Haydn, Mozart, & Beethoven: Studies in the Music of the Classical Period

By Sieghard Brandenburg | Go to book overview

12
Beethoven's Minority

JOSEPH KERMAN

This is not a biographical essay on Beethoven's early years in Bonn, the years before he had to take charge of his family as a result of his father's incapacity. It is, rather, a somewhat speculative investigation into his use of the minor mode. Beethoven's usages in this area are more distinctive, I venture to say, than is generally recognized. To be sure, his proclivity for one particular minor key, C minor, is often remarked upon, and has been discussed by Alan Tyson in one of his most dazzling essays, 'The Problem of Beethoven's "First" Leonore Overture.'1 Tyson arrived at this question by way of a rich nexus of sketches, brought together and analysed with his usual virtuosity --sketches from the years 1806 and 1807, the period when the C minor syndrome becomes, in Tyson's words, 'something of an obsession'.

There may be something more to find out by looking at the question from a more comprehensive standpoint. The point of departure for the present essay is an analysis of the key relations that Beethoven chose for all of his minor-mode sonatas, orchestral works, and chamber music. Later, I make a number of moves that broaden the inquiry and, I hope, thicken the explanatory context for Beethoven's idiosyncratic minority.


2

Let us take the plunge and start with a compendium of Beethoven's compositions in the minor mode, showing their primary key relations in a diagrammatic form. Table 12.1 consists of two chronological lists, the first for C minor works and the second for works in other minor keys. At issue are

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1
Journal of the American Musicological Society, 28 ( 1975), 292-334, esp. sections VII-IX.

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