6 Dominant Pedal

Classical music is all about expectation and nothing creates expectation so effectively as sitting on the dominant waiting for a tonic to arrive. WCT composers use this device a lot, particularly in transitions, developments and preparations for reprises or recapitulations and codas. The arrival of the tonic is much more satisfying after waiting around on the dominant for a bit.

If you want some guidance as to what chords work best over a dominant pedal then CLICK HERE

Pedals strictly speaking should have dissonant harmonies over them, so this first example is a held dominant note rather than a pedal. Nevertheless, the principle is the same in that a dominant chord is alternated with other harmonies (in this case a simple 6/4 tonic chord) before resolving onto the tonic in root position:

Mozart, String Quartet K465, Trio
Mozart K465 Trio


Haydn uses a dominant pedal to build up tension in this next extract at the end of his rondo idea. Note the following:

  • rising stepwise thirds (including some chromaticisms) always work well as seen in the last seven bars
  • Haydn uses A diminished seventh chords (the root a semitone below the pedal) to resolve onto the dominant in bars 17, 19 and 21

Haydn String Quartet Op. 33 No. 2, fourth movement

Haydn op33n2


This extract from a different Mozart quartet is more complex and dramatic with rising arpeggio figures over a dominant pedal in D minor. The first bar is a simple dominant chord (V), the second bar is chord VI and this then moves to a dominant 7th before finally resolving to the tonic.

Mozart String Quartet K 421, first movement
Mozart 421i


In this Schubert example, we hear C# diminished sevenths resolving onto the dominant over a dominant pedal in G minor:

Schubert, Symphony No. 5, Menuetto

dominant pedal Schubert 5


At the end of this Beethoven quartet all the strings play in rhythmic unison as the first violin moves up by step. This sort of vigorous dissonance is a bit more unusual:

Beethoven Op 59 No3