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.
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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
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
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
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: