Comic Narrative Strategies in Beethoven's String Quartet No. 13 in E-flat Major, Op. 127: I. Maestoso-Allegro

Catrina Kim, University of Houston

In the opening movement of Beethoven's Op. 127 String Quartet, the Maestoso introduction unexpectedly reappears twice, each time disrupting the unmarked trajectory of the sonata form. Most strikingly, in its second repetition, the Maestoso introduction uniquely takes on the role of the movement's expressive climax in the development. Eric McKee (1999) departs from organicist approaches and considers the oddities of the Maestoso in terms of expressive meaning: the process of "decline" is associated with the Maestoso, and the process of "growth" characterizes the relatively unmarked sonata form. McKee's approach, however, only cursorily addresses the relationship between these two processes. I suggest that this relationship constitutes a crucial dimension of expressive meaning in Beethoven's Op. 127. Building on McKee's work, I incorporate Byron Almén's theory of narrativity and Eero Tarasti's theory of modalizing isotopies into an interpretive analysis of this movement, which considers the dynamic relationships between McKee's "decline" and "growth" processes through the lens of musical narrative. This combined approach uniquely allows the analyst to investigate the dynamic and interactive processes that generally characterize musical experience. Following Almén, I investigate the manner in which this movement articulates a comic narrative type. This multi-theoretic approach offers the opportunity for more nuanced readings in particularly challenging passages. Tracking the varying levels of modalities in Op. 127 brings to bear a fuller understanding of the movement's expressive and narrative implications.