Classical Forms

 Beethoven: Symphony No. 1 – Movement 1

Cleveland Orchestra | George Szell | Sony BMG Music Entertainment 1962

This movement of Beethoven’s first symphony is written in sonata form.  The first theme (in C major) is stated with a simple accompaniment, establishing the key very clearly with several dominant-to-tonic intervals and a rising arpeggio.  Before moving into the second theme, there are 8 full bars on the dominant chord, which prepares the listener for the change of key to G major.  I was surprised by the relatively short development section in this movement, most of the time is spent on the Exposition and Recapitulation. The overall effect is quite different from Beethoven’s later works which have much more unexpected key and harmony changes.

Haydn: String Quartet Op. 1 No. 1 – Minuet

Petersen Quartett | Capriccio 1997

The short fourth movement of this quartet is a minuet – a dance in triple time.  The structure is 12 bars in Bb major (repeated), then a 14 bar section which starts in Bb minor, returning back to the major (also repeated).  Then the trio is in two 8 bar sections. The trio emphasises the dance feel with explicit dynamics of on the first beat and on the second.  The piece has a very elegant, Classical feel – the violins are often playing in thirds and Haydn uses trills at the ends of phrases.

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 21

Jeno Jando | Mozart Complete Piano Concertos Vol. 2 | Naxos 1999

The opening of this concerto is typically ‘Classical’  – a two bar phrase which ends on the dominant chord, followed by another two bar phrase with the same rhythm, bringing us back to the tonic.  The rest of the first movement continues in much the same way, lots of repetition in a very elegant and balanced way.  I am playing a Mozart symphony with my local symphony orchestra at the moment, and have noticed that for the strings this style of music requires a particular kind of articulation that might not necessarily be written down explicitly – for example crotchets will often be played detached and off the string, giving a feeling of lightness and space.  As in Haydn’s quartet, trills are frequently used at the ends of sections, as a kind of an announcement of the change.

The second movement is slow and lyrical – the upper strings play a detached quaver triplet accompaniment which is later taken on by the piano, while the cellos and basses provide a pizzicato bass line.  Sharing a line between these two sections was more common in the Classical era; now it is usual for separate parts to be written.

The final movement is traditionally fast and more demanding of the soloist – lots of running passages for both hands.  In 2/4, there’s a strong emphasis on the first beat, often with slurred quavers.  The piano part features a variation of alberti bass in places.

Beethoven: String Quartet No. 2 (Op. 18)

Jerusalem Quartet | harmonia mundi 2015

Since I had already listened to Beethoven’s first string quartet recently in my analysis of the Evolution of Beethoven’s Work, here I decided to listen to his second.  The first movement dives straight into the main theme in G major – very Classical sounding, though perhaps with more sudden dynamic changes and sforzandos than Mozart’s and Haydn’s works.  I think it is written in sonata form – the second theme is in the dominant key of D major, with a bridge section in between which explores some other keys. The development section first continues briefly with the second theme but now in a minor key, before moving on to develop the first theme.  The whole work is very light hearted, predominantly in major keys, with a bouncy scherzo for the third movement.

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