Form Function Theory and Beethoven’s Sketches: A Case Study of the Eroica First Movement Sketches

dominant entry of MT material

Introduction, Methodology, and Scholarly Contributions

Beethoven’s sketches to his Symphony No. 3 in E-flat (“Eroica”), Op. 55, have interested scholars since Nottebohm’s pioneering study of the Eroica Sketchbook in the late nineteenth century.1 According to Lewis Lockwood (1982, 119), “Nottebohm’s transcriptions and commentary . . . opened up a larger body of genetic material for the Eroica than anyone could have anticipated, and laid a basis that has yet to be seriously challenged or drastically modified.” More recently Lewis Lockwood and Alan Gosman published a complete transcription of the sketchbook, which has led to a resurgent interest in these sketches*.*2 Using these transcriptions, my dissertation reconstructs Beethoven’s single-line sketches to the first movement of the *Eroica* as piano reductions, then analyzes and compares the reconstructions using William Caplin’s “theory of formal functions” (Caplin 1998; 2013). What results is a new interpretation of the sketches and a fresh perspective into Beethoven’s compositional process.

The theory of formal functions has proven to be a powerful tool for analyzing Beethoven’s published works. Until now, however, it has not been applied to the study of his sketches. This dissertation adopts this theory for three primary reasons.3 First, it prioritizes the role of local harmonic progressions as a determinant of form. We can realize the harmonies that Beethoven implies with his single staff sketches with a high degree of accuracy. By contrast, other musical parameters such as texture, dynamics, or instrumentation, which are vital criteria for other recent theories of form (e.g., Hepokoski and Darcy 2011), are very sparse in the Eroica sketches and therefore difficult to reconstruct without substantial subjective interpretations.

Second, form-functional theory minimizes motivic content as the basis of formal function. This aspect is useful for describing how Beethoven employs the same musical material for different formal functions in successive drafts, and conversely, how he preserves functions while changing the musical content that generates them. Third, the theory establishes well-defined formal categories that can be applied flexibly at all levels of analysis, including complete continuity sketches and fragments of various lengths. These strictly defined categories enable an analyst to elucidate Beethoven’s formal and phrase-structural strategies in individual sketches and compare them across drafts with firm theoretical foundations in an aesthetically neutral environment.

Context and Scholarly Position

Gustav Nottebohm was the first to transcribe and study Beethoven’s sketches to the Eroica and his widely respected monograph (1880) greatly influenced modern perspectives on Beethoven’s compositional process. These perspectives have significantly shaped our perception of Beethoven’s so-called “heroic” period*.*4 In summarizing his analysis of the *Eroica* sketches found in the *Eroica* Sketchbook (one of Beethoven’s largest and most famous of his extant desk-sketchbooks), Nottebohm characterized Beethoven’s first sketches to the symphony as “very ordinary and conventional,” noting that they “have in themselves little or even nothing at all of Beethoven’s peculiar style and individuality” (Nottebohm 1979, 97). Study of the sketches proved, he claimed, Beethoven’s labored compositional process: “All those passages in the score which bear the stamp of Beethoven’s own individual style. . . which, . . . inspire us, shatter us, move us to tears—all of them were far from the creation of a moment.” Beethoven was only able to bring forth his style “after many repeated attempts and, for the most part, at the expense of considerable effort” (Nottebohm 1979, 96). In brief, Nottebohm argued that the *Eroica* did not emerge smoothly—Beethoven’s compositional labor was as heroic as the symphony itself.5

Following in Nottebohm’s wake, scholars have tended to view the Eroica sketches through a heroic, evolutionary narrative. In this account, the earlier sketches are laden with compositional problems, which Beethoven revised or excised in successive drafts to transcend the failings of his earlier musical experiments. This characterization initially appears logical: it would make sense, that, if the composer altered or removed a passage, he must have found it problematic in some way. But while this reasoning appears sound, it can inadvertently confuse our understanding of his compositional process, or worse, mischaracterize it. To understand the problems that result from analyzing the sketches through Nottebohm’s heroic narrative and to see the benefits of adopting a more neutral, form-functional approach, consider the following extended example.

