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1Recall that the ii° chord, like its counterpart in the major mode (ii), is a predominant harmony, leading to dominant harmony (V). And recall further that supertonic chords are often found in first inversion (i.e., “ii°6”and “flat-II6”), which places the third of the triad—the subdominant scale degree—in the bass.We have heard the ii°6 chord as a predominant harmony, for example, in the theme of the Bach Chaconne. In Beethoven's piece here, the flat-II6 chord—known as the Neapolitan Six chord (N6)—serves the same predominant function, but it has a very distinct harmonic flavor. Let’s listen to the same harmonies we heard above, this time allowing them to continue to dominant harmony (V), so that we can further compare them.2Recall, too, that the iv chord also serves as a predominant harmony. And it’s worth noting how close the Neapolitan Six chord is to the minor iv chord. Let’s listen to a standard functional chord progression, i – iv – V – i, and compare it to the equally functional chord progression, i – N6 –V – i. The only difference between the two chords is the D-natural in the Neapolitan chord, in place of the iv chord’s C-sharp. Yet, the NeapolitanSix exudes a strikingly different harmonic flavor.First Movement, mm. 1-5Now we’re ready to listen to the first five bars of the first movement, to see how Beethoven so artfully establishes his key of C-sharp minor. It’s as simple—and masterful—as starting on tonic harmony (i), moving to
the VI chord, and then “falling” through the circle of fifths (flat-II – V – i) toget back to tonic.Let’s listen to a “score” recording.1And let’s get Professor Steven Smith’s performance back in our ears, listening to the same excerpt, so that we keep our connection to the real performance.Sonata PrincipleThe first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata is not a sonata-allegro form, and yet it possesses a remarkable thematic and tonal design that fulfills the Classical expectations of the sonata principle.The first “theme,” presented initially in the tonic key in mm. 5-7, is the repeated note G-sharp, given a distinct identity by virtue of its dotted rhythm. The theme is brief but memorable. And as soon as we have heard it, Beethoven effects a modulation to the expected secondary tonal area, the relative major (the mediant, III), which is the key of E major.