Beethoven “misses” the dominant

A curious passage occurs twice in the Missa Solemnis, during the Benedictus.  Beethoven asserts the submediant (vi) strongly, with dotted rhythms, brass and timpani.  The viiø/V  is then asserted in the same manner. 

Normally, this formula would proceed to the appearance in the bass of the fifth scale-degree, whether it’s accompanied by the dominant or the tonic six-four (which is, in reality, also the dominant, but retarded by two suspensions).

In the Beethoven, however, the viiø/V gives way to the subdominant – the IV!  This is exceptional because the traditional formula is not an arbitrary construct.  When we hear, in the bass, the sixth scale-degree  followed by the raised fourth scale-degree, we expect the fifth scale-degree.  The former two scale-degrees serve as a double neighbor-note configuration to the latter; they “close in on” the dominant.  Especially since the fourth degree is chromatically altered to achieve an upward-tending inflection.

But instead of the dominant, or the tonic six-four, Beethoven gives us the subdominant.  The raised fourth descends to the diatonic fourth.

I’m still trying to decide if this really works or not.  I can’t see any longer-range justifications for this peculiar harmonic turn.  I’ll let you know if I figure it out.


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