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2.30: Final Closure

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    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.

    This page titled 2.30: Final Closure is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Anthony Brandt & Robert McClure (OpenStax CNX) .

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