Ambiguity and Unity in the Rondo-finale to Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique

by Jay Hodgson

(1)Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique in C minor, opus 13, has achieved such popularity that even the most stubborn listener cannot help but know either of its first two movements. The fierce pathos in the opening theme of the Grave and the yearning lyricism of the Adagio cantabile have been widely charted and analyzed by scholars, yet the Allegro finale movement of the sonata is either overlooked or, when it is recognized, addressed by a paragraph summary . Donald Tovey, in the introduction to his analysis of the movement, writes that “the Sonata Pathétique....begins with a magnificent piece of Homeric fighting; but if we overestimate the tragic quality of such fighting we shall crassly underrating the rest.” To underrate “the rest” would indeed result in a crass oversight, for it is in the Rondo-finale movement that Beethoven continues the fight begun in the opening two measures of the Sonata Pathétique, and emerges from the ring, as it were, with both hands in the air.
(2)When I listen to the Sonata Pathétique, I am never quite sure how the tensions that Beethoven introduces throughout the sonata are somehow resolved over the course of the Rondo-finale. Repeated exposure to the Rondo-finale movement over the course of my research for this paper has led to my accustomization to the movement’s various twists and turns, yet I am still never quite sure exactly what it is that I am listening to. I am certainly not listening to a clear cut Rondo, though I know that what I hear is indeed a rondo (it says so in the score). This ambiguity, however, is rectified by unities within the Rondo-finale movement and within the sonata that it concludes itself. This paper may be somewhat selfishly motivated then. I will begin by arguing that the ambiguities of the Rondo-finale’s formal design are attributable to what Heinrich Schenker argues is the rondo form’s origins in “two three-part song forms.” I will also, however, locate the formal design as it relates to the “pathetic style” that Beethoven undoubtedly had in mind when he composed the sonata, one of the few that he named, in order to ascertain what rhetorical function these seeming formal ambiguities might play in resolving the pathos of the Sonata Pathétique. I will then chart the organic unities within the movement itself, using Heinrich Schenker’s theory of “linkage” and Arnold Schoenberg’s concept of the Grundgestalt, and draw connections between the sections of the main theme as they are developed throughout the movement and how these developments relate to the overall design of the Sonata Pathétique. I have therefore divided this paper into two sections: (1) “Ambiguities,” in which I will explore the formal design of the Rondo-finale movement and (2) “Unities” wherein I will chart the development of motivic materials throughout the movement in order to ascertain how they are related together within the Rondo-finale movement and the function that this fulfills in resolving the pathos of the Sonata Pathétique.

(3)There are a number of avenues to interpret the formal design of Beethoven’s Rondo-finale movement. The term “rondo” signifies a set of formal conventions to anyone familiar with the term’s musical meaning that Beethoven must have felt were satisfied by the movement. The Rondo-finale, however, also plays a key role in the overall design of the Sonata Pathétique that exerts an influence over how Beethoven structured the movement in relation to the rest of the sonata. I will therefore examine the movement with a two-fold lens: (1) as a rondo and (2) as the finale movement to the Sonata Pathétique.

(4) The formal design of the Rondo-finale movement concurs with William Caplin’s assertion that “all rondo forms in Western art music display a basic pattern of formal organization. A principle thematic idea -- the “rondo theme” or “refrain” -- alternates regularly with two or more contrasting passages, termed “couplets,” “episodes” or “digressions.” The rondo theme appears throughout the finale movement at the following measures: mm. 3/8 1-17, 3/8 62-78, 3/8 120-133, and 170-192. Whether the couplets of the movement feature enough divergences from the main theme, or from each other, to consider them “contrasting” is debatable however. The movement’s first two couplets, for example, end by an identical three-measure run from a high F to B natural three octaves below. The figure is marked at least at a forte dynamic both times:

(Example 1.1)

