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Beethoven's Piano Sonata in C Minor: a Look at the Mixed Elements

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The third movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in C Minor, Op. 13 is an excellent example of sonata-rondo form. It conforms to the expectations of a hybrid of this kind, utilizing elements of both the sonata and seven-part rondo (ABACABA) forms. It completes four full rotations as described in Hepokoski and Darcy’s model, including a coda.

The primary theme-refrain, which Hepokoski and Darcy refer to as the Prf, appears a total of four times throughout the piece. The thematic structure of the Prf begins with a contrasting period in mm. 1-8. The antecedent phrase of this period spans mm. 1-4, ending with a half cadence on the first beat of m. 4. Mm. 5-8 serve as the consequent phrase, which ends with a perfect authentic cadence in m. 8. The Prf continues in mm. 9-12 with a restatement of the consequent phrase. The restatement ends with an elided perfect authentic cadence in m. 12, and carries on into a codetta that lasts until m. 17.

The first rotation then proceeds into the first episode, which contains a modulating transition space, secondary theme, and a closing space, which morphs into the transition. The transition space begins with a tonicization of the global subdominant, F minor in mm. 18-21. These measures feature the chord progression V4/2—i6—V6/5—I in F minor. M. 22 with a V4/2 chord in E-flat major. Mm. 22-24 feature a brief dominant lock in E-flat major.

There is no medial cesura, and the secondary theme begins after the dominant lock, on the downbeat of m. 25. There is a brief lights-out moment in mm. 30-34, where the melody switches abruptly into E-flat minor. The melody picks back up into E-flat major in m. 35, however, and carries on with a confident, jaunty tone, reaching a perfect authentic cadence in E-flat major in m. 43. This cadence serves as the essential exponential closure to the first episode, and marks the start of the closing space in m. 44.

The first closing space starts with a parallel period in mm. 44-51. The antecedent phrase spans mm. 44-47, ending with a half cadence in E-flat major in m. 47. The consequent phrase spans mm. 48-51, ending with an elided perfect authentic cadence on the downbeat of m. 51. The elided cadence begins the clarification of the retransition space in mm. 52. The material in mm. 51-57 is slightly deformational to the typical sonata-rondo style, however. Although there is typically no more secondary theme material following the essential exponential closure, Beethoven brings back the material from mm. 37-39 to use in the retransition. The retransition concludes in m. 61, with an active dominant in the home key.

The second rotation begins with a complete restatement of the Prf in mm. 62-78. The development, or second episode, begins in m. 79 with a modulating parallel period. The antecedent phrase, mm. 79-82, is in the global submediant key, A-flat major, and ends with a half-cadence on the third beat of m. 82. The consequent phrase spans mm. 83-86 and ends with a perfect authentic cadence in E-flat major. Mm. 87-94 have the exact same thematic structure as mm. 79-86, and are a very near restatement of the previous period. Mm. 99-106 utilize third species counterpoint, leading up to a dominant lock in mm. 107-120. This dominant lock marks the retransition space, and ends with the start of the piece’s third rotation.

The third rotation, or recapitulation, begins with another restatement of the Prf in m. 121. The Prf begins the same as previously, with a parallel period in mm. 121-128, ending with a perfect authentic cadence in m. 128, which corresponds to the same period in mm. 1-8. The restatement of the consequent phrase, which begins in mm. 128, however, dissolves. The voices invert in mm. 128-134, with the left hand playing material previously featured in the right hand, and vice versa. The phrase concludes with a half-cadence in the home key in m. 134 and proceeds straight into the secondary theme with no transition space.

From mm. 135-139, the third rotation secondary theme corresponds to the first rotation secondary theme in mm. 25-29. The point of divergence between the two themes occurs in m. 140, and the crux is at m. 143. The essential structural closure occurs at m. 153, where there is a perfect authentic cadence in C minor.

The closing space begins as in mm. 44-51, with a similar periodic structure found in mm. 154-161. Mm. 154-157 form the antecedent phrase in C minor, ending with a half-cadence in m. 157. Mm. 158-161, however, do not form a proper consequent phrase, evading a perfect authentic cadence in m. 161 and proceeding straight into the retransition.

The final rotation begins in m. 171 with a final complete restatement of the Prf in the home key. Though it at first may appear incomplete, dissolving at m. 178, closer examination reveals mm. 178- 182 to be merely an embellished restatement of the consequent as seen in correspondence mm. 9-12. Measures 182-186 serve as a codetta to the primary theme refrain. This codetta, however is not the same as the one found in mm. 13-17 in the exposition, and has a double purpose. The codetta to the final Prf is an “elided codetta” of sorts, acting also as the fist four measures of the final coda.

If this double-function is taken into consideration, the coda lasts from mm. 182-210. It is made up of a series of sentential structures, and starts with a perfect authentic cadence in m. 182. The first sentential structure spans mm. 182-186, ending with a perfect authentic cadence in 186. The next sentential structure spans mm. 187-193, ending with another perfect authentic cadence in m. 193. In m. 198, there is a prominent D-flat major chord, the Neapolitan chord in C minor. This serves as a pivot chord for a modulation into A-flat major, the global subdominant. Mm. 198-206 continue in A-flat major, and Beethoven briefly hints at a restatement of the primary theme in A-flat major in mm. 202-206. The melody then shifts back suddenly into the home key in m. 207 with a German augmented sixth chord in C minor. The piece concludes with a confident cadential i6/4—V7—i progression in mm. 208-210, solidifying the home key one last time.

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