Imagine: It’s April 2nd 1800, and you’re about to go see the premiere of Beethoven’s first symphony at the Berthier in Vienna Austria. To understand what’s about to happen, you also have to imagine the hits that you’ve been listening to at this point, by the likes of people like Mozart are Haydn.
Nowadays music is everywhere, but back then…
Nowadays music is everywhere. It’s at the supermarket, it’s in your car, it’s even on TV as background noise. Not to mention, you could go out to the middle of nowhere and still have access to your music. But back then, live music was your only option. Your choices were few and far in between. A concert like this was your only chance to be exposed to new ideas.
Mozart & Haydn
Listen to a few openings by Mozart and Haydn. So that we can set ourselves in that period. i.e. Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 in D major… Haydn’s Symphony in C… or in G…
So, Why are Haydn and Mozart both doing the same thing in their openings? Why are they emphasizing the tonic so much. The answer is: They’re setting the stage in which they’re gonna tell their story.
Now listen to Beethoven’s opening from Symphony No.1 in C major.
Hold on! What did I miss did the symphony start already? What key are we in? Was that the tonic?
How is this an opening? He starts his symphony; not on the I but on a weird I7? OK, so to see what’s going on, let’s look at the map in C from our guide. C is a regular triad, not a dominant chord. So what Beethoven’s actually doing here, is tricking everybody into thinking that they’re somewhere that they’re not. Somewhere else the map of F. C7 is the V7 of F.
Now, when we listen to this, the only option we apparently have is to think that the story is going to be told in the map of F. Will be traveling along the map listening to a story. A weird I, it seems. I can imagine everyone in the Burg theatre being completely lost, because Beethoven had broken with all of the norms. He’s starting the story on a secondary dominant the V7/IV, and resolving it to that IV, to make us think that the story is going to be told in the map of F.
This is a bold move and it speaks volumes about both how original and defiant Beethoven was. So V7/IV – IV. A V7 a seventh chord, not a triad. A dominant chord, not a tonic. A dominant chord in the sub-dominant region, not in the dominant region. What an opening! And if you think that’s all he does to make such a great opening, you’re wrong!
This is incredibly sneaky and very audacious. No other composer has ever tried to start a symphony in this way. Which is why this clearly deserves the title as Beethoven’s Killer Opening No.1!
Find out more about the map of tonal harmony. Check out the amazing Mapping Tonal Harmony Pro (app for macOS & iOS) with an interactive map that reveals the secrets of harmony and the Interactive PDF version (compatible with any device): The Composer’s Guide To Tonality