(5) Caplin’s criteria for a “rondo theme” calls for conclusion by a perfect authentic cadence. “The refrain is almost always a conventional, tight-knit theme closing in the home key with a perfect authentic cadence,” Caplin writes, later adding that “a rondo theme always closes with a perfect authentic cadence, never a half cadence.” Caplin’s insistence that a rondo theme end with a perfect authentic cadence has to do with the sense of closure that such a cadence provides to apportion the main theme from its couplets. According to Allan Cadwallader and David Gagné, rather than a sense of closure, a half cadence instead “exhibits a kind of dual nature, it achieves a certain degree of repose, but also embodies a sense of continuation.” Though the rondo theme of the Rondo-finale movement concludes by a perfect authentic cadence, it does not provide the adequate sense of closure that Caplin argues every rondo theme of a “five-part” rondo must conclude by. The “two bars of final chords,” as Tovey calls the conclusion of the main theme, instead crescendos rapidly to an extremely brief resolution to C minor for only the downbeat of measure 18 (Example 1.2). The thematic materials of the four measures that lead to these final chords (mm. 12-16) are then continued three beats later. The ambiguity that is so characteristic of this movement is already present by the conclusion of this first theme. The rondo theme ends by a perfect authentic cadence, as every rondo theme should according to Caplin, but rather than provide the refrain with a sense of closure Beethoven instead concludes it with “a certain degree of repose” coupled with “a sense of continuation.”

(Example 1.2)

(6) Caplin continues to define what he terms a “sonata-rondo” variation of the “five-part rondo” form with which the Rondo-finale concurs. According to Caplin’s criteria, these principle concurrences are as follows: (1) due to “the complex organization” of a sonata rondo, it is used “almost exclusively for fast finale movements.” (2) The main theme and first couplet “constitute a sonata exposition” even though this exposition is not repeated in its entirety as it would be in conventional sonata form. (3) The third appearance of the main theme and the following couplet “constitute a complete recapitulation of the prior exposition.” (4) Finally, “the coda is a required element of sonata-rondo, because that section includes the final return of the main theme.”
(7.a) Donald Tovey’s analysis of the Rondo-finale concurs with Caplin’s criteria for the “sonata-rondo” form. According to Tovey, the Rondo-finale is divisible into the following sections:

Section Measures Tonal Region

Rondo Theme (A) 3/8 1-17 C (i) minor
First Episode (B) 18-61 Eb (III) major
First Return (A) 3/8 62-78=3/8 1-17 C (i) minor

Second Episode (C) 3/8 79-120 Ab (VI) major

Second Return (A’) 3/8 121-128=3/8 1-8 C (i) minor
Recapitulation of
First Episode (B’) 134-157=25-47 C (I) major
Third Return (A’’) 171-182=1-12 C (i) minor

Coda: 182-210 to Ab (VI) major

(7.b) The similarity of Tovey’s analysis of the Rondo-finale to conventional sonata form is argued by Caplin to be a shared characteristic of all “sonata-rondos.” “It is only when the music begins to depart the plan laid out in the exposition that the listener can confirm an interpretation of rondo form,” he writes. In the case of the Rondo-finale movement, then, it would seem that it is only at mm. 3/8 79, when the reiteration of the main theme of the exposition is followed directly by a development section instead of another iteration of the secondary theme, that the listener becomes aware that s/he is hearing a “sonata-rondo” hybrid of the sonata and “five-part rondo” forms. Taken with the knowledge that the rondo theme concludes with a “sense of continuation” rather than the normative sense of closure of the traditional rondo theme, the oversight of the secondary theme before the development of the Rondo-finale further compounds the movement’s ambiguity.

