Academic journal article Canadian University Music Review

The First Movement of Beethoven's Opus 109: Compositional Genesis and Structural Dialectic*

Academic journal article Canadian University Music Review

The First Movement of Beethoven's Opus 109: Compositional Genesis and Structural Dialectic*

Article excerpt

Beethoven's Piano Sonata in E Major, Opus 109, has recently received intense scholarly attention, William Meredith and Nicholas Marston, both authors of Ph.D. dissertations on the sources for Opus 109 (Meredith 1985a; Marston 1986a), have published diverging accounts of its elusive genesis (Meredith 1985b; Marston 1986b), and Marston's dissertation is to be published by Oxford University Press. William Kinderman discusses the genesis and structure of the first movement in a recent article (1988),' and has produced, for forthcoming publication by the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn, an edition of the desk sketchbook Artaria 195, which contains important work on the second and third movements. And Marston, in another article (1986c),2 and Kevin Korsyn, in a Ph.D. dissertation on late Beethoven (1983: 31-45, 209-214), analyze at length the Vivace3 sections of the first movement, both developing a structural relationship between the first and third movements, with Marston drawing substantially on Beethoven's surviving sketches.

Less well documented in the critical literature are the two fantastical adagio espressivo passages that are juxtaposed in such striking fashion with the Vivace material in the first movement. These passages brusquely interrupt the smooth texture and diatonic placidity of the opening measures of the exposition and recapitulation, and delay firm cadences (in the dominant and tonic, respectively) through several seemingly improvisatory measures. The adagio sections stand in the place of an expected second subject group, yet do not behave in normal Classical fashion: they take up at least half of the performance time of the movement,4 and in the case of the exposition, the dominant modulation is definitively reached only with the completion of the second group, rather than before it, as in a typical sonata-allegro movement. However unprecedented, these adagio sections do contribute greatly to the expressive power of the movement, which is inconceivable without them. But they resist the kind of systematic analysis that reveals, within the Vivace material, a structure explicitly built on the large-scale projection of a germinal motive. The adagio sections are slipperier, and yield their secrets only to a more flexible analytical methodology.

Sketch studies provide a valuable aid to analysis of much of the first movement, but understanding of the most powerful and climactic passages in both adagios is hampered by holes in the sketch evidence. While early sketches for the adagios survive, no extant sketches document the surprising appearance of D# Major in m. 13, or the climactic shift to C Major in mm. 61-62 - two decisive events in the first movement.5 The final autograph, or Reinschrift,6 for Opus 109 is remarkably clear, for reasons Beethoven himself noted,7 and the two adagios, whose last appearances in the sketches differ in many ways from the final score, are entered with no apparent hesitation or signs of composition. If Beethoven did any substantial late sketching, it was likely contained in a preliminary draft, or Urschrift, of which only a fragment of the third movement survives.8

Whatever mysteries they offer, the holes in the sketch evidence detract in no way from the importance of the two adagio sections. My concern in this study is to incorporate what sketch evidence exists into an analysis that explores the significance of these sections within the first movement of Opus 109, supplementing and amplifying other scholars' analyses of the Vivace sections. This done, a preliminary critical evaluation of the movement - indeed, the whole sonata - as a structural, dramatic, and even philosophical entity, is possible.

It is by now well established that the melodic interval G#-B - first heard, on two rhythmic levels, in the opening anacrusis and first measure (see Example 1) - is of crucial importance to Opus 109. Marston 's is only the most recent exploration of Beethoven's projection of this melodic interval onto the larger structure. …

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