In the analytical commentary to their transcription of the Eroica sketchbook, Lockwood and Gosman explain that in the first continuity sketch of the exposition to the first movement, Beethoven “seriously disrupts” sonata conventions by introducing the opening theme six times, which frequently suggest “keys that are out of place” (Beethoven, Lockwood, and Gosman 2013a, 33) (Example 3). The most problematic re-entry of the main theme material, one that Nottebohm (1880) first identified, was the third entry, because it introduced the subordinate key of B-flat major (Example 2) before the new subordinate theme material (). According to Nottebohm, which scholars including Gosman and Lockwood have recapitulated, Beethoven revised this passage because it “would simply have weakened the ensuing entry of the second group melody in the same key” (Nottebohm 1979, 54).6 In other words, they hypothesize that Beethoven removed the dominant entry of main theme material (Example 2) because he eventually recognized that it was incompatible with the sonata form he worked to construct.

Example 1: Six entrances of the opening theme in the first sketch

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Example 2: Dominant entry of main theme material

dominant entry of MT material

Example 3: Subordinate theme (first sketch, pg. 11, st. 4–5)

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At first, Nottebohm’s explanation for Beethoven’s revision of this supposed problematic entry of the main theme material seems cogent. But further inquiry into subsequent sketches reveals that this explanation twists Beethoven’s compositional process into something more puzzling and mysterious. As Donald Francis Tovey observed, “Beethoven wrote several sketches of this opening before he could get rid of a tiresome tendency of the main theme to appear on the dominant before its proper third statement” (Tovey 1941, 82). Similarly, Lockwood and Gosman noticed that the “errant” entries of the main theme were “not simply deleted from later drafts of the final version” (Beethoven, Lockwood, and Gosman 2013a, 33), but rather, “A surprising number of future drafts stubbornly maintain[ed] the opening theme’s intrusion into domains typically reserved for other themes and other keys” (Beethoven, Lockwood, and Gosman 2013a, 54). If Beethoven removed the dominant entry of the main theme material and the other “errant” entries because they violated sonata conventions, why was he so adamant about preserving these supposedly problematic designs in so many subsequent sketches? This perspective creates a serious quandary: the explanation for why he revised the passage might make sense locally, but then his larger compositional process becomes inexplicable.

The insights we gain from studying Beethoven’s sketches are limited fundamentally by the perspectives that inform our inquiries and the types of questions we ask of them. To address the dilemma posed by the example discussed above and many others like it, I reframe the analytical focus from one that uses ill-defined sonata theories as a type of procrustean bed to find the weaknesses in the sketches, to one that uses the well-formed and aesthetically neutral categories of form-functional theory to search for and explain the strengths. I suggest, for example, that the dominant entry of the main theme material (i.e., Example 2) was not a sonata problem but rather a deliberate and remarkable solution to a larger compositional goal.

Example 4: Tonal Foreshadowing in the first sketch (pg. 11, st. 2–3 and st. 5)

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A closer, form-functional analysis suggests that he deliberately obscured the beginning of the subordinate theme group. He may have done this to motivate the new lyrical theme in E minor that he planned to introduce late in the development, which he conceived earlier in the sketchbook. Moreover, the B-flat major main theme material and the chromatic sequencing that followed anticipates the tonal excursions that occur later in the subordinate theme part 3 (i.e., in B♭ major, D♭ major, and E♭ minor) (Example 4). In other words, the so-called “problematic” dominant entry proves pivotal for unifying and motivating the tonal design of the subordinate theme group. The entry also contributes to to the composer’s larger compositional plans for the complete movement

When we analyze Beethoven’s sketches to the Eroica with the theory of formal functions instead of ill-defined sonata theories, we can begin to understand unusual passages and their large-scale formal implications in more productive ways. This new approach influences profoundly how we understand the compositional genesis of the Eroica and Beethoven’s compositional process more broadly. Nottebohm’s pioneering work set the stage for Beethoven sketch studies, but with new theories and new questions, the time is ripe for a reappraisal of the composer’s compositional process and a renaissance of Beethoven sketch studies.

Structure and Organization

This dissertation is organized into four parts (further split into chapters). In the first part, I describe my theoretical approaches, scope, and aims of the project. I then explore how Beethoven’s single-line continuity sketches relate to what Leopold Mozart referred to as il filo (Gjerdingen 2007, 369–97), what eighteenth-century German theorists like Joseph Klein would have called the Melodie (Bonds 1991, 91–92), what seventeenth and early eighteenth-century Italian composers might have called partimenti (Sanguinetti 2012, 14); and what Lewis Lockwood has termed a “cue staff” (Lockwood 1970, 45). I use this historical framing to investigate how contemporary theories of form—cast in the form of melodic theory, such as Anton Reicha’s Treatise on Melody (1814)—relate to form-functional theory.

