Sectional Dominant Pedal

The whole middle section in a small ternary (rounded binary) form is quite often underlined by the dominant pedal. Its expectancy-tension is comparable to that of the dominant pedal before the recapitulation in sonata-allegro form. Its place (interaction with the perceived form) incites expectation of the recapitulation. In this sense, sectional D-pedal (as a whole) is a sound term.


The first example is the theme of Mozart’s Romanze from kv.525 The pedal underlines two similar short (semi-)phrases. In the first, there is little harmonic activity. The tonic chord in m.9 is only slightly coloring the pedal (hence the brackets: [I]). In the second part of b, the melodic anticipation (Vln1) emphasizes the tonic chord in m.11. This emphasis overshadows the following chord (vii)V, and degrades it into a kind of passing chord (on the way to V). On another level, F#dim announces the completion of the pedal-event, as it most directly leads to the resolution of the harmony ‘into the pedal’. Even if not saliently perceived as a secondary dominant (due to the strength of the previous tonic, unaccented metrical position, and the emphasizes on the melodic component), this chord is implicative, and the listener will have strong expectations concerning the further events.

The second example shows Minuet from Boccherini’s string quintet in E major. After the first, modulating phrase was literary repeated, it has become clear that its closing P.A.C. is rounding the first section of the structure. What follows is thus the contrasting section. The informed expectation is that it will not be longer than the first phrase, that its inner formal structure might be less tight-knit, and that it will emphasize the dominant of the home key. In m.9, the listener cannot yet know that it will be a sectional pedal. The tonic chord on the third beat (and again in m.11) makes the necessary conflict. In m.10, the listener probably recognizes the sectional pedal, and awaits the proportionally convenient place for the return of the theme.


Actually, this dominant pedal is only implicit. The tonic chord on the third beat in mm.9 and 11 does have its root in the bass (Cb). Unquestionably, the meaning of the harmony is a dominant prolongation (with tonic chords as neighboring chords), but why should we label it a pedal? In performing a score-analysis, the visual information will not really suggest there is one. However, while purely listening, other actors are influencing the interpretation. One of them is the repetition of E in Vln2, and another is sectional D-pedal, as a model, stored in our aural vocabulary. If the listener makes the link between this model and the heard music, then we could conclude that a result of a dialogue between the model and the piece, mediated by the listener, is turning the musical events into a sectional D-pedal.

In case of small forms, recognizing a sectional D-pedal is helping the listener orientating in the form. It is also leading the listener through the musical story of the piece, by inciting excitement and preparing for important events. As a model, sectional D-pedal can work also outside of such small forms. It can suggest a particular interpretation of the musical events. The following example, the first movement of Mozart’s string quartet in D minor, KV421, is illustrating the working of the model sectional D-pedal as an actor in a sonata-allegro structure.

The piece opens with a four-bar phrase, which incites the expectation of a consequent. The expectation is fulfilled, and a very regular period is closed in m.8. Hereafter, there is a four-bar section, entirely on the dominant, quite comparable to the D-pedal section in the previous examples. The pedal is explicated with the A in the bass on the downbeat of m.10. While listening to this contrasting phrase, the listener recognizes the sectional D-pedal and anticipates the return of a1 in m.13. In sonata-allegro form, rounded binary structure is possible, but not the most probable structure of the first theme. It means that the listener has to have a reason to consider it. In this case the reason is the recognition of the pedal-model.


In the following bars of kv.421, it turns out that there is no return of the opening material within the exposition of the first theme. The end of the contrasting, dominant section is expanded in a fade-out kind of gesture - decreasing the expectation of the reprise. Hepokoski & Darcy (2011: 111) just mention this quartet in the context of the Dissolving strategies within transition sections in sonata form. This concept refers to transformation of what was understood to be a part of the first theme, into the transitional process. In the case of kv.421, logically, what was understood to be a rounded binary form (still in progress), will at some point be ‘dissolved’, and a part of it re-interpreted as being a transition (in progress). Hepokoski and Darcy see the “onset of dissolution” in the outburst in m.14, with which I disagree, as it suggests that the bars starting from C major chord belong to both transition and the first theme. If there should be a dissolution, then I suggest it is present earlier, already in the fade-out imitations in mm.13-14 (especially the last imitation, in m.14). My argument is based on the perception of form, and the formal expectations incited by the recognized sectional D-pedal. The section is prolonged into m.13, which deviates from the regular proportions that the listener expects by default. The expectation of the return is shaken mostly with the shifting to the low register in mm.13-14. In m.14, it seems that the moment for the return is lost: the formal forces (sense for proportions) are weakened, the proper register is abandoned. In m.14, the listener feels this is not what she has thought it was. The outburst in the third beat just confirms this. We are in the transition; the fade-out of the b section has already prepared us for this.



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Boccherini, Minuet from String Quintet in E major

Mozart, Serenade KV.525, 'Romanze'