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C O U R S E 
Exploring Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
Jonathan Biss, Curtis Institute of Music
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
The Tonic, the Dominant, and Sonata Form
Notes taken on January 30, 2015 by Edward Tanguay
necessary when discussing the effect of music
people hear form or analysis in a musical context and they tend to think of something dry
form is indeed about rules
and about the grammar and construction of music
it is ultimately all about psychology
not just the way the music is put together or works
but the way it works on the listener
to study the musical structure is to create a map of the emotional content of a piece of music
it's no accident that work on harmony and form is called analysis
Charles Rosen
Sonata Forms
The Classical Style
better to understand the sonata culture
explains the sources of the power in classical music
"the sonata is not a definite form like a minuet, a da capo aria, or a French overture, it is, like the fugue, a way of writing, a feeling for proportion, direction and texture, rather than a pattern. This is why it was able to encompass such a wide variety of music and why it is so difficult to speak about clearly. It was also difficult to create. Bach's music, while it involves certain harmonic relationships which become crucial in the classical style, is in very clear cut ways different, pre-classical. And after he died, there was a period of at least fifteen years before the new style asserted itself. It's not a coincidence that after Bach's death, well over a decade passed before Haydn, the next great composer, started writing great music. And from that point on, with Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, there's always significant overlap and a non-stop stream of masterpieces being written. The classic style was slow to come into focus, but once it did it almost immediately became the basis for much of the most extraordinary music ever. Many people, and not just hopelessly conservative ones, feel that the classical era, a.k.a. the heyday of sonata form, is the pinnacle of Western music.
so sonata form was difficult to invent
was also in a constant state of evolution
even before Beethoven, composers were constantly testing the limits of the form, seeing if it could accommodate more material, different harmonic centers, tinkering with order of events
rare animal
neither primarily a pianist or an academic
perhaps the most well-rounded and most seen musicians ever
sonata form
does not refer to the shape of an entire sonata
but to a single movement
it is the first movement on which this structural attention is usually lavish
the story of two oppositions
the opposition of two themes
the opposition of the tonic and the dominant
these are harmonic terms
the fundamental chord of whatever key we happen to be in
if we are in the key of B-flat major, the tonic is a B-flat major chord
the chord that begins on the 5th scale degree
for the key of B-flat major, this is the F-chord
it is the central fact of tonal music that the dominant chord always wants to resolve to the tonic chord
it may sound prosaic but that is really what all classical tonality is about
everything else is an embellishment of that tonic relationship
we start at home, the tonic, then we move away from home, traditionally always the dominant, and the tension in the work from that point on involves our emotional need for a return home