Perceptions of musical dimensions in Beethoven's Waldsiein sonata: An application of Tonal Pitch Space theory

Nicholas A. Smith, Lolal Cuddy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


This study conducted a perceptual analysis of an excerpt from Beethoven's Waldstein piano sonata in four experiments. The experiments were followed by an application of Lerdahl's (2001) Tonal Pitch Space theory, or TPS, to perceptual judgments of musical tension over the course of the excerpt. In the experiments, data were obtained for each of 15 time points corresponding to the 15 successive sonorities in the excerpt. Listeners in the first three experiments were piano students who learned and performed the excerpt before participating in the experimental tasks. In Experiment 1, judgments of phrase structure permitted examination of the perceptual segmentation of the excerpt. In Experiment 2, probe-tone ratings (Krumhansl and Kessler, 1982) were used to derive both a measure of perceived distance traveled in key space as well as a measure of temporal orientation — the degree to which listening at each time point was retrospective or prospective. In Experiment 3, a tension contour over the 15 time points was derived from listeners’ continuous responding to perceived tension throughout the excerpt. In Experiment 4, judgments of consonance/dissonance for each sonority, isolated from context and presented in random order in a randomly selected transposition, were obtained from piano students unfamiliar with the excerpt. Strong correspondences were found between the perceptual measures and related music-theoretic predictors generated from TPS. The tension contour was regressed on TPS predictors. Both sensitivity to hierarchical structure and expectancies arising from voice leading, as well as the overall melodic contour, significantly contributed to the prediction of perceived tension.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7-34
Number of pages28
JournalMusicae Scientiae
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Music


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