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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Tone wholes and peanut butter

Published in 1799, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in c minor, Op. 13 (Pathétique) is one of Beethoven’s earliest compositions to achieve widespread fame and popularity. Today I’ll analyze Beethoven’s artistry, delving into a snippet of the third movement of the sonata (measures 41-51).

Basic chord analysis:

m.41: V

m.42: I V7

m.43: I

m.44: V4/2

m.45: I6

m.46: IV6 Fr6

m.47: V

m.48: V4/2

m.49: I6

m.50: IV V7

m.51: I

The French augmented 6th chord in measure 46 stands out like a sore thumb, both aurally and analytically. The augmented 6th chord is approached gracefully, using an IV6 to perfectly set up the bass, soprano, and alto for transition. The soprano and bass are chromatically altered to create the raised 4th (fi) and lowered 6th (lé) and create textbook examples of chromatic passing tones between the IV6 and V. Beethoven resolves the French augmented 6th with correct voice-leading; this serves as a strong harmonic push to V in measure 47. Because of the approach and resolution of the aug. 6th chord (not to mention tempo!) the unorthodox feeling that a French 6th usually creates is nearly hidden from the listener. Before one can think, something happened…not really sure what, but it was it was interesting…, the composition has already paced beyond the incident, leaving the listener to catch up. Beethoven continues to do a wonderful job of grabbing the listener, intriguing them, and moving on to the next development. Very suave, Mr. Ludwig…

Next, in measure 49 on beats 3 and 4 a chord comprised of e flat, g, b, and d flat is encountered. After slopping through this book, one might’ve assumed “I’ve found an augmented chord!!” Initially, it looks like that: an E flat augmented chord…with a Db. As interesting as this may be, all accidentals are not created equal – our solution is simple. The d flat on beat three is an appoggiatura and the b natural on beat four is a chromatic passing tone: both non-chord tones lead to their resolution (c) at the downbeat of measure 50. Straightforward and to the point – my cup of tea.

Beethoven now slams away his PAC going into measure 51. Thank the Almighty for IV V7 I.

The King has left the building.

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