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Final Closure

Module by: Anthony Brandt. E-mail the author

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Please note that you must have the most recent copy of Macromedia's Flash plugin installed to play the musical examples.

The final emphasis on the tonic—the pitch that has represented stability, order and repose—brings a tonal movement to a close.

Pieces in Major almost inevitably end in Major. The reasons for this are both acoustic and psychological: The Major chord is very resonant, giving it an acoustic presence that is hard to top; the security and stability of tonic Major makes for a satisfying conclusion.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-Major, “Eroica,” begins by boldly proclaiming the tonic Major.

The movement ends decisively in Major.

At the close of his Symphony No. 5 in E-flat Major, Jean Sibelius waits until the last possible moment to give the final tonic chord.

Music in minor, on the other hand, is less predictable: There are three possibilities.

1. The Work Begins and Ends in Minor

In Ludwig van Beethoven’s Quartet in f-minor, Opus 95, “Serioso.” the minor mode is established at the outset of the first movement.

This movement ends decisively in minor.

Johannes Brahms ends his Symphony No. 4 in e-minor in minor.

2. Picardy Third

The movement is in minor up until the last chord—where there is a sudden switch to tonic Major called a “Picardy third.” This prelude from J.S. Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I ends with a Picardy third.

Similarly, the first movement of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in c-minor switches to Major at the last chord.

3. There is a Concluding Passage or Section in Major.

Because the lengthened emphasis, the change of mode has more structural weight. You will most typically find this “negation” or “rejection” of minor in the Finale movements, giving the entire composition a more uplifting ending.

The piano alone introduces the primary theme of the Finale of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in d-minor.

The final statement of the theme breaks off in the middle—and continues in Major! The entrance of the woodwinds heralds the shift in mode; the piano then follows suit.

This passage carries the music to a rousing conclusion in Major.

The Finale of Beethoven’s String Quartet in f-minor, Opus 95, “Serioso” opens solidly in minor.

The Quartet appears headed for a somber ending in minor. However, Beethoven takes a different tack from the first movement. Just as the Finale is about to come to an end, Beethoven prolongs it with an accelerated section in Major. You will hear the shift to Major in the held chords just before the fast closing section begins.

Because large orchestral works typically ended in a blaze of Major, Johannes Brahms’ ending for his Symphony No. 4 illustrated earlier was considered particularly “tragic.”

Throughout the Common Practice Era, tonal works return to the tonic for final closure. Thus, the harmonic voyage comes full circle, returning to its place of origin. Movements in Major almost invariably end in Major. Movements in minor are more equivocal. There are three options: a final cadence in minor; a switch to Major for the last chord; or a switch to Major for the concluding passage.

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Musical Examples
  1. Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 3 in E-Major 'Eroica', Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell, conductor
  2. Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 3 in E-Major 'Eroica', Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell, conductor
  3. Jean Sibelius, Symphony No. 5 - IV, London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis
  4. Ludwig van Beethoven, String Quartet in f-minor, opus 95, 'Serioso,' - I, Budapest String Quartet
  5. Ludwig van Beethoven, String Quartet in f-minor, opus 95, 'Serioso,' - I, Budapest String Quartet
  6. Johannes Brahms, Symphony no. 4 in e-minor - Finale, Milwaukee Symphony, Andreas Delfs, conductor
  7. J.S. Bach, Prelude in f-minor from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, David Korevaar, piano
  8. Ludwig van Beethoven, Piano Sonata in c-minor, Opus 111 - I, Richard Goode, piano
  9. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 20 in d-minor, Finale, Murray Perahia, piano, English Chamber Orchestra
  10. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 20 in d-minor, Finale, Murray Perahia, piano, English Chamber Orchestra
  11. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 20 in d-minor, Finale, Murray Perahia, piano, English Chamber Orchestra
  12. Ludwig van Beethoven, String Quartet in f-minor, opus 95, 'Serioso', Budapest String Quartet
  13. Ludwig van Beethoven, String Quartet in f-minor, opus 95, 'Serioso', Budapest String Quartet
Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 3 in E-Major 'Eroica', Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell, conductor (0:07)
Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 3 in E-Major 'Eroica', Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell, conductor (0:07)
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Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 3 in E-Major 'Eroica', Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell, conductor (0:18)
Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 3 in E-Major 'Eroica', Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell, conductor (0:18)
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Jean Sibelius, Symphony No. 5 - IV, London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis (0:50)
Jean Sibelius, Symphony No. 5 - IV, London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis (0:50)
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Ludwig van Beethoven, String Quartet in f-minor, opus 95, 'Serioso,' - I, Budapest String Quartet (0:11)
Ludwig van Beethoven, String Quartet in f-minor, opus 95, 'Serioso,' - I, Budapest String Quartet (0:11)
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CBS Masterworks MPK 45553
Ludwig van Beethoven, String Quartet in f-minor, opus 95, 'Serioso,' - I, Budapest String Quartet (0:29)
Ludwig van Beethoven, String Quartet in f-minor, opus 95, 'Serioso,' - I, Budapest String Quartet (0:29)
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Johannes Brahms, Symphony no. 4 in e-minor - Finale, Milwaukee Symphony, Andreas Delfs, conductor (0:24)
Johannes Brahms, Symphony no. 4 in e-minor - Finale, Milwaukee Symphony, Andreas Delfs, conductor (0:24)
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MSO Classics
J.S. Bach, Prelude in f-minor from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, David Korevaar, piano (0:40)
J.S. Bach, Prelude in f-minor from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, David Korevaar, piano (0:40)
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MSR
Ludwig van Beethoven, Piano Sonata in c-minor, Opus 111 - I, Richard Goode, piano (0:27)
Ludwig van Beethoven, Piano Sonata in c-minor, Opus 111 - I, Richard Goode, piano (0:27)
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Nonesuch Records
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 20 in d-minor, Finale, Murray Perahia, piano, English Chamber Orchestra (0:16)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 20 in d-minor, Finale, Murray Perahia, piano, English Chamber Orchestra (0:16)
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 20 in d-minor, Finale, Murray Perahia, piano, English Chamber Orchestra (0:29)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 20 in d-minor, Finale, Murray Perahia, piano, English Chamber Orchestra (0:29)
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 20 in d-minor, Finale, Murray Perahia, piano, English Chamber Orchestra (0:37)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 20 in d-minor, Finale, Murray Perahia, piano, English Chamber Orchestra (0:37)
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Ludwig van Beethoven, String Quartet in f-minor, opus 95, 'Serioso', Budapest String Quartet (0:18)
Ludwig van Beethoven, String Quartet in f-minor, opus 95, 'Serioso', Budapest String Quartet (0:18)
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Ludwig van Beethoven, String Quartet in f-minor, opus 95, 'Serioso', Budapest String Quartet (NaN:NaN)
Ludwig van Beethoven, String Quartet in f-minor, opus 95, 'Serioso', Budapest String Quartet (NaN:NaN)
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