Organicism, motivic parallelism, and performance in Beethoven's piano sonata Op. 2 No. 3 : a thesis submitted to the New Zealand School of Music in fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Music in Musicology
This thesis summarises the important ideologies and concepts of musical organicism in the
late eighteenth century and applies them to motivic analysis and performance.
Much has been written about the organic nature of Beethoven’s later works, but less has
been written about the organic coherence found in his earlier compositions. This study
involves a motivic analysis of his Op. 2 No. 3 sonata (1795), for which little or no
significant research has been carried out. This musical work is used as an illustration of
ways in which musical organicism, motivic analysis, and performance can interrelate.
The thesis is in three parts. Part one presents a review of late eighteenth-century ideologies
of unity and their musical applications. In the search for an effective means of comparing
motivic development with organicism, it is then argued that Schenker’s ‘motivic
parallelism’ or ‘concealed repetition’ is considerably undervalued in his analytical
framework. Drawing on the insights of Richard Cohn, I endorse a more autonomous
treatment of the motivic parallelism in analysis, so that it is an independent unifying tool in
its own right and not only a by-product of tonal analysis. Several approaches are applied to
the motivic parallelism in order to illustrate how the parallelism can be used in ways
normally only associated with the surface motif.
Part two of the thesis consists of a detailed motivic analysis of Beethoven’s Op. 2 No. 3
sonata. It is argued that the motivic parallelisms contained in this sonata reflect late
eighteenth-century ideals of organicism. I propose that there are several motivic cells found
in the opening four bars of the sonata, which recur (or are ‘paralleled’) within all structural
levels and over all four movements, unifying the sonata organically as one whole. In this
way, I show that the Op. 2 No. 3 sonata can be seen to foreshadow the organic treatment of
motifs by later composers, who were influenced by Goethe’s complex prototype (1802) as
an organic model.(1) I also offer an ‘organic narrative’ for the sonata, using motivic
parallelisms as the guiding forces in the discourse.
The third and final part relates the motivic parallelisms and other analytical findings to
performance. Techniques of ‘performing’ motivic parallelisms are discussed and applied to
the Op. 2 No. 3 sonata. The organic perspective is proposed as one avenue through which
to understand and enhance a performance of a work.
(1) The sonata can also be seen to foreshadow the highly seminal treatment of motifs that was to become more
widely used in Beethoven’s later works (such as the Eroica Symphony).