In the second part, I develop the rational for using this theory to analyze Beethoven’s sketches. I relate the theory’s distinction between content and function to the division of anatomy and physiology, which has its epistemological origins in Aristotle’s On the Parts of Animals. This analogy places form-functional theory within a long-standing intellectual tradition that recognizes the symbiotic relationship between structures and their functions. I explore how this perspective relates to other modern views on musical form, such as James Hepokoski’s (2010) “dialogical form,” Mark Evan Bonds’s (1991) concept of “conformation versus generation,” James Webster’s “form and Formung” (Caplin, Hepokoski, and Webster 2010, 123–126), and other perspectives.

In part three, I develop an approach for identifying and diagramming the sketches by drawing upon methodologies and systems developed for complex software development.7 I organize Beethoven’s sketches into meaningful “versions” in a hierarchical system that is analogous to a “Semantic Versioning Control” protocol. With this system, I develop an approach for diagramming formal functions and extend these graphs to depict how Beethoven “transfers” functions from one sketch into another. These diagrams, which draw inspiration from “directed acyclic graphs” for depicting the history of revision-controlled software development, allow us to rapidly compare and map Beethoven’s sketches across various levels of the formal hierarchy.

Consider Figure 1. This diagram shows the relationship between the continuity sketch that Beethoven wrote on pages 10 and 11 (continuity sketch 1.2, i.e., “CS 1.2”) with the next continuity sketch that he wrote on the following page 12 (CS 2.0). The schematic reveals that Beethoven retained the main theme and transition from the previous sketch but modified the subordinate theme in various ways. We recognize, for example, that he merged two subordinate theme parts from the earlier sketch to form a single theme in CS 2.0. For another case, see Figure 2. This diagram depicts the evolution of the first subordinate theme in the first five sketches. It is easy to see that some functions are not transferred from one sketch into the next in a straightforward, linear manner. Instead, Beethoven returns to designs that he temporarily moved away from to integrate elements from them in new contexts. With the theory of formal functions, these diagrams offer a powerful way to abstract and visualize Beethoven’s compositional process.

Figure 1: CS 1.2 and 2.0 Form Function Transfer Diagram

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Figure 2: Phrase function transfer diagram of the subordinate theme 1 in successive sketches from CS 1.0 to CS 2.1

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Finally, in the fourth and most substantial part of the dissertation, I reconstruct, analyze, and compare Beethoven’s numerous Eroica exposition sketches using form-functional theory. I highlight how compositional elements from one movement might influence those in another and work to solve or re-contextualize the shortcomings of prior approaches. I provide the complete, reconstructed, and analyzed sketches in a second volume, and embed musical examples in-text to facilitate rapid comparison between sketches. With the diagrams and naming conventions developed in the previous part, this section of the dissertation details Beethoven’s compositional process at multiple levels of hierarchy in an accessible and new way.

Selected Bibliography

Beethoven, Ludwig van, Lewis Lockwood, and Alan Gosman. 2013. Beethoven’s “Eroica” Sketchbook: A Critical Edition (Volume 1). 2 vols. Beethoven Sketchbook Series. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Brandenburg, Sieghard, William Drabkin, and Douglas Johnson. 1979. “On Beethoven Scholars and Beethoven’s Sketches.” 19th-Century Music 2 (3): 270–79.

Buurman, Erica. “Beethoven’s Compositional Approach to Multi-Movement Structures in His Instrumental Works.” Dissertation, University of Manchester, 2013.

Byros, Vasili. 2009. “Foundations of Tonality as Situated Cognition: An Enquiry into the Culture and Cognition of Tonality, with Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony as Case Study.” Dissertation, Yale University.

Caplin, William E. 1991. “Structural Expansion in Beethoven’s Symphonic Forms.” In Beethoven’s Compositional Process, edited by William Kinderman, 27–54. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

———. 1998. Classical Form. New York: Oxford University Press.

———. 2013. Analyzing Classical Form: An Approach for the Classroom. New York: Oxford University Press.

