Musicology

“Finale finally, finely”: “The Recycled Presto in Beethoven’s Opus 47?

Wednesday afternoon, October 31, 2- 6pm, Bayside A
Steven Whiting
Professor, University of Michigan

”Finale finally, finely”: “The Recycled Presto in Beethoven’s Opus 47”

Unlike Beethoven’s “unborn children” (as William Drabkin called them), the rejected finale of op. 30/1 was reborn, as the finale to op. 47, the concerto-sonata written posthaste in May 1803 for performance with the formidable virtuoso and “gran pazzo e compositore mulattico” George Bridgetower.  Curiously, since Wilhelm Engelsmann’s 1931 dissertation, no one seems to have examined the movement in its original context (a context in which Beethoven soon found the finale “too brilliant”). Not surprisingly, such examination reveals numerous motivic, harmonic, structural, and rhythmic connections with the first two movements of op. 30/1; the Presto definitely bears the imprint of its original surroundings. When Beethoven took the finale “off the shelf” one year later, he had to make two new movements that would (1) create a more convincing context for the virtuosic finale and (2) seem to grow toward and culminate in a movement already composed. Accordingly, those new movements (especially the first) bear the imprint of their ready-made finale, with some traits being traceable back to op. 30/1. The finale is, so to speak, the transmitter of structural “DNA” from a sonata at the threshold of Beethoven’s “heroic” style to a sonata exemplifying that style. To unpack the resultant “layering of reversals” (Richard Kramer) entails remembering that what is staged in the finale to seem like a recollection of (or reflection upon) “issues” in preceding movements is actually, given the order of composition, their “cause.” Much was at stake in Beethoven’s endeavor, because his current symphonic project was the Eroica, for which the finale was essentially in place in the form of the Variations op. 35.