Beethoven’s String Quartet in D Major, Op. 18 No. 3

18 February 2015

Beethoven’s String Quartet in D Major, Op. 18 No. 3

The first movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet in D Major is a mostly angelic-sounding piece with a few mischievous deviations into minor keys. Throughout the piece, the dominant is used heavily, which leaves the listener constantly eager for the next note, anticipating its resolution. The quartet begins with a grand pair of whole notes on A and then G that seem to lean toward the tonic, which is later emphasized by several short ornamental phrases. The musical atmosphere of 1P is quite dreamlike, and reminds me of the leisurely way a feather floats back and forth in midair as it falls until finally, gently, it reaches the ground. The second theme of the primary material, 2P, begins with measure 28 and continues until measure 35 at the quick cadence which ends the theme.

On the upbeat of m. 35, 1T begins because there is new material which, as it progresses, seems to be included strictly for the purpose of modulation. The transitional material at m. 45 should be labeled 2T, and the material at m. 51 3T, because new themes are presented. Throughout these few measures, and especially in m. 51, the music seems to lean on the note E, which supports the modulation to A major. E is the dominant, or V, in A Major. By emphasizing the dominant, the listener expects to hear the tonic, which in this case is A, and thus, the key change is made possible. The first secondary theme, 1S, begins at m. 57 when the key seems to have changed stably to A . A Major is a related key to D Major because it has three sharps – one more than the key of D. 2S begins at m. 68 because a new theme is played in the Secondary section. In m. 68, two C-naturals, an E, and a G are played, which creates a C Major chord. It is here that the piece is briefly taken to the key of C Major, which is a minor third above A, the principle key of the Secondary section. The piece then seems to move to A Minor, the relative minor of C Major, at m. 72 for just a few bars. The third and final part of the secondary section, 3S, begins on m. 76 and continues until m. 90. 3S seems to be unsure of what key it wants to be in, but this confusion is resolved at the end of m. 89 with a dominant E chord, followed by an A chord in m. 90.

1K, the beginning of the closing section, begins on m. 90 with the cadence on A Major, which confirms that we are back in the dominant key. The separate section beginning on m. 98 is 2K. This section in particular seems to be rushing toward a conclusion, with lots of quick triplets and scales that return to the tonic. The final measures of the exposition, mm. 108-109, are almost identical to the first two measures of the piece, but not quite. In mm. 1 and 2, the first violin alone plays two whole notes, first A and then G. In mm. 108 and 109, the first violin repeats this exactly, but with accompaniment from all three other instruments. These instruments play the notes C-sharp, E, and G, filling out a dominant seventh chord which leans toward the tonic of D, the primary key of the piece. To summarize the tonal behavior of the Exposition, the piece begins in D Major and modulates to A Major, the dominant. It then briefly changes to C Major, or is raised a third, returns to A Major, and finally, with the beginning of the Development, returns to D Major.

After the second ending, mm. 108-109, 1P in the Development begins at m. 110 and continues until m. 122. This section should be labeled 1P because it is based on the first primary theme from the Exposition, but is modified. It is no longer in D Major, but seems to be in the process of modulating. The tone of the piece is completely altered from the 1P in the Exposition because here it is minor, which creates a despairing atmosphere. 1T begins at the upbeat to m. 123 because the motifs here are borrowed from 1T in the Exposition, as well. Beginning on m. 134, step-wise modulation occurs in the new material that is presented. M. 134 is in G Minor. The music then modulates to A Minor in m. 138, then modulates again to B Minor in m. 142. This ascending modulation creates even more drama as it seems to be searching for the home key. Beginning in m. 154, at the close of the Development section, the bass plays many C-sharps, which act as dominant in D Major. The emphasis on C-sharp creates a V7 chord instead of just a V chord. C-sharp is just a half-step below D, so after stressing its importance, it “wants” to return to the tonic of D.

At the Recapitulation at m. 160, the first primary theme, 1P, returns in the home key of D Major. However, it is varied from the 1P in the Exposition; the key is quickly distorted and pulled in different directions, and there are more measures of embellishing eighth notes than those of simple whole-note pauses, as in the Exposition. Yet the basic theme of alternating eighth-note phrases and whole-note phrases remains present. 1P in the Recapitulation ends at m. 182, which begins a transitional section resembling the 3T section of the Exposition. At last, at m. 188, the piece returns to the tonic key of D Major. This section is parallel to 1S in the Exposition, but has been transposed to the tonic instead of the dominant, A Major. At m. 199, 2S occurs, which is the same as the parallel event in the Exposition except it is now in the key of F Major, not C Major. In the Exposition, 2S was in C, a minor third above the tonic key of A, whereas in the Recapitulation, 2S occurs in F, which happens to be a minor third above the tonic key of D.  Therefore, these two 2S sections are very well-linked. At m. 207, 3S occurs, and at mm. 221 and 229, 1K and 2K appear, respectively. These three sections are, again, almost identical to their counterparts in the Exposition. The Coda of the first movement begins on m. 239. In this section, 1P and 2S are developed, as in the Development section. The last section slightly resembles 2P, but with many differences. I believe the music in the Coda exists to solidify the key of D by integrating the material with which the listener has become familiar.

If I had to base all of Beethoven’s Recapitulations on the model given in this piece, I would find that he tends to vary the primary and transition sections and keep the secondary and closing sections almost identical to their Exposition counterparts, except for the fact that the key is different. For instance, 1P in the Recapitulation is significantly remodeled from the original 1P. It feels minor at moments, and quite busy as it varies in keys, which contrasts with the simple theme presented at the beginning of the piece in one key. Also, 2P seems to be completely omitted, along with 1T and 2T. This is quite a large section of music that is cut out, probably so that the Recapitulation section is able to move on more efficiently without being tied down by having to recap every section of the Exposition. From 3T all the way to the second section of the closing, 2K, the Recapitulation is extremely similar to the Exposition. This may be to provide assurance to the listener and, since they have become accustomed to the patterns of the piece by this point, to help them predict what may come next. I find that repeated sections, especially those that contain subtle differences, like being transposed to a new key, comfort listeners because they can better comprehend what they have already heard, and come to expect it.

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