From ‘Radical Blunders’ to Compositional Solutions: A Form-Functional Perspective on Beethoven’s Early ‘Eroica’ Continuity Sketches
Beethoven’s sketches to his third symphony, the Eroica, have fascinated scholars since Nottebohm’s pioneering study of the Eroica Sketchbook in the late nineteenth century. More recently, Alan Gosman and Lewis Lockwood finished a complete transcription of the sketchbook, which has led to a resurgent interest in these sketches. In this article, I re-evaluate Beethoven’s approaches to composing the first movement of the Eroica symphony by reappraising two supposed problems with the first two exposition continuity-sketches. Contrary to prior studies, which have interpreted these reputed compositional problems as “failed experiments” or “radical blunders” (Tovey 1941, 80), I interpret them as compositional solutions.
To reappraise Beethoven’s early sketches, I reconstruct his first two exposition continuity-sketches as if they were symphonic piano reductions, analyze their phrase structures, and perform them as if they were viable published pieces. I suggest that the sketches show Beethoven’s multiple innovative approaches for problematizing the normal rhetorical forces of the subordinate theme, which helps to elevate and further motivate the new lyrical theme planned for the development. By validating the first two sketches with the well-defined theory of formal functions (Caplin 1998, 2013), instead of critiquing them with traditional sonata theories, I offer new perspectives into Beethoven’s compositional process to the first movement of the Eroica symphony.