A Feminist Journey through Beethoven’s Musical StructureTraditional analysis of Beethoven’s use of Sonata Allegro form tends to focus on harmonic or melodic movement and key relationships. This study stretches such investigations to include questions of historical context and philosophic motivations that drive a composer to structure music in a certain way. Ultimately this leads to an inquiry about how these traditions affect us as listeners, and more specifically how they relate to gender issues in a musical tradition primarily made up of male composers.
Music of the 1700s is often characterized as highly structured and balanced. A favorite form for pieces of many kinds was the sonata form, which relies heavily on the basic movement between different tonalities (especially tonic and dominant or relative major). Ludwig van Beethoven wrote over 30 sonatas for piano alone and used the structure for symphonies and many other instrumental works. Most other composers of the classical time period also used sonata form, and music historians have spent much time discussing why this might be so. Some historians pose this question strictly within a musical world: How did earlier musical structures give rise to sonata form? Others ask what it was in the surrounding historical context that made sonata form appealing.
William Henry Hadow and Charles Rosen are two historians who talk primarily about musical context. Hadow sets his discussion in the framework of classical composers’ movement away from Baroque forms. He says that when Beethoven and his contemporaries chose ternary form over Baroque binary, typified in the dance suite, they chose a structure that was then used successfully into the twentieth century. This was only poss…
…s in history.
Abbate, Carolyn. Unsung Voices: Opera and Musical Narrative in the NineteenthCentury. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.
Ballantine, Christopher. “Beethoven, Hegel and Marx.” Music Review. Vol. 33, 1972.
Drake, Kenneth. The Beethoven Sonatas and the Creative Experience. Indianapolis:Indiana University Press, 1994.
Hadow, William Henry. Sonata Form. London: Novello and Company, Limited, 1979.
McClary, Susan. Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991.
Mann, Thomas. Doctor Faustus. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1948.
Rosen, Charles. The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven. New York: The Viking Press, 1971.
Subotnik, Rose Rosengard. Developing Variations: Style and Ideology in Western Music. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991.