Pathetic Inversion
(8) It is useful at this point to remind ourselves that the Rondo-finale was composed by Beethoven to conclude the Sonata Pathétique. A possible explanation for the ambiguity of the movement’s formal design may be found simply by marking the title of the sonata, one of the few that the composer gave himself. According to Elaine R. Sisman, the logic of the “pathetic style always stands in opposition to something else.” In this case, the logic of the Rondo-finale may serve to invert the normative formal design of conventions of the late eighteenth century pianoforte sonata. The “something else” that this movement “stands in opposition” to is the traditional formal design of a sonata composition, the sequence of the Rondo-finale bearing marked similarity to conventional sonata-allegro form for the opening movement of a sonata. Donald Jay Grout offers the following criteria as a “textbook” example of this conventional opening movement form:

An exposition (usually repeated), incorporating a first theme or group of themes in the tonic, a second more lyrical theme in the dominant or relative major, and a closing theme also in the dominant or relative major -- the different themes being connected by appropriate transitions or bridge passages; (2) a development section, in which motives or themes from the exposition are presented in new aspects or combinations, and in the course of which modulations may be made to relatively remote keys; (3) a recapitulation, where the material of the exposition is restated in the original order but with all themes now in the tonic; following the recapitulation there may be a coda.

(9) The Rondo-finale is marked at an allegro tempo, and fits tidily into Grout’s “textbook” criteria even though the secondary theme is excised during the reiteration of the exposition. Where my interpretation of the movement differs from Tovey’s (italicized in the following table), the similarity of the Rondo-finale to these “textbook” conventions of sonata form are even more explicit. The first theme (A) in the tonic minor transitions to a secondary theme (B) in the relative major tonality (Eb major). This is followed by a retransition that urges the couplet back to the dominant of the home key, which is followed by a repetition of the first theme (A) but not the secondary. The second couplet (C) develops, most explicitly, measures 5 to 12 of the first theme in Ab major and the home dominant tonal region of G major. The exposition, as it was initially presented to the listener, is then chronologically recapitulated in the tonic keys of C minor and C major minus the movement’s first transition (A’-B’-retransition’-A’’). The movement ends with a coda from measures 194-210, concluding briefly in Ab major before iterating a final perfect authentic cadence in the home key:

Section Measures Tonal Region
Main Theme (A) 3/8 1-17 C (i) minor
Transition 18-25 to Eb (III) major
First Couplet (B) 25-50 Eb (III) major
Retransition 51-61 to G (V) major
First Return (A) 3/8 62-78=3/8 1-17 C (i) minor
Second Couplet (C) 3/8 79-120 Ab (VI) major
mm. 102 to G (V) major
Second Return (A’) 3/8 121-128=3/8 1-8 C (i) minor
First Couplet (B’) 135-160=25-47 C (I) major
Retransition’ 161-171 to C (i) minor
Third Return (A’’) 172-194 C (i) minor to C (I) major
Coda: 194-210 to Ab (VI) major

(10) These divergences from Tovey’s analysis are based on a straightforward reasoning. I disagree with Tovey’s contention that the tonality of the movement’s second couplet (C) remains in VI major throughout. Tovey describes the return of this couplet to the main theme as “fourteen bars of preparation on the home dominant.” These fourteen bars are actually begun four measures before, at measure 102. The preceding twenty-four measures, marked at a surprisingly listless piano dynamic for a second couplet, develop measures 5 to 12 of the main theme. At measure 102 is begun a prolongation of this development, leaping to a forte marking at the specific moment that this prolongation commences. This audibly distinguishes the bass pattern begun at this point in the couplet from the preceding twenty-four measures, cycling by fifths as well but ending this time with a chromatic passing of F to the root of the G major tonal region in which the remainder of the couplet proceeds. An octave below the lowest note previously achieved in the bass is added at this point to further reinforce the distinction:

(Example 1.3)

(11.a) Whereas Tovey sees no transitions between the main theme and couplets of the movement, I feel that the materials that Beethoven has chosen to shift to and from the tonic of the Rondo-finale are interrelated by characteristics that are shared with what precedes and follows them. These materials serve too integral a function to subsume within the couplets of the Rondo-finale. The first transition, for example, shares many key resemblances with the materials that Beethoven introduces during the last six measures of the rondo theme (Example 1.4). The movement of Bb-Ab in the melody over the major third (E natural) of the secondary dominant of the subdominant at measures 13 and 15 of the main theme recurs within the first transition in opposite registers. This relationship is transposed sequentially down a major second at measure 22, creating a new harmony that closes in the relative major tonality of the movement’s first episode.

