The Galant in the Hammerklavier

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Beethoven’s late compositional style is known for bending conventions he learned as a young man. Many discussions of his late style concentrate on adherence to and deviations from the conventions of functional harmony, fugal techniques, and sonata form. This document sheds light on an additional, previously unexamined aspect of Beethoven’s compositional process: his use of Galant schemata. These schematic patterns were catalogued and described by Robert Gjerdingen in his book Music in the Galant Style. For earlier 18th century composers, schematic constructs were a necessary time-saving tool which allowed composers to keep up with enormous demand on their output. While Beethoven faced different market conditions from his predecessors, and while his music embodied early iterations of nascent musical Romanticism, Beethoven nonetheless inherited the language of the Galant style and its building blocks. This study presents a detailed analysis of the way Beethoven deployed and subverted these schematic patterns in the Hammerklavier piano Sonata. The analysis leads to the conclusion that these schemata, far from chaining the composer’s creative impulses, were indeed a handy tool which he could employ in accordance with his contextual needs. Moreover, by analyzing how Beethoven integrates Galant schemata throughout the Hammerklavier, this document shows that the presence of seemingly outdated patterns in a self-consciously esoteric and romantically sublime piano Sonata underscores a synergy, not an opposition, between the old Galant and the new Romantic idioms in Beethoven’s late compositional style.

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  • 02/02/2018
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