Caplin, William E., James Hepokoski, and James Webster. 2010. Musical Form, Forms & Formenlehre: Three Methodological Reflections. Edited by Pieter Bergé. Leuven University Press.

Caplin, William E., and Nathan John Martin. 2016. “The ‘Continuous Exposition’ and the Concept of Subordinate Theme.” Music Analysis 35 (1): 4–43.

Carr, Bruce. 1977. “Future Directions in Sketch Research.” In Beethoven, Performers, and Critics: The International Beethoven Congress, Detroit, 1977, edited by Robert Winter and Bruce Carr. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

Churgin, Bathia. 1998. “Beethoven and the New Development-Theme in Sonata-Form Movements.” The Journal of Musicology 16 (3): 323–43.

Cooper, Barry. 1990. Beethoven and the Creative Process. Oxford; New York: Clarendon Press; Oxford University Press.

———. 2000. “The Compositional Act: Sketches and Autographs.” In The Cambridge Companion to Beethoven, edited by Glenn Stanley, 32–42. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Drabkin, William. 1978. “Beethoven’s Sketches and the Thematic Process.” Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association 105: 25–36.

———. 1991. “Beethoven’s Understanding of ‘Sonata Form’: The Evidence of the Sketchbooks.” In Beethoven’s Compositional Process, edited by William Kinderman, 14–19. University of Nebraska Press.

Earp, Lawrence. 1993. “Tovey’s ‘Cloud’ in the First Movement of the Eroica: An Analysis Based on Sketches for the Development and Coda.” Beethoven Forum 2: 55–84.

Gosman, Alan. 2016. “Before Its Time: Beethoven’s Experiments with the Dominant Key Early in Sonata-Form Movements.” Conference paper delivered at the New Beethoven Research Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Gossett, Philip. 1974. “Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony: Sketches for the First Movement.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 27 (2): 248–84.

Hepokoski, James A. 2016. “Sonata Theory, Secondary Themes and Continuous Expositions: Dialogues with Form-Functional Theory.” Music Analysis 35 (1): 44–74.

Hepokoski, James A., and Warren Darcy. 2011. Elements of Sonata Theory: Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late-Eighteenth-Century Sonata. Reprint edition. New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press.

Horne, William. 1992. “The Hidden Trellis: Where Does the Second Group Begin in the First Movement of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony?” Beethoven Forum 13 (2): 95–147.

Jackson, Timothy L. 2016. “The First Movements of Anton Eberl’s Symphonies in E-Flat Major and D Minor, and Beethoven’s Eroica: Toward ‘New’ Sonata Forms?” In Explorations in Schenkerian Analysis, edited by David Beach and Su Yin Mak, 1st ed., 61–96. Eastman Studies in Music. Rochester, NY: Boydell & Brewer; University of Rochester Press.

Johnson, Douglas. 1978. “Beethoven Scholars and Beethoven’s Sketches.” 19th-Century Music 2 (1): 3–17.

Kerman, Joseph. 1982. “Sketch Studies.” In Musicology in the 1980s: Methods, Goals, Opportunities, edited by Kern Holoman and Claude V. Palisca. New York: Da Capo Press.

———. 2017. “Tovey’s Beethoven.” In Beethoven, edited by Michael Spitzer, 285–302. Routledge.

Kinderman, William, ed. 1991. Beethoven’s Compositional Process. Vol. 1. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press.

———. 2009. “Beyond the Text: Genetic Criticism and Beethoven’s Creative Process.” Acta Musicologica 81 (1): 99–122.

Korsyn, Kevin. 2016. “At the Margins of Music Theory, History, and Composition: Completing the Unfinished Fugue in <I Die Kunst Der Fuge</I by J. S. Bach.” Music Theory and Analysis 3 (2): 115–44.

Kramer, Richard. 1975. “Notes to Beethoven’s Education.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 28 (1): 72–101.

———. 1991. “The Sketch Itself.” In Beethoven’s Compositional Process, edited by William Kinderman. North American Beethoven Studies 1. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press in association with the American Beethoven Society and the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, San Jose State University.

Lockwood, Lewis. 1970. “On Beethoven’s Sketches and Autographs: Some Problems of Definition and Interpretation.” Acta Musicologica 42 (1/2): 32–47.

———. 1982. “Eroica Perspectives: Strategy and Design in the First Movement.” In Beethoven: Studies in the Creative Process, 3:118–113.