(Example 1.4)

(11.b) The retransition back to the first return of the rondo theme is similarly constructed by Beethoven. The transposition of the concluding materials from the rondo theme within the first transition at measure 22 is exploited again by Beethoven to form the closing theme of the first exposition from measures 44 to 51. This is prolonged from measure 52 to 56. This is reintroduced to lead the episode from the relative major to the home dominant (Example 1.5).

(Example 1.5)

(12) With these transitions and retransitions, the formal design of the Rondo-finale movement bears marked similarity to what Grout refers to as “textbook” conventions of sonata form. According to Sisman’s criteria for the “pathetic style,” which she explores in relation to this specific sonata, it is entirely feasible that Beethoven’s decision to cast the finale movement in “sonata-rondo” form was influenced by the resemblances of this form to conventions for a first movement of a sonata. I will present one more possibility for interpreting the formal design of the Rondo-finale movement.

Schenker Rondo
(13.a) Schenker argues that a rondo is in fact “two three-part song forms” combined so that “the last part of the first three-part form simultaneously becomes the first part of the second three-part form.” Schenker argues that it is due to this ontology that the second couplet of a rondo “is sometimes confused with the development section as it would be found in sonata form.” It should be noted that Schenker does not argue that the second couplet can never be heard as a development section in sonata form, rather his comments demonstrate the potential for audible correspondence between these two forms as they are “sometimes confused.” It is important, however, to ask whether Schenker’s theory allows for similarities between the first two episodes of the Rondo-finale; these are plentiful in the Rondo-finale movement. If there is room for correspondence between these episodes in Schenker’s definition of the rondo form, then the Rondo-finale fits quite tidily within his theory, giving rise to another question: is the Rondo-finale “two three-part song forms” with distinct digressions, or two variations of the same “thee-part song form?” The formal design of the Rondo-finale, however, is clarified by Schenker’s definition of the rondo, as the question of why the secondary theme is not reiterated along with the first before the second couplet becomes an unnecessary consideration:

three-part song form #1 three-part song form #2
(A)-(tr)-(B)-(retr)-(A) (A)----(C)---(A)
i--------III-----------i i------VI/V---i
(A)-(tr)-(B)-(retr) (B’)-(retr’)-(A’’)-------(coda)
\\ //

(13.b) The refusal of the movement to reiterate its first episode along with the rondo theme is thus explained, as is the absence of the first transition during the recapitulation. The second return of the rondo theme is derived from the second “three-part song form” from which the finale movement is derived, which has no transition. “The last part of the first three-part song from” is simultaneously “the first part of the second three-part form” which likewise recurs to end the second three-part song form and to reintroduce the first. The “sonata-rondo” that Caplin describes as a hybrid of rondo and sonata form appears now as a superimposition of two “three-part song forms.” That being said, I do not feel that Schenker’s theory adequately demonstrates the interconnectedness of the first two episodes. His theory lends itself instead to a rondo in which the first two episodes are “contrasting.” It is via the interconnectedness of the first two episodes that the Rondo-finale achieves the sense of a sonata that serves so integral a function for the “pathetic style” inversion of expectations for a finale movement that Beethoven achieves by the Sonata Pathétique. I have examined the movement using Schenker’s definition because it provides the clearest of definitions of the form of the Rondo-finale on paper.
(14) The ambiguities of the Rondo-finale’s formal design are thus a characteristic of the rondo form itself, according to Schenker’s definition of a rondo, in which case the distinction that Caplin draws between “five-part rondo” and the “sonata-rondo” variation of that form may appear somewhat irrelevant. As we have seen above, however, due to the audible correspondences between the Rondo-finale and “textbook” sonata-allegro form, which serves a rhetorical function in the “pathetic style” of the Sonata Pathétique by appearing within the finale rather than opening movement, Caplin’s definition of the form best captures the formal complexity of the movement and provides a possible reason as to why Beethoven may have chosen this form for the finale movement of this sonata. The “sonata-rondo” form that Caplin describes allows for the ambiguities that are present in Beethoven’s Rondo-finale, and the movement’s episodes, to serve an integral structural and rhetorical function. The question remains, however: what function does the “sense of continuation” of the main theme’s conclusion fulfill?

