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Volume 13 • Number 1

Spring 2006

 

Beethoven's Italian Trope: Modes of Stylistic Appropriation

 

by Robert S. Hatten

Although Beethoven in the 1790s wrote several sets of variations based on Italian opera themes, his appropriation of Italian operatic style for selected movements of his sonatas and string quartets reveals a more sophisticated set of strategies ranging from expressive enhancement to parody.1 Already in three “instrumental arias” composed between 1799 and 1802 we find passionate tragedy (op.18, no.1, movt. II), soulful yearning (op.22, movt. II), and playful mockery (op.31, no.1, movt. II). In each of these movements, Beethoven explores 98 as an expansive metric framework, realizing an expressive potential for lyrical utterance that anticipates Schubert and the next generation of Italian opera composers (notably Bellini).2

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