[MUSIC] Welcome to week 4 of Exploring the Beethoven Piano Sonatas. We're now past the halfway point of the course, and today we'll be looking at the sonatas written in 1809, which is, accordingly, past the midway point of his sonata-writing career. I realize that it's not a great idea to begin a lecture with a digression-- I should at least first establish a topic from which to digress, or better yet not digress at all--but in this case it really is unavoidable. As I've said, having four lectures to discuss the 32 Beethoven sonatas means making a lot of tough choices. And in skipping from the year 1801 to 1809 we are, sadly, skating over the heart Beethoven's middle period. If you accept this, again, questionable notion of three periods, then you could say the previous lecture covered the very beginning of the middle period, whereas today we're covering its tail-end, when its fundamental characteristics begin to break down, and Beethoven begins audibly searching for a new way. Skipping the works that come in between is a pity, not only because we're missing out on some great music--the ubiquitous, and for good reason, Waldstein and Appassionata sonatas, the three great Opus 31 sonatas which followed on the heels of Beethoven's "new paths" remark, and the wonderful, loopy Opus 54, one of the most bizarre works Beethoven ever wrote. But if we're talking purely about quality, skipping really just about any of the 32 is regrettable. No, there is a specific reason that I'm sorry to miss this period and that is because there is one really rather crucial development in sonata form that begins to take shape at this time. Now, if you'll recall the central harmonic relationship in the sonata form, in the Classical era altogether, is tonic to dominant and then back to tonic. This, until middle-period Beethoven, has been a rule pretty much without exception. Haydn will occasionally pull a surprise, but it's just that, a surprise, a joke based on the clarity of our expectations, and he always ultimately makes his way up to the dominant, just as he's supposed to. And Mozart, for all of his imagination, and all the emotional variety in his music, he never ever plays around with this rule. But Beethoven never met a rule that he didn't want to test. And in the Sonata Opus 31, Number 1, he finally makes a bold move that he's been leading up to really for most of his life. He eliminates the dominant as the primary foil for the tonic and replaces it with the mediant. Now to be clear, the mediant is the name for the chord on the third scale degree. So tonic, [MUSIC] dominant, [MUSIC] mediant. [MUSIC] Okay, this is a huge deal. You can tell, even by virtue of the word "mediant" that the tonic-dominant relationship is the foundation of Western music. The mediant is so named because it is half-way between the two. By the time Opus 31, Number 1 comes along, the Classical period is nearly 50 years old, and we have many hundreds of pieces which not only follow but depend on this tonic-to-dominant model. It was already the most important harmonic relationship in the Baroque era. Now, I don't want to get too bogged down with this, but here is the opening of Opus 31, Number 1. [MUSIC] Now, at the moment where we should be heading towards the dominant, this happens. [MUSIC] You can hear that this new tonality has a completely different color from the opening G major. Even though the tonic and the dominant are opposed in the sonata, they are next door to one another in terms of their harmonic color. The mediant, though, is a far-off place. Now it would not be fair to say that Beethoven just replaces the dominant with the mediant, because that wouldn't be possible, the dominant being simply too important. So, when the development is wrapping up we still get a long dominant and then finally, joy, the tonic. [MUSIC] You see? Dominant, tonic, just as in any sonata. [MUSIC] V-I. And then there's this wonderful moment of confusion which Beethoven plays for laughs in the recapitulation. The second theme, the one that was in the mediant the first time around, should come in the tonic now, just as it should have come in the dominant in the exposition. Instead, because it was in the wrong key the first time around, it is more or less inevitably now in a second wrong key, the submediant. Now this is a problem. We need to get back to the tonic somehow if the piece is going to wrap up, and it leads to a bit of Road Runner- style slapstick so that we finally get back home. [MUSIC] Voila. [LAUGHS] But as you see, it takes some fancy footwork for him to get there because he's taken a critical, foundational relationship and attempted to replace it with a much more incidental one. All of this is to say, the tonic- dominant tension is still there, inevitably, because it exists in nature, but it's no longer the main subject of the music. It is difficult to convey just how significant this is in the context of a piece like Opus 31, Number 1 that is so jolly and good-humored, but really the weakening of that relationship is a first step toward the fundamental weakening of the tonal system, which continued apace for the next 100+ years until people like Debussy and Schoenberg, in their very different ways, decided to begin experimenting with abandoning it altogether. By then, chromaticism was like a rubber band, stretched to its breaking point. Beethoven surely couldn't imagine where this would lead, but music began winding its way down that road with him, in 1802. This seismic event actually feels very modest in Opus 31, Number 1, in large part because, like most everything else in the work's first movement, the move is - to the mediant is, a kind of a joke. The piece is really one of the greatest examples of Beethoven's humor, which comes in many forms here. I highly recommend you listen to it. But once Beethoven has tried this mediant model once, it just absolutely opens the floodgates. He uses it or its close companion, the submediant, again and again as the main destination in the sonata movement: the Waldstein sonata, the Archduke trio, the Hammerklavier sonata. These are really just the most famous examples. It's crazy--for decades and decades, it seems impossible. And then once he does it once, it becomes almost the norm. And, in each of these cases, unlike with Opus 31, Number 1, the substitution of the mediant for the dominant is deadly serious. It's not a shock effect, but simply Beethoven going where his ears and his interests take him. Because the fact is, long before Beethoven decided to take this radical step, he had what we might call a mediant fixation. In fact, this has been in evidence in two examples we've already discussed, though I haven't identified it as such. That wonderful slow movement of Opus 2, Number 3... [MUSIC] that's E major, the mediant of the piece's main key, C major. [MUSIC] It doesn't represent a sea change, because here it's its own movement. He's allowed to go there, even if it's unusual. And that amazing passage in the Pastoral sonata that we discussed last week... [MUSIC] that pedal point is on an F sharp-- again, the mediant of the home key, D major. Clearly, there is something about the color of the harmony that appealed to him. As I was preparing this lecture, I had a conversation with a musician friend who suggested a notion that hadn't occurred to me, and which I am really now obsessed with. The idea is that, in traditional classical harmony, Mozart above all, the tonic represents the present; the dominant, the future, and the subdominant--that's the fourth scale degree--the past. It's a poetic notion, and I can see the eyes of scholars rolling as I speak, but to me it has a certain logic. It's natural that the dominant should be the future, because traditionally, it's where we are going to, where we are headed. And the subdominant--which in most of the most commonly used keys has an extra flat rather than sharp in it, and therefore an inherently mellower sound-- does feel like the dominant's spiritual opposite. It's no accident that when Mozart wants to convey nostalgia in slow movements, as he very often does, he uses the subdominant. If you want to explore this, the sonata K. 330 and the piano concerto K. 467 are excellent examples, two out of literally hundreds. This idea is viable because both of those chords, the dominant and the subdominant, are so close to the tonic, so closely related to it. They are easily defined in relation to the tonic. It's really even their point of reference. This is not true of the mediant. It's triad shares only one note in common with the tonic... [MUSIC] and it is too far away from the tonic to be known as its relative. So if the dominant is, in fact, the future, and the subdominant is the past, the mediant represents uncharted territory, the infinite, the universe-- which, of course, is what Beethoven is ultimately most interested in. Let's take a short break for a review question.