This article examines the communicative and interpretive significance of melodic embellishment in Beethoven's oeuvre, with a particular focus on multi-movement instrumental works from the period 1795–1824. Embellishment has received comparatively little attention in Beethoven studies; yet it formed a crucial part of his musicianship as both a performer and a composer. The article begins with a broad overview of Beethoven's embellishment practices, drawing examples primarily from his early piano trios and piano sonatas. It then goes on to examine a series of issues in more detail: first, the role of embellishments in the composition and performance of concertos (with a focus on the Piano Concertos Nos. 3–5); second, the role of embellishments in evoking musical character and expressive personae (with a focus on the Piano Sonata op. 31, no. 3, the Violin Sonata op. 30, no. 1, and the Cello Sonata op. 5, no. 1); and finally, the possibility of understanding embellishment as a musical topic in symphonic writing (with a focus on the slow movements of the Symphonies Nos. 4, 8, and 9). The article closes with reflections on the expressive function of embellishments in Beethoven's late style, arguing that melodic decorations, along with other rhetorical devices, provided a vehicle for the evocation of nostalgia and memory.
Beethoven's Rhetoric of Embellishment
Dorian Bandy is assistant professor at McGill University’s Schulich School of Music, where he teaches musicology and historical performance. His research interests include Mozart and Beethoven, with a particular emphasis on improvisation and the relationship between composition and performance. Recent publications include articles in Eighteenth-Century Music and the Cambridge Opera Journal. His monograph on Mozart is forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press.
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Dorian Bandy; Beethoven's Rhetoric of Embellishment. 19th-Century Music 1 November 2022; 46 (2): 125–162. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ncm.2022.46.2.125
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