Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

The Largo/Allegro from Beethoven's "Tempest" Sonata, Opus 31, No. 2: Affective Tonality as a Key to Meaning

Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

The Largo/Allegro from Beethoven's "Tempest" Sonata, Opus 31, No. 2: Affective Tonality as a Key to Meaning

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

What did Ludwig van Beethoven have to say about key characteristics? ' Sadly, the answer is very little. There are in fact only two direct attributions that can be made to him on this topic: the first a letter to George Thomson where he describes ?-flat Major as "barbaresco" (barbarous) and, by implication, B-flat Major as "amoroso";2 the second a note scribbled on a sketch for his Cello Sonata in D Major, Opus 1 02, no. 2 where he describes ? minor as a "schwarze Tonart" - a black or dark key. However, when the connection between textual meaning and choice of tonality in his vocal music is closely examined, a far richer picture emerges.

This article will present an analysis of the first movement of Beethoven's Sonata in D Minor, Opus 3 1 , no. 2. The semiotics of tonal affect gleaned for the most part from a detailed examination of Beethoven's vocal music will be applied to a work where no text is present. I will present an analysis that attempts to decode a series of psychological or soul states that are invoked in the first movement of this work, using key characteristics as the primary means of achieving this goal.3

II. Beethoven and His Immediate Philosophical Background

Writing in the preface to the first edition of Music andAesthettcs in the Eighteenth and Early-Nineteenth Centuries, Peter le Huray and James Day were unequivocal when they stated, "We find that if there was one point on which every eighteenth-century writer was agreed, it was that music was the art that most immediately appealed to the emotions. Music that railed to engage the emotions [. . .] was of little or no consequence."4 This statement can be supported by the assertions of many contemporary writers, although in the interest of space, just a few examples will suffice. In his Klavierschule of 1789, Daniel Gottlob Turk recommended that "whoever performs a composition so that the affect (character, etc.) [. . .] is most faithfully expressed [. . .] and that the tones become at the same time a language of feelings [. . .] he is a good executant."5 His contemporary Heinrich Christoph Koch, writing in his Musikalisches Lexikon of 1 802, stated that "the principal object of music is to stir the feelings," observing elsewhere that "the expression of the feelings in their diverse modifications is the actual end goal of music, and therefore the first and most important requirement of each piece of music."6 Swiss philosopher, theorist, and composer Jean-Jacques Rousseau noted:

The musician s art is to substitute for the insensate image of the object the movements that the object excites in the heart of the beholder. Not only will the musician stir up the sea, fan the blaze, make rivulets flow, rains fall and torrents rage, but he will paint the horrors of a fearful desert, he will darken the walls of a subterranean prison, calm the tempest, make the air tranquil and serene.7

However, he added the important and crucial caveat that the composer "will not literally imitate things, but he will excite in the soul feelings similar to those that it experiences when it sees them."8

It appears that Beethoven himself concurred with this last statement, as can be seen in his much-quoted subtitle to the Pastoral Symphony, "Mehr Ausdruck der Empfindung als Malerei" ("More an expression of feeling (or sentiment) than tone painting"). One of the most important decisions for a composer in Beethoven's time was, in the words of his friend Friedrich Starke, to make "the correct choice of key - so that it fits the pieces expression."9 The anonymous reviewer of the Pastoral Symphony in 1810 captured this point completely when observing that it was far from being a representation of '^«¿/characteristics of the countryside, but much more a representation of emotions that we experience upon seeing things in the countryside." 10 From the nature of this subtide, it can be assumed that tone painting - Malerei - perse will make infrequent appearances in his works but that the expression oí Empfindung - feeling or emotion - will be their principal raison d'être. …

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