———. 1991. “The Beethoven Sketchbooks and the General State of Sketch Research.” In Beethoven’s Compositional Process, edited by William Kinderman. Vol. 1. University of Nebraska Press.

———. 1992. Beethoven: Studies in the Creative Process. Reprint edition 2014. Berlin, Boston: Harvard University Press.

———. 2009. “From Conceptual Image to Realization: Some Thoughts on Beethoven’s Sketches.” In Beethoven and the Creative Process, edited by William Kinderman and Joseph E. Jones, 108–22. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.

Morgan, Robert. 1993. “Coda as Culmination: The First Movement of the Eroica Symphony.” In Music Theory and the Exploration of the Past, edited by Christopher Hatch and David Bernstein, 357–76. The University of Chicago Press.

Nottebohm, Gustav. 1880. Ein Skizzenbuch von Beethoven aus dem Jahre 1803. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel.

———. 1979. Two Beethoven Sketchbooks: A Description with Musical Extracts. Translated by Jonathan Katz. London: Victor Gollancz.

November, Nancy, ed. 2020. The Cambridge Companion to the Eroica Symphony. Cambridge Companions to Music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Richards, Mark. 2013. “Sonata Form and the Problem of Second-Theme Beginnings.” Music Analysis 32 (1): 3–45.

Sipe, Thomas Owen. 1998. Beethoven: Eroica Symphony. Cambridge University Press.

Stanley, Glenn. 1994. “The ‘Wirklich Gantz Neue Manier’ and the Path to It: Beethoven’s Variations for Piano, 1783-1802.” Beethoven Forum 3 (1): 53–80.

Tovey, Donald Francis. 1941. “The Integrity of Music.” In A Musician Talks. London and New York: Oxford University Press.

Vande Moortele, Steven. 2015. “The Philosopher as Theorist: Adorno’s Materiale Formenlehre.” In Formal Functions in Perspective: Essays on Musical Form from Haydn to Adorno, edited by Steven Vande Moortele, Julie Pedneault-Deslauriers, and Nathan John Martin, 411–33. University of Rochester Press.

Wade, Rachel. 1977. “Beethoven’s Eroica Sketchbook.” Fontes Artis Musicae 24: 254–89.

  1. (Nottebohm 1880; 1979) Nottebohm’s influence is wide-reaching. See, for example, (Tovey 1941; Lockwood 1992; Earp 1993; Beethoven, Lockwood, and Gosman 2013a). The Eroica sketchbook is also known as Landsberg 6. For more information on the history of the sketchbook, see (Beethoven, Lockwood, and Gosman 2013a, 5). ↩︎

  2. The sketchbook has been published in two volumes; the first volume includes commentary and a critical transcription, and the second has a high-resolution facsimile and an index; (Beethoven, Lockwood, and Gosman 2013a; 2013b). ↩︎

  3. These features are strengths of form-function theory more generally; (Caplin 1998, 3–5). ↩︎

  4. My translation; (Nottebohm 1979). Heinrich Schenker, for example, considered Nottebohm’s monograph on Landsberg 6 one of the only pieces of secondary literature on the Eroica worth consulting, (Drabkin 2020, 88). For more on Nottebohm’s profound influence on subsequent Beethoven sketch studies, see Johnson’s comprehensive historical survey on this topic (1978, 4–12). On the relationship of the Eroica to Beethoven’s “heroic period,” Lewis Lockwood summarizes that, “Of all Beethoven’s works, the Third Symphony, by virtue of its final title, its character, and its magnitude, has been the mainspring behind the notion of a “heroic style” and the labeling of the years from 1803 to 1812 as the “heroic period” (Lockwood 2005, 213). For more on these relationships, see (S. G. Burnham 1995; S. Burnham 2020). ↩︎

  5. In a recently published monograph on the Eroica, William Drabkin recapitulated Nottebohm’s conclusions. (Drabkin 2020, 82) ↩︎

  6. Lockwood and Gosman (2013a, 33) make a very similar statement. Alan Gosman devoted further attention to this problem in a presentation at the 2016 New Beethoven Research Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia (Gosman 2016). I thank Alan Gosman for sharing his presentation script with me. ↩︎

  7. I follow a modified version of the “Semantic Versioning 2.0.0” scheme ( developed by Tom Preston-Werner (cofounder of GitHub, the most widely used platform for distributed version control and source code management). ↩︎