Beethoven: Rondo opus 4 No.7

by Anne-Marie Camilleri

Click to hear the rondo finale of op.4 no.7. (MIDI 47Kb)

The rondo of the Sonata in E-flat Major, Opus. 4, No. 7 by Ludwig Van Beethoven is an ideal model of the Classical sonata-rondo form. According to The New Grove Dictionary of Music, a sonata-rondo is a "fusion of rondo design with a sonata allegro tonal plan."1 The New Grove outlines the following structure of the form of a sonata-rondo:

The A section should be a self contained unit, ending with a perfect authentic cadence (P.A.C.) in the tonic key. The B section, usually in the dominant key, is comparable to the second thematic group in the sonata exposition. The return to the A section can be a literal repeat or deviated. The C section, usually in the relative minor, should be a contrasting section thematically. The next A section, as opposed to a regular rondo form, may be omitted. The B section is a repeat of the previous B material, though this time stated in the tonic key. The final A section may be omitted or replaced by the coda, and the coda could be ornamental and a prolonged P.A.C. or as complex as additional development material.

When graphing this form onto the Sonata in E flat, we see that the key centers of each movement follow the New Grove's definition, though the function of the B section is different. Rather than acting as the second theme of the exposition, the B material of the E-flat major Sonata acts more as a development of the secondary theme of the A section (b mm. 8-12). The following is a detailed outline of the rondo form, and the individual forms within each section.

As figure one illustrates, all the components of an eight-part rondo are present. Beethoven does not omit the second B section, or the final A section, as the New Grove definition suggests, though some sections appear abbreviated or deviated. This is one of the more puzzling aspects of the piece. Why are all the sections necessary, such as the repetition of the complete A at measure 93. Do all the sections play integral parts in unifying the rondo? I will attempt to address these questions throughout the article.

I think that one of the ways in which Beethoven is able to produce a rondo with all its parts intact is by treating the opening of the A material or exposition in the dominant-seventh chord of E flat, (B-flat seventh chord). This allows for a smooth transition from the B section back to the A section. An example of this can be seen between the ending of B (measure 48, measure 49-50 being the transition) to the beginning of A'. Because the B section modulates and ends on a P.A.C. in the key of B flat, and the transition emphasizes the cadential figure (C, B flat, A natural), the A section starting on a B-flat seventh chord enables a seamless transition between the keys of B-flat major and E-flat major. The B section is in itself an important component as it acts as a development of the b material of the A section. The second B section (beginning at measure 109) recaps the original material, this time stated in the tonic key as opposed to the dominant key. The C section is also a necessary component to the rondo as it functions as the most contrasting section in the relative minor key. The question still remains however, of why the A section is repeated so many times. The opening A section functions as the opening statement of the rondo. The second A section (A', mm. 50-62) appears as an incomplete restatement of the exposition material as the final a'' is omitted. Beethoven ends the b section in a half cadence on a B-flat octave, and uses this to pivot to the C section in the relative minor (C minor). The next statement of the A section (mm. 93-109), however, is interesting. According to the definition given by New Grove, this A section is usually omitted in the typical sonata-rondo form. I think the answer to this lies in the following and final A section (mm. 141-165), where we do not hear a true restatement of the original A material. Therefore, the A section at measures 93-109 is the last time we hear the complete A exposition material. This leads to the next issue. Why does the final A section (A''', mm. 141-165) appear in such a deviated form? All the components of this section are deviated from the original material, though they seem to be ornamented with other motives that are found throughout the piece. It seems to me that the last A section, A''', sounds more akin to the final restatement of the exposition in a typical sonata movement. The deviation of material also gives the piece a sense of variety, as another restatement of the theme would sound redundant.

One of the most interesting aspects of the rondo in E-flat major is how Beethoven draws on motives from the main rondo theme (the A section) and the B and C sections to unify the piece. Some of these motives include a descending minor second motive, arpeggiated chords (often melodic material), chromaticism (both single notes and in scale patterns), use of octaves, and repetition of note patterns (often unresolved cadential patterns) to modulate from one key to another. The following article is a detailed exploration of the above mentioned motives in main rondo theme, (the A section), and how the B and C sections are organically connected with the use of these motives.

The opening rondo theme, the A section, is written in ternary form: a, a', b, a'. The A section is complex because it begins on the dominant7 (B flat) chord of the home key, E-flat major. We do not actually come across the tonic chord until the 3rd measure, where it appears briefly while the harmony returns to the dominant note for a half cadence in measure 4. This is one of the most interesting features of the piece as one does not identify the opening chord in the key of B flat but it is realized automatically as a dominant harmony.

