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Volume 13 • Number 1

Spring 2006

 

Modality in Beethoven's Folk-song Settings

 

by Nicole Biamonte

Between 1809 and 1820 Beethoven composed settings for 179 folk-song melodies, the majority of them Irish, Scottish, and Welsh.1 While there have been documentary and bibliographical studies concerning this repertoire,2 analytical studies are far fewer. The most comprehensive analyses of the settings to date are found in Petra Weber-Bockholdt's Beethovens Bearbeitungen britischer Lieder and to a lesser degree in Barry Cooper's Beethoven's Folksong Settings, 3 which is primarily historical in focus but includes a consideration of the formal structures of the settings, motivic development within them, and„most germane to this study„Beethoven's treatment of “irregular” melodies. In this essay I examine the surprisingly small number of Beethoven's modal folk-song settings and categorize them by harmonization type, superimposing a theoretical framework on the continuum between tonality and modality.

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