Theses Doctoral

Rethinking Beethoven's Middle Style: Form, Time, and Disruption in the Chamber Music of 1806-15

Turner, Madeleine Lucille

This dissertation argues for a reappraisal of Beethoven’s middle period using the chamber music written between 1806 and 1815 to advance a new paradigm of “middleness.” I argue that Beethoven’s creative output was profoundly influenced by the circumstances of life in Vienna 1806-15.

Napoleon’s eastward-advancing armies brought about the end of the Holy Roman Empire and undertook multiple bombardments of the city of Vienna itself, profoundly disrupting both the established social order and daily life. Unlike other scholarship that has made similar claims of influence on Beethoven’s oeuvre, this project does not seek to ascribe programmatic readings or political aspirations to Beethoven’s music, but rather to suggest that the effects of these events were echoed in the composer’s approach to manipulating musical time and conveying musical subjectivity.

The stylistic developments that occurred in Beethoven’s music in this period are reflective of currents of upheaval and historical rupture that have been discussed in historiographic and critical literature on early nineteenth century Europe by such scholars as Reinhart Koselleck, Lynn Hunt, and Peter Fritzsche. These developments in Beethoven’s style are seen most clearly in his chamber music, a compositional venue notable both for its experimental potential as well as timbral and textural richness. To support formal and topical analyses of these works, I develop and advance a new paradigm for understanding “middleness.”

Using tools from literary criticism, including work by Harold Bloom and Julia Kristeva, I conceive a framework for middleness that posits it as a fundamentally disruptive impulse. This paradigm provides artistic “middleness” with a stature comparable to oft-discussed “lateness” and opens pathways for potential future study. I furthermore theorize that, if middleness is disruptive, the nature of an artist’s disruptive middle style is heavily dependent on the context in which it occurs. Beethoven’s middle style therefore reflects the context of temporal dislocation and social change in which it occurs.

Taking this into account, I consider anew questions of style in Beethoven’s middle period, which runs roughly concurrently with the period of Napoleonic upheaval in Vienna. Rather than relying on the idea of the “heroic” style, which is the most commonly cited archetype for Beethoven’s middle-period music, I establish a more capacious framework that allows for understanding even the non-heroic middle period works as part of a larger artistic current. In these works, we see a profusion of genres and topics related to improvisation, as well as new approaches to employing introductions and codas in sonata form movements. Movements from the String Quartet Op. 59 no. 3, the Piano Trio Op. 70 no. 2, the String Quartet Op. 74 “Harp”, the Violin Sonata Op. 96, the Piano Trio Op. 97 “Archduke,” and the Cello Sonata Op. 102 no. 1 are used as examples of Beethoven’s particular disruptive middle style.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Sisman, Elaine R.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 13, 2022