October 30, 2007
Beethoven’s 9th Symphony
Movement 1 Analysis
To assign the first movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony the sonata form would truly be a subjective judgment.I will first explain how this movement fits the sonata form; then I will discuss how it diverges from this form in rather fascinating ways.
Broadly speaking, the first movement can be divided into three pieces, each beginning with a version of what I have denoted A_0, the introduction to the piece in which motifs float around in a constant void, gaining energy, and morphing into musical themes.If we were to impose the sonata structure onto the piece, we would say that the three pieces are the exposition, development, and recapitulation.The exposition introduces two large thematic blocks separated by a transition that modulates this section from the tonic to the relative major.
The first thematic block is much easier to recognize as it is always preceded by
A_0, the introductory phrase.Moreover, A_1 is the most easily recognizable theme in the first movement; it emerges out of A_0 and is loudly played by the entire orchestra in unison.Although not all of A is homophonic, the melodic line is always clear throughout this section.In fact, Beethoven clearly wants to impress this theme in our memories.
Not only does he make it loud and clear, he also repeats it, with slight modifications the second time.
Beethoven then modulates from the tonic to the relative major key.The modulation happens quickly and is extremely subtle, almost hidden by the many series of ascending sequences written into both the transition in part B of the exposition.
Moreover, the transition and part B share many common characteristics, such as texture, tempo, and dynamic.Since the modulation happens so soon, perhaps the transition is meant to be very short and the five (or six) different themes following the modulation are the themes that compose part B.This makes sense time-wise as well,