A troublemaker in the octet: A hermeneutical approach to Beethoven’s op. 103

Introduction

In the opening “Allegro” movement of his Wind Octet in E-flat major, Op. 103, Beethoven perpetrates a bit of mischief at the expense of the listener—and the analyst. In this paper, we will examine some analytical puzzles of this movement, then attempt to solve them by exploring a possible hermeneutical interpretation and applying Schenkerian techniques.

The hermeneutical narrative that we will attempt to apply here represents only one possible interpretation, but it is useful because it provides an accessible context for dealing with problematic elements (we will deal with an oddly recurring melodic motive, some unexpected harmonic turns, and a formal deformation). The Schenkerian techniques are effective here for identifying and explicating the essential harmonic motion.

A motivic troublemaker

Troublemaker motive
"Troublemaker" motive

The first riddle of the Allegro is a trill-like motive (example 1) that dominates the opening of the movement. It appears in the first oboe, repeated in each of the first four measures. We will investigate a possible hermeneutic role of this motive: the impish troublemaker. (The troublemaker motive remains closely associated with the first oboe, though the first oboe also plays a part as a fully cooperative member of the ensemble. The oboe isn’t the troublemaker; the motive itself gets the blame.) Continue reading “A troublemaker in the octet: A hermeneutical approach to Beethoven’s op. 103”