(15) Beethoven achieves unity from the seeming ambiguity of the Rondo-finale’s formal design by a number of methods. The sections of the Rondo-finale are in fact interrelated and unified by a series of organic relations between thematic materials and the manner by which they are developed in each. To access these relationships I will use Arnold Schoenberg’s concept of the Grundgestalt and Heinrich Schenker’s theory of “linkage.” Much of the observations that I will make using the concept of the Grundgestalt are indebted to Barbara Louise Hampson’s critical comparison of Schoenbergian and Schenkerian analytic methods in her graduate thesis published by McMaster University in 1993. Before proceeding with my analysis I will provide a working definition of these two concepts, beginning with a brief comparison of the two theorist’s perspectives on music that motivated their formulations of these concepts.

Grundgestalt and “Linkage”
(16) In “Schoenberg and Schenker,” Carl Dahlhaus provides a good explanation of how Schoenberg’s and Schenker’s perspectives of music differed. According to Dahlhaus, “traditional theory was rejected by both Schenker and Schoenberg, but on opposite grounds: Schenker denied the concept of ‘essential’ dissonance and Schoenberg that of the ‘incidental.” Dahlhaus further explains that “Schenker, for whom the nature of matter is comprehended in its origin, seeks the law behind the manifestation. Schoenberg on the other hand, aspiring more to ends than to origins, follows the consequences that emerge from a musical idea.” Thus, as Hampson points out, even though these two theorists approach analysis from perspectives that seem to be diametrically opposed, “both Schoenberg and Schenker seek to discover the unifying idea, or shape governing the surface events of a composition.”
(17.a) Grundgestalt is explained by Patricia Carpenter by the following two-fold definition:

I use “musical idea” in a sense taken from Schoenberg: that which a piece of music is “about.” By Grundgestalt or “basic shape” I mean the concrete technical aspect of the idea.

(17.b) Schoenberg is quoted by Bryan Simms as saying “I believe in the availability of only a single motive” to composers for any particular composition. “Inasmuch as almost every figure within a piece reveals some relationship to it, the basic motive is often considered the ‘germ’ of the idea,” Schoenberg writes. He further argues that because “every subsequent musical figure” of a composition includes it one might consider the “basic motive” (Grundgestalt) to be the “greatest common factor” of a composition as well as its lowest common denominator. Hampson’s definition is clearest: “Grundgestalt....shows how the same tonal areas are generated by form and controlled by an initial idea, or basic shape.” I would define Grundgestalt then in somewhat Bakhtinian terms, as the base condition governing all the musical expressions that are articulated by a composition.
(18)While Schoenberg would explain the unity behind the Rondo-finale’s seemingly ambiguous formal divisions according to a Grundgestalt that is established at the beginning of a piece, Schenker’s concept of “linkage” is not so restricting. William Renwick defines “linkage” (Knupftechnic) as “the often hidden means by which separate sections of a composition are “organically” connected to one another. Typically a subordinate motive at the end of one section becomes the seed of a new section, but the means by which linkage can be achieved are limitless.” According to Schenker’s theory of “linkage” then, the Grundgestalt might be seem as the embryonic “germ” from which the Rondo-finale was “grown,” but the shape that “growth” takes is by no means restricted to that of the Grundgestalt.