Beethoven manages to produce this effect through a number of ways, the most obvious of which is by adding the A-flat note in the opening B-flat chord to produce a minor seventh interval (dominant7 chord), even though it appears for only a fraction of a beat. The repeating B-flat notes in the bass also lend an anticipatory feel to the piece, but the most interesting feature of this dominant opening is in the soprano voice of the melody. As seen in figure 2, the first four measures create a cadential gesture of an unresolved suspension.

Figure 2.

The unresolved note of E-flat is not properly resolved in the correct register until measure 16, at the P.A.C. at the end of a'. The ending of a' at measure 8, though sounding similar to measure 16, does not properly resolve the cadential gesture as it resolves to an E flat that is an octave too low. The downward motion from E flat to D (see figure 2) is a motive which reoccurs throughout the A section, not only seen in the unresolved cadential gesture but in the b material also. The downward motive of this b section (as seen in figure 4) is the motive that is developed chiefly throughout the B section.

Because this piece begins on an unresolved cadential gesture on the dominant seventh, one can interpret this to be an unresolved P.A.C. The melody between the unresolved suspension and its resolution can be seen as a prolongation of the cadential figure. The nature of the a melody is an interesting one as it winds its way down an octave (from high F to low F, or E flat in a') in a scale pattern with added non-chord tones. Figure 3 shows this pattern through a Schenkerian graph.

Figure 3.

I previously mentioned that the opening cadential gesture is not resolved until measure 16, and that the melody of a (mm. 1-4) and a' (mm. 4-8) both unfold in a downward scale pattern. Beethoven eventually manages to resolve the cadential gesture in the correct register by applying octaves to the melody, and using them as a conduit to jump to the correct register while maintaining the melody of a' and resolving on a P.A.C. The process of introducing octaves is initially used in the b section (mm. 8-12). The b section is based on an arpeggiated I6 chord which also finishes with the downward minor second motive (see Figure 4).

Figure 4.

The figure seen above, made up of i and ii, is repeated, though ii is given a different treatment. Not only is it written in octaves, it does not end with the downward minor second motive. It simply stops and half cadences on the note B flat, and produces the effect of a scale pattern from the note E flat to B flat. A reason for this could be when the A section is moving to the C section, and the last a' is omitted, the b section moves directly into the C section. By omitting the note C, the first note of the downward minor second motive, (see ii in Figure 4), and the resulting product is a five note scale ending on B flat, the b section can make a smoother transition into the new section, which begins on the note C. We also see the use of octaves in the final A''' section as a means to variate the original a material. The coda also makes use of octaves in the form of grace notes to variate the material it has taken from the melody of the C section.

Having adding octaves to the end of the b section, Beethoven continues the use of the octaves in the second a' section (mm. 12-16) and is able to resolve the suspension in the original register. When hearing this second a' section, I still heard the melody in the bottom register of the octaves. If the melody stayed in the lower register of octaves, however, the problem of correct resolution still remains, as the melody still unfolds in a downward scale pattern. However, in the middle of measure 15, Beethoven ceases to use octaves and replaces them with intervals of a sixth, providing the upper register with the melody. He therefore successfully crosses the melody from the lower range to the higher range to resolve the opening suspension.

As the opening A section illustrates, Beethoven uses what on the surface seems to be embellishments, such as octaves and the minor second motive, as integral parts of the piece. All of these motives are explored in both the B and C sections, though they are contrasting in mood. As formerly stated, the second A section at measures 50-62 appears without its second a' section. The octave B flat at the end of the b section is used to pivot to the C section in the relative minor (C minor). A B-natural octave is used between the B-flat and C octave as a passing note in measure 63, which can act as the Neopolitan of B flat and the leading note of C minor simultaneously. The use of octaves is also interesting here as the lack of thirds or fifths of the chord make it harmonically ambiguous, serving a double function. As mentioned before, this instance is perhaps to reason for the lack of use of the minor second motive at the end of b section, when it is first introduced. The B-natural note serves as the transition into C minor.

The final A section, which begins at measure 142, never appears in its original state as found in measures 1-16. The first four measures of this final section (a) are in a higher register, perhaps reminiscent of the last a' section that appears in octaves in measures 12-16. The following four measures (that should be a' material) are treated as a descending chromatic scale in octaves, from F to A flat which recalls the descending melodic line of figure 3, minus the non-chord tones. The b section, from measures 149-153, appears in its entirety without deviation. However, the end of the b section at measure 154 begins with the B-natural octave (as in the transition between A and C ), now treated as the true Neapolitan of B flat (as the piece does not modulate to C minor at that point but E major, the Neapolitan of E-flat major).

