Beethoven, Sieben Ländler, WoO. 11, no.3 & 5


Sieben Ländler is a suite consisting of seven simple dances. Van der Merwe notes that the predecessor of this form is the primitive waltz suite (Van der Merwe, 2004: 245). In the current context, this information emphasizes the attribute ‘simple’, which refers to both harmony and melody. The size and the proportions in each landler are the same (32 bars, divided in two sections, further subdivided in symmetrical units). Every second movement (1, 3, 5, and 7) is underlined by pedals (or drones). The change of the pedal tone marks the sections.

The landlers no.3 and no.5 have, in certain sense, the opposite harmonic plan. No.3 is predominantly based on the tonic harmony; no.5 on the dominant harmony.

Landler No.3


The first section is composed as two 4-bar phrases, in a periodic relation. The melody is almost entirely made of broken chords, with few embellishments. These chords are exclusively I and V7. The tonic obviously prevails, which interacts cooperatively with the tonic pedal. The whole phrase is easily perceived as one harmony, the tonic. The V7 chord operates on two levels as the neighboring chord: in m.3 and m.7 (higher level), and m.1 and m.5 (detail level). This concentric (see the ‘T-pedal at the beginning’ model) tonic pedal does not have a dynamic energy that a harmonic pedal usually possesses. This could be attributed to the interaction of several factors: 1) the steady-ness of pulsation of the bass tone and its rhythmic embellishments an octave higher, 2) the concentric harmonic relation between the only two chords, 3) the steady-ness of the rhythmic pulsation in the melody, 4) the arpeggio type of the melody, 5) simplicity of the resulting melodic line, 6) recognizing the dance style.

All the factors together result in the feeling of stability. The 4th factor, the arpeggio type of melody, is in itself dynamic (many skips in the melody), but on another level rather static, as it emphasizes the (stable) chord, rather than the melody. It is not easily ‘singable’, and not saliently memorable (due to low predictability of so many skips on the detail level) as the melody. Its notes are however easily grouped in chords, and as such also easily memorized. This will happen when the listener has heard the first four bars. Upon hearing the first two bars, the listener does not have very concrete expectation about the coming ones. The law of good continuation will be respected if there will be no major changes. If no dynamic process is expected (nor experienced), the pedal tone is perceived also as a harmonic foundation, and a metrical support for dancing.


The form works as an actor related to the perception of V7 harmony. On a higher level of harmonic progression, only neighboring harmony is obviously subsidiary. As such, the listener does not perceive the splitting of the harmonic dimension onto the pedal-layer and the dynamic-harmony layer. The V7 chord is just coloring the tonic harmony, rather than being in conflict with it. This accommodating interaction is typical of drones. However, on the structural level, the V7 is crucial. The ‘belief in purposefulness’, as Meyer (1956: 135-138) puts it, combined with the possibility of saturation in case there is no change at all, will make the listener implicitly expect some kind of rounding off the phrase. On the structural level, the V7 is in competitive interaction with the pedal. Focusing on phrasing, the conflict between the two will be more perceptible.

The pedal/drone tones throughout the whole landler no.3 mirror on the highest level the (subsidiary) harmony of the first four bars: I - I - V - I, outlining aaba form.

The melody of the contrasting part begins as an inverted version of the first. Its harmonic pattern is throughout A major chord. However, although the harmonic function on the level of the whole movement is that of the dominant, on the sectional level, the contrasting part could also be considered as being the tonic (of the dominant). Van der Merwe (2004: 246) labels this situation “that favorite game of the Viennese composers, Dominant or Tonic?”, and in the analysis of the same piece he explains that “where V7 is so much the norm, the plain V of bars 9-12 sounds rather like a key, and when the seventh of the chord arrives in bar 12, one has a distinct sense of modulation back to the tonic.” (idem) In the context of the current research this situation can reassure the listener that this movement is about the tonic, with some local dominants, as section markers.[1]


All these considerations reflect back to the pedal tone itself. Because of the simplicity of all the dimensions (melodic, harmonic, structural, textural, dynamic) the tonic pedal is perceived as a variant of folk drone model.

Landler No.5

On the first sight, this landler is just a variant of the no.3. In certain sense this is indeed true. The differences however influence the perception of pedal tone, which is in this case felt in a quite different way. All the pedals in this movement have high energy level, and contribute to its rather vigorous character.