Main Theme
(19.a) The main theme of the Rondo-finale is divisible into three sections that are located at measures 3/8 1 to 4, 5 to 12 and 12 to 17. By the half cadence at measure four, Beethoven has established the C minor tonality of the movement as well as two of the three primary motives that he will expand and develop through the composition (Example 2.1) The passing of the root to the minor third (C to Eb) of the minor tonality in the melody, and back down at measure 2, encapsulates what Rudolph Réti considers the “prime motive” of the Sonata Pathétique (C to Eb) ([a] in Example 2.1) and the “prime motive in inversion” (Eb down to C) ([a’] in Example 2.1). It is from these two motives that Beethoven develops the Rondo-finale movement and by which he provides the Sonata Pathétique with adequate closure according to Réti, thus unifying both the sections of the finale movement and the sonata of which it is part. Réti also considers the chromatic neighbors C and B natural in the bass of the first two measures to be a motif that is peculiar to the movement: a “rondo motive” ([b] in Example 2.1).

(Example 2.1)

(19.b) The half cadence at measure four ends a “hidden” outline of an Eb/G major triad from the first note of the movement to its brief repose an octave above. When the melody reaches its conclusion on the high G at measure 3, the note is repeated three times while its accompaniment in the bass passes from a natural third of the home dominant down an augmented second (through Ab) to the root of the dominant. This melodic motion and its accompaniment form the Grundgestalt of the Rondo-finale movement: an Eb/G major triad with its upper chromatic neighbor (Ab) ([c] in Example 2.2). From the Grundgestalt Beethoven also extrapolates the potential of the C minor triad, the movement’s tonality, with both upper and lower chromatic neighbors that are outlined by the melody and accompaniment of the first four measures ([d] in Example 2.2). Taken together, the “prime motive” of the sonata (C/Eb), its inversion in the finale movement (Eb/C) and the “rondo motive” (C/Bnat) form the minor tonality of the C minor triad as wells as the leading viio7 of that tonality ([e] in Example 2.2). The “hidden” outline of the Grundgestalt is therefore accompanied by the potential for the C minor tonality which is superimposed with its leading viio7 harmony.

(Example 2.2)

(20.a) The next eight measures of the main theme further explore and outline the Grundgestalt, “linked” to the first four most explicitly by the melodic motion of Ab to G, called “the corner interval of the [main] theme” by Réti, and to the rest of the sonata by encapsulating the concluding motion of the main theme of the Adagio cantabile movement. (Example 2.3) Beethoven is making a compelling argument here, rhetorically “linking” what he has previously introduced in the sonata to draw conclusions in this finale movement: the first four measures of the Rondo-finale will relate to the “prime motive” of the sonata introduced during the opening movement and its “pathetic style” inversion within the Rondo-finale, to be followed by materials thematically related to the opening theme of the sonata’s second movement.

(Example 2.3)

(20.b) During these eight measures (mm. 5-12) the potential for the C minor triad within the Grundgestalt is explored by Beethoven, presenting the lower and upper chromatic neighbors of the triad that together resolve to the tonic minor triad in first inversion both times at measures 6 and 10 (Example 2.4). When the melody reaches its height of Ab, the accompaniment outlines both times the upper and chromatic lower neighbors of the C minor triad in back-to-back fashion that is hard for the listener to overlook, concomitantly extending the “rondo motif” of C and its lower chromatic neighbor.

(Example 2.4)

(21.a) The next four measures (mm.12-16) of the main theme, defined by both Tovey and Réti as a “codetta,” bear the seed of the transition to the first episode of the movement, the episode itself and the retransition back to the first return of the rondo theme. The secondary theme of the Rondo-finale in fact opens with an inversion of the melodic contours of these four measure within the new Eb major tonality:

(Example 2.5)

(21.b)The melodic and bass contours combined express the second extension of the Grundgestalt into the Neopolitan region which resolves to the subdominant of the C minor tonality. This extension is incomplete, however, lacking the upper chromatic neighbor to C that would clearly demarcate the appearance of a Db secondary dominant resolving to the subdominant as it does according to Schenker’s theory into the Neopolitan region of the Grundgestalt. What Beethoven does here is to leave an argument hanging in the air unresolved until the second couplet of the Rondo-finale movement, wherein Db is clearly established as a relative of Ab (Example 2.6):

