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


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