  3. Transformation of the sonata form into a multi-stage drama due to the unstoppable transformation process, which makes development a transcendental formal function, thus creating an ambiguity of formal functions in almost all the sections of the sonata form.

  4. Improvisational nature of many sections of the sonata form, which is obviously derived from the existing genre of fantasia (sonatas of C.P.E. Bach, fantasias and sonatas-fantasias of Mozart, etc.).  Improvisational opening of each of the main sections of this sonata form clearly foreshadows the upcoming “romantic” genre of ballade (later developed and widely employed by Chopin, Grieg, Brahms, etc.). 

  5. Modification of the main sections of the sonata form is due to:

    1. unstoppable dramatic development: “false” development in the “transition” section of the exposition (first “battle episode”); the “actual” development is mostly just restating the exposition (the second “battle episode”).

    2. intensive use of improvisational episodes (“false” introduction and “false” recapitulation).

  6. The most uniquely used style components are:

    1. dominant harmonic function - eventually takes precedence over tonic function (dualism of harmonic functions); “off-tonic” tendency;

    2. dominant pedal point (normally used for a prolongation of the dominant function) - based on the transformed melismatic “turn” motive, is used for creating “tempestuous,” “storming” effect;

    3. 6 - 12 measure structures (12-measure periods) instead of a “classic” 4 - 8 measure structure; “off-cadence” tendency;

    4. “local” and short climactic areas rather than “general” and long, which is very unique for Beethoven’s sonata allegro forms (the obvious result of  modification of formal functions – the development, the standard place for a major climax in Beethoven’s sonata forms, is being distributed equally between all sections).

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