(Example 2.6)

(21.c)The second couplet’s concern for what Réti considers the “corner interval of the [main] theme,” however, first expressed between measure 5 and 12 of the main theme, further “links” these two sections together with the second episode and its transitions as it moves to and from the first episode. On the surface, then, it would appear as though this finale movement is more concerned with materials from the Adagio cantabile than it is with the “primary theme” of the sonata. This is illusory, however, when one realizes that the tonal regions through which the finale movement propels these thematic materials encapsulate the “prime motive,” (C/Eb) the “prime motive in inversion” (Eb/C) and also the Grundgestalt with its upper chromatic neighbor (Eb/G-Ab). This is another reason why the movement of tonality from Ab to G major during the second couplet is important to note. The organic relationship between these materials, however, remains “hidden” at this point.

(Example 2.7: tonal regions)

(21.d) This harmonic motion falls within the tonal regions of the Grundgestalt, according to Schoenberg’s definition of it, as follows:

(Example 2.8)

(22) As Beethoven works through the “corner intervals” initially derived from the Adagio cantabile, he “links” these materials to the “prime motive” of the first movement and the “prime motive in inversion” that the Rondo-finale introduces by developing the themes through the aforementioned tonal regions. This concludes the initial exploration of the Grundgestalt. Beethoven is clearly demonstrating the integrity of these materials as a unit, expressing the moral resistance to “the suffering nature of the Grave” that Sisman argues is essential to express by any composition in the “pathetic style.” This further concurs with Adelung’s criteria for the “pathetic style” that Sisman bases her argument upon, offering to listeners a “crowding together of ideas -- their impetuous course, the quick succession of short sentences, the repetition of the same idea in different forms,” and their transcendence from fragmented articulations of sorrow into the potential for a synchronic and strong unity.
(23.a) The final “two bars of chords” of the main theme (mm. 16-17), as Tovey labels them, end by articulating again the “prime motive,” “prime motive in inversion” and the “rondo motive” together within the internal voices. The movement of the main theme through the Grundgestalt and its potential for the C minor triad is thereby related or “linked” back to the primary theme of the Sonata Pathétique. The main theme builds to its climax during these final “two bars of chords,” offering only a brief repose before Beethoven “continues” developing these motives throughout the remainder of the movement (Example 2.9).

(Example 2.9)

(23.b) It is only by Schenker’s notion of “linkage” that the manner by which Beethoven relates the sections of the main theme to the rest of the movement, and thereby completing the overarching design of the Sonata Pathétique, comes into view. The Rondo-finale thus appears as a song (the main theme) within a song (the movement itself). The final articulation of the sonata’s “prime motive” in Ab major during the coda thereby organically relates the movement to the sonata that it concludes. The coda finally achieves the upper chromatic neighbor of the subdominant, from the third extension of the Grundgestalt into the Neopolitan region. The choice of Ab major to conclude the movement and the sonata by, although most obviously related to the Adagio cantabile movement of the sonata, also forces the Db upper chromatic neighbor to C in the melody as it iterates the “prime motive” and the “prime motive in inversion” in the Ab major tonal region. This “links” all the sections of the main theme together in an integral relationship that may only be achieved in the Ab major tonal region. The sonata that begins in C minor at a forte marking concludes by a tranquillo e semplice recapitulation of all the materials of sorrow with which Beethoven sparred throughout the sonata in an integral unity in Ab major. It is from this unity that the necessary strength is drawn for the final three bars which rush from a high Eb down to middle C, crescendoing from a double to triple forte dynamic, at which time Beethoven articulates a perfect authentic cadence in the home key to provide the movement, and the sonata, with the adequate sense of closure that, until this point, had been noticeably absent.

(Example 2.10)

(24)The five measure leading to this coda extend the “prime motive” of the sonata as it was first introduced in the closing theme of the Grave movement. (Example 2.8) Within the Grave’s closing theme the third extension of the Grundgestalt is presented in its integrity with both E natural and Db upper and lower chromatic neighbors resolving to the subdominant. When it appears in its guise within measures 187 to 192 of the Rondo-finale, however, the Db upper chromatic neighbor is again absent. It does not appear until five measures later, as it urges the movement towards a held Eb triad which acts as the home dominant of Ab major only after it is resolved (Example 2.11). Without the dominant (Db) seventh of the Eb triad, it remains unclear whether this hinge chord is indeed an Eb triad or a secondary dominant of the subdominant (f minor) of the C minor tonal region. This functions as the final ambiguity of the Rondo-finale movement. This movement of the coda replicates almost exactly the deceptive cadence of the secondary dominant to F minor to the VI major of the home tonality at measure 14 of the main theme. When the upper chromatic neighbor of the home subdominant is first iterated as part of the third extension of the Grundgestalt into the Neopolitan region within the second couplet, it is quickly propelled back to the dominant tonal region of the movement’s tonic, creating a magnetic pull back to the main theme in the C minor tonal region with its inadequate sense of closure. When the dominant resolves to the Ab major tonal region at the coda, and all of the musical “expressions of sorrow” throughout this finale movement and the sonata itself are “linked” together, Beethoven articulates his final resistance to sorrow and finds the Db that the Rondo-finale longed for.

(Example 2.11)

(25) I would like to make one final point in order to demonstrate the unifying function that the main theme plays within the Rondo-finale movement. The amputations of the main theme during their second and third returns disclude the extension of the Grundgestalt into the Neopolitan region that resolves back to the minor tonality in the main theme via the “prime motive” and “prime motive in inversion.” These extensions are achieved by the recapitulation of the first episode in the major tonic, providing the tonic’s natural third, and by the coda that follows the third return to finally iterate the Neopolitan region in its integrity with the main theme when it is ultimately cast in Ab major. In this tonality, however, the “prime motive” and its inversion are transposed sequentially down a major third. The high Eb that leads down to middle C during the final two measures of the movement and the sonata that it concludes, place the “prime motive in inversion” that was only achieved in the main theme via internal voicings at the upper most register of the movement. This propels “the prime motive in inversion,” which has been iterated until now only as an internal force of closure for the main theme, above what had initially contained it. It thereby becomes an external force suppressing the dominant of the home key back to the tonic and the high Eb back down to middle C which is achieved by the “rondo motif.” The harmonic motion of these three measures encapsulates the “corner intervals of the [main] theme” that are derived from the Adagio cantabile. The Rondo-finale movement therefore contributes the lower chromatic neighbor to the C minor tonality as the necessary musical ingredient for transcending the “sorrowful nature” that Sisman argues is articulated by the first two movements of the Sonata Pathétique. The pathos of the sonata cannot be transcended until Beethoven finds the necessary position to locate the “rondo motif.” For this reason we are given the superimposition of the i minor and viio7 during the main theme every time it recurs so that this harmony ultimately functions, extracted from their superimposition, during these final three measures to resolve the pathos of this dissonance that has recurred throughout the movement and, ultimately, the pathos of the Sonata Pathétique.

(Example 2.12)

(26)The seeming ambiguity of the melodic, harmonic and formal contours of the Rondo-finale in terms of traditional rondo form are illusory, a function of rhetoric by which Beethoven articulates pathos and by which that pathos is overcome. While the Rondo-finale can be explained in terms of itself, it is essential to mark the roles that various thematic materials derived from the preceding two movements are interrogated and developed by the composer during the movement, for it is only through these relationships that the “sense of continuation” by which the main theme of the rondo concludes meets its closure in the last three measures of the movement and of the sonata itself. As Elaine R. Sisman argues, “by the end of the piece, the impassioned accents have become so deeply rooted that it takes but a moment of phantasia to provide the exemplary pathetic peroration.”