Beethoven’s Eroica Sketches: A Form-Functional Perspective (SMT 2020)

I made this video for presentation at the 2020 Joint Society of Music Theory and American Musicological Society Conference (view the conference program here), which was held online due to the coronavirus pandemic. You can read more about this project in my dissertation prospectus.

Conference Abstract

In this paper, I reconstruct the first three single-line, continuity sketches of Beethoven’s Eroica exposition (Lockwood and Gosman 2013) into “proto-pieces” by realizing the harmonies and textures that the single-voice sketches imply. Using Caplin’s theory of formal functions (1998, 2013), I analyze these proto-pieces to elucidate and compare Beethoven’s formal and phrase-structural strategies. I argue that the sketches show Beethoven’s multiple innovative approaches for problematizing a lyrical subordinate theme in order to elevate rhetorically the arrival of a new lyrical theme in the development, which parallels Adorno’s analysis of the final published piece (Vande Moortele 2015).

For example, in the first exposition sketch, Beethoven writes a modulating transition that moves chromatically through three distant tonal areas. Thereupon he builds an energetic subordinate theme, part 1 (ST1), while avoiding a lyrical ST2 by bringing back main-theme material in the same keys that were foreshadowed earlier. In the second sketch, Beethoven omits the tonally innovative ST2 from the first sketch and instead writes a fake exposition repeat—a remarkable rhetorical ploy whereby the new ST2 material sounds like a codetta, a re-transition, and a seeming restart of the exposition.

In reconstructing and analyzing the sketches with form-functional theory, I seek a new approach for understanding the Eroica sketches. Instead of characterizing passages in the sketches that differ from the published version as problems that Beethoven revised or purged to create an artistic piece, I valorize them to form a more complete “biography” of the work through its fascinating compositional genesis.

Reconstruction, Analysis, and Performance of Individual Sketches

First Sketch

Continuity Sketch 1.1 page 11 of Landsberg 6

First Sketch (Alternate Viable Analysis)

Continuity Sketch 1.1 (page 11 of Landsberg 6) Alternate Analysis

Revision of First Sketch

Continuity Sketch 1.2 (page 11 of Landsberg 6)

Third Sketch

Continuity Sketch CS 1.3 (page 10 & 11 of Landsberg 6)

Conference Presentation(s)

Suggested Citation (Chicago 17th ed.)

Posen, Thomas W. 2020. “Beethoven’s Eroica Sketches: A Form-Functional Perspective.” Presented at the Society of Music Theory Conference, Online. November 14, 2020.