First of all, and most obviously, the dominant pitch of the pedal creates the harmonic tension between itself and the key: it has to resolve and the listener experiences expectation-tension related to it. As this movement is also based on exclusively tonic and dominant harmonies, the pedal is always a chord-tone.

Nevertheless, the power that it has as a harmonic pedal is not only thanks to its pitch. In case the melody was made only of broken chords (as it is in no.3), or of block-chords, the intensity of the dominant pedal would be lower. In this case, the long ascend of the melody adds to its dynamicity and excitement. In particular, the last note in each of the first five bars strongly implies the continuation of the (ascending) movement. In the bars on the dominant harmony the last note is the leading tone, which is a strong sound-term,[2] and incites expectation of the tonic.  In the bars with the tonic harmony, the last note is the 6th scale degree, approached through a longer ascend. It is a non-chord tone and could be resolved as a neighboring note or as a passing note. In case it would be a passing note, the chord will have to change; in case it would be a neighboring note, the melodic direction will change. I believe that the most listeners will expect the C# in m.3 (and not the A), and I believe it has to do with the pedal. Finally, I believe that the interaction between the melody (supported by the inner voices) and the pedal tone influences the perception of each of them.


The tone A in the bass becomes the dominant pedal in m.2, at the moment the harmony changes. With the C# in the melody at end of m.1 the listener has strong expectation of D major chord (and D in the bass) in m.2. Repetition of A in the bass line establishes this tone as the pedal. When A in m.2 is recognized as a dominant pedal, the D chord above it (the tonic) is a sort of dissonance that has to resolve - in the dominant, in A major harmony. After m.2 the listener does not expect the tonic harmony in m.3, and thus the B in the melody will be felt as being on the way to C#. At the end of m.3 the listener expects the resolution in the tonic. The melody will most certainly provide D, and if the pedal tone resolves, the phrase will be closed. Something like a period could be formed with the next four bars (possibly with descending melody, to bring it back to the starting register). This all does not happen; the pedal is not resolved, and the melodic motif (the theme) finds itself yet an octave higher. Although possible, it is not highly expected that the pedal will resolve in m.6 (this would disturb the proportions and the structure). Finally, in m.8 the pedal is resolved, as expected.

The power of this pedal lays in its implicability, in the listener’s expectation of its termination. The longer this expectation takes place, the more expectation-tension is incited. Each time the tonic chord is expected and the expectation is not realized, the denial-tension is incited. At the moment the expectation is finally realized (m.8), all the (multiplied) tension turns into a positive excitement, as the result of the correct anticipation.

As I have already stated, the power of this pedal is certain extent directly related to the ascending melodic motion. The local events suggest further ascend, which, when realized, creates both satisfaction (correct anticipation) and more tension - the melody is hard to stop. Ascend of the melody takes it further and further away from the pedal. If they were tied with an elastic rope, at which moment would the rope reach its maximum length? Would it then push the melody back with an acceleration, or would it break, letting the melody go own way? These possibilities are style-based and incite more tension. The melody is perceived as more exciting because of the pedal, the pedal as more exciting because of the melody.

This relation is perceptible also in mm.6-7. The melodic movement changes direction, which pulls back the felt acceleration, and prepares the resolution of the pedal. Its energy decreases.

When comparing the effect of these two opening pedals (the tonic in no.3 and the dominant in no.5), we see that the former ‘calms’ the dynamicity of the harmonic progression, while the latter increases the dynamicity of the other lines. The former is a stable foundation, while the latter pushes the movement into an acceleration. This difference could be felt to be in contradiction with the fact that the tonic pedal in no.3 has to deal with the harmony that is dissonant with it both in function and in sonority, and the dominant pedal in no.5 is only functionally dissonant.


Apart from the discussed differences in these two landlers, there is one important similarity, already suggested in the main text (‘Models’): their metric support, characteristic for dances. This rhythmic effect goes simultaneously with the described harmonic effects. As described in the chapter ‘metric support model’, it is based on: 1) the long presence of the pedal, which makes them a kind of constant, 2) simplicity of harmonic progression, which is at the same time predictable, clear enough, and related to folk-drones where the function of the pedal is more sonorous (or rhythmic) than harmonic-functional. The attention of the listener is not focused (mainly) on the tension between the pedal and the other voices.

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[1] In folk music of some countries (e.g. Hungary) moving the theme to the dominant is a common procedure.

[2] See the chapter ‘Too long notes’ for the definition.