The second a' section has begun in a new key and sounds more like a than a' (as it seems to want to cadence on the dominant instead of resolving to a perfect authentic cadence). At measure 158, we find Beethoven beginning to modulate back to E flat. He does this by repeating the alternate note pattern of measure 158 in measure 159, and makes a sudden modulation back to E flat in measure 160. This is reminiscent of the transition material between the first B section and the second A section. At that point (mm. 48-49) Beethoven uses a repeating triple note figure (also an unresolved cadential gesture) to make the transition back to A. The modulation between E major and E-flat major is not as smooth in its transition, though by accenting it with an ffp, Beethoven adds enough dramatic contrast to make the drastic modulation seem like dramatic purpose. See figure 5.

The a''' section in E major is the last time we see the material of the A section. After the modulation back to E-flat major, Beethoven repeats the alternate note patterns of measures 158-159 in the tonic key (in octaves) and proceeds to cadence by an ascending alternate note pattern to a D natural then descends in a scale pattern to resolve to a P.A.C. on the note E flat. The downward alternate note pattern can be seen to resemble the original descending melodic pattern (see figure 3).

The Coda which follows features a melodic line that roughly resembles the melodic line of the C section (which plays it in C minor which the Coda is in E-flat major), where it is developed more extensively, harmonically speaking. The bass clef 32nd note arpeggiations are also very similar to arpeggiated elements of the C section, only they are written in contrasting keys. The coda itself is partially what makes this rondo a sonata-rondo in its form, and according to the New Grove definition, serves to develop material that was already heard.

The B section draws its material from the b section of the large A (mm. 8-11, see figure 4). The arpeggiated melodic line is now found in the bass clef rather than the treble clef at the opening of the section, though Beethoven initiates a dialogue or call and response between the bass clef downward minor second motive and the treble clef (second measure, 1st beat of figure 4). He uses this downward motive to develop the B section up until measure 25 at which he introduces a more embellished version of the motive, which he continues to further harmonically develop. He further expands on this material until the transition back to A. Previous to the transition, the B material has modulated to the key of B-flat major. The transition material itself is two measures of repeated triplet figures ending in an upward chromatic scale to the note F, where he begins the A material again. These two measures seem to sever the P.A.C. on B flat at the end of the B section (m. 48) and the opening of the A section on the B-flat dominant chord in measure 50. Beethoven seems to use the repetition of unresolved cadential figures as transition material. We see this at measure 48-50, when in transition between B and A', the transition between C and A at measures 90-93, and the modulation between E major and E-flat major in the A''' section, measures 156-159. This is one of the ways that Beethoven uses a particular motive to create a sense of organic unity in the piece.

The second B section, even though it is exactly the same in length as the first B section, is harmonically developed in a different manner. The developed material in this section remains in the key of E-flat major, at the end of which, the piece half cadences on the dominant, where two measures of transition material are added. Instead of the repeating triplet figures, we again see that an upward chromatic scale is used to reach the note F to begin the A section again, this time one octave higher. The second B section is a necessary part of the piece as it maintains E-flat major as the tonal center, fulfilling its role in the sonata-rondo form.

Where as the B section is more like a development and extension of the A material, the C section is completely contrasting in nature, mainly due to its key center being in the relative minor. It is also a complete binary form, which makes it sound like a self-contained unit. The dynamics of this section are different from the rest of the sections as many fortes are implied. The melody is also made up of solid chords, which contrasts the downward melodic motion of the A section (see figure 3) or the arpeggiated figures of the B section (see figure 4). This section is related to the B section by the use 32nd note patterns (related to the B material melodic line), which in the C section, make up the bass line. The solid chords of the melody are recalled in the coda, but played in the tonic and embellished with grace notes.

In conclusion, the Sonata in E-flat major is an excellent example of the sonata-rondo form. The eight parts simultaneously exist as parts of a sonata, fulfilling the roles of exposition, development, recapitulation, and coda, while maintaining the essence of the rondo, the returning of the narrative (the B and C sections) to the main theme (the A material). The piece is also able to maintain a sense of unity without redundancy by Beethoven's subtle use of motives to unite the outwardly contrasting sections together.



1. Malcolm Cole, "Rondo", The New Grove dictionary of music and musicians, 2nd ed., ed. Stanley Sadie; exec. ed. John Tyrrell, (New York: Grove, 2001) XVI: 172.(back)

Copyright 2001 by Anne-Marie Camilleri