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Fanny Chen

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, for a short

transition will make parts A and B of the exposition approximately the same length, both

around a minute and a half. This preserves a sense of balance within the exposition.

Part B tends to polyphonic and often has an “echo” feel, where one instrumental

voice introduces a theme and is echoed by another instrumental voice. Sometimes, these

two voices will overlap, creating a sense of a fugue, where two melodic lines flow at

different times along the same stream. Although he breaks up the soft legato sequences

with loud, harsh staccato chords for contrast, Beethoven generally preserves a mild

dynamic in part B which also helps obscure the switch from the transition to part B. In

fact, a loud dynamic actually seems to signal a transition out of part B; in B_2’, the B_2

theme is repeated in sequence, getting louder, faster, and higher pitched until it climaxes.

We expect this to become the cadence that will resolve the exposition and allow us to

move on to the development. However, it is a false ending; B_5 again resumes a

moderate tempo and is played primarily by the woodwinds; the strings enter in little

spurts with loud, crisp notes until they join the woodwinds and the entire orchestra plays

together to conclude the exposition.

It is truly difficult to isolate a dominating theme or melody from part B. In fact, it

almost sounds as if Beethoven is wordpainting the act of composing music, of through

recycling rhythmic, melodic, and contrapuntal ideas. For example, the rhythm in this
section is composed of sets of patterns of long and short notes. B_1 starts of with ‘- ‘-,

where ‘ represents a short note and – a long note. B_2 becomes -‘’ -‘’, and then reverts to

‘’- ‘’-. The continual use of sequences makes each little theme sound like a trial run; he

imposes different chords on the same rhythms, superimposes one theme upon another to

express how one thought leads to the next. Beethoven seems to be thinking, “What can I

do with this rhythm? Now what if I switch it up a bit?”

The development starts with A_0, but quickly sounds quite different from A_0 in

the exposition. Hints of previous themes come back, but the development also seems to

initiate new themes, such as D_2.

The recapitulation is perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the first

movement if we are trying to impose the sonata form on this piece. Not only does

Beethoven return de capo and review the exposition, he also brings in a key theme from

the development which plays almost constantly during the latter part of the recapitulation.

Its rhythm is ‘’-. We also see other rhythmic sequences harmonizing with and interacting

with this main one. The recapitulation, then, not only repeats the themes in the

exposition, but also summarizes the way in which Beethoven was able to put together his

rather disjointed thoughts from the exposition to meld a polyphonic composition that

allows him to finish the task, resolve the sonata, and forcefully conclude with the coda.