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HOW TO LISTEN TO CLASSICAL MUSIC: ANALYSIS OF BEETHOVEN'S "FOR ELISE"


Musical language is a particular form of expression used to convey composer's emotions and tell stories to the audience. In it, melody plays the key role.




Try singing along to this melody – you have heard it before. Perhaps in the McDonald's commercial, or played by an ice-cream truck rolling down your street.




You have heard various pieces of classical music before, and enjoyed them, connected them with joys and sorrows of your own life, without even being aware of what they are! It is your story as much as the composer's.




Through melody, composers express their emotions, tell us what lies on their soul. One of the ways to do this is to use different keys. Major keys are often used to express positive emotions, while minor ones can express negatives. This is not set in stone, however – some composers played with this notion and turned it around to great effect.




The main melody of music pieces has a name in classical music. We call it theme.




Music can have one theme (and be called monothematic), or several themes (polythematic). Twentieth-century composers such as Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg wrote music without using melodies, but more about that later.




In Elise, Beethoven introduced three themes. The main theme is in minor key, while the other two themes are in major. Now, let's name these themes A, B, and C.




If you think of this piece as a movie, then its themes represent the main roles; the protagonists. But they can't save the day by themselves: they need supporting roles. They need sidekicks.




These sidekicks are called transitions. Transition serves to connect one music section to another, often introducing new musical materials.




After that, comes an element called the climax. Every story needs a bit of drama and tension to keep us on our toes. Finally, there's a showdown, when the hero confronts the villain. Music thrives on these same principles.




In this piece, repeated sixteenth notes and the diminished chords of theme C serve to create a little bit of tension, changing the peaceful mood of the composition. The tension is then resolved by a transition of the chromatic scale, bringing back the first – theme A – and ending the piece just the way it started.




Lastly, the form of the whole piece needs to be mentioned. Here we have the main theme – theme A – alternating with contrasting themes, B and C, in the following order:


A – B – A – C –A


In the realm of classical music, this is called the Rondo Form. It gained prominence during the last half of the 18th and in the early 19th century.




Don't forget to listen to the whole piece and try to focus on the melody and transition, and how they’re interacting with each other.




[Video Version]


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