Musicology

“Playing with Time: The Heiliger Dankgesang and the Evolution of Narrative Liberation in Op. 132”

Wednesday afternoon, October 31, 2:00-6:00pm, Bayside A
Michiko Theurer
Student, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Indiana University

“Playing with Time: The Heiliger Dankgesang and the Evolution of Narrative Liberation in Op. 132″

Joseph Kerman describes the sudden turn from A minor to A major that takes place in the coda of the finale of Op. 132 as a “dissolving conclusion” that conveys an impression of “liberation, even of play,” in its blithe rejection of the preceding A-minor narrative.  But he adds that “the play seems genuinely earned or achieved,” raising the question of how an act defined by apparent spontaneity can be perceived as justified through the course of the very narrative from which it emerges.  The central Heiliger Dankgesang movement provides one perspective from which to assess this question.  Analysis of its structure and modal language suggests that the Dankgesang is both temporally isolated from the surrounding music and also an indirect center of meaning for the narrative from which it is detached.  This calls to mind Kant’s idea of freedom originating in an agent that is independent of the causal bonds of extended time.  Since the Dankgesang’s narrative discontinuity disrupts linear analysis of the quartet as a whole, study of sketches and related works provides a useful framework through which to trace the Dankgesang’s influence on surrounding material.

In particular, sketches extending back to the Ninth Symphony show a tight web of genetic connections between the Heiliger Dankgesang, Op. 132’s finale, and the symphony’s “Joy” theme and finale.  These connections support a view of the “Joy” theme and the Dankgesang’s chorale as structurally and functionally inverted counterparts central to the narratives of their respective works.  The conjunct turning motion essential to both themes drives many early sketches for the quartet’s finale.  Connections between the third and fifth movements of Op. 132 extend through the Autograph 11/2, De Roda, and Moscow sketchbooks, surfacing in sketches for the transitional fugato section of the finale that accompany Beethoven’s decision to end the movement in A major.  An analysis of the corresponding section in the finished composition suggests that the directional ambiguity of the Dankgesang’s modal language had a direct influence on the trajectory of the quartet’s ending.  The synthesis of spontaneity from the nonlinear interaction of the Dankgesang’s modal aesthetic with the finale’s A-minor drive calls to mind Schiller’s ideal of the “play-drive” as a means of liberation from both formal idealism and causal necessity.  Whereas the Ninth Symphony achieves D-major joy through outward confrontation with its narrative past, the quartet finds its A-major release through an inner transcendence of narrative time.