In the sonata practice of the mid-eighteenth century, composers frequently asserted the minor dominant prior to the major dominant in the second part of the exposition. Beethoven dramatized this technique in two senses: first, he used it after it had largely fallen out of fashion, thus affording it considerable dramatic impact (e.g., Piano Sonatas Ops. 2, no. 2, and no. 3); second, he graduated from using the “wrong” mode to the more radical technique of using the “wrong” key. For instance, for the secondary key of the Piano Sonatas Ops. 31, no. 1, and 53 (“Waldstein”), he substitutes the major mediant for the dominant. These and similar cases result in the deferred arrival of the tonic in the secondary theme of the recapitulation. Consequently, when the tonic belatedly arrives, the listener is more cognizant of it. In this way Beethoven brings the resolution of large-scale tonal dissonance to the fore. I suggest that such a tactic is metamusical—that Beethoven was in a sense writing music about music, about the relationship between a particular piece and the tonal and formal conventions it relies on and also problematizes.
After presenting a number of such metamusical instances, this article traces the stages by which Beethoven “progressed” from the mid-eighteenth-century approach to sonata expositions to his more radical one; it then offers a typology of key-problematizing techniques. It concludes by briefly considering the extent to which these procedures can be squared with Schenkerian theory and its